Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Yesterday vs. Today's YA

Recently, I asked myself why I haven't jumped on the Young Adult (YA) band wagon. I admit, it might have something to do with the fact that I was working at a Books-a-Million during the recent YA genre boom and spent many a frustrating shift as a stocker trying to find nonexistent room on the shelves for the heaps of new titles fresh off the truck. The Twilight and vamp teen lit phenomena might also be contributing to my hesitancy toward the genre. And when I was targetted by the YA market (not so very long ago), the genre certainly was not as promiscuous as it is now. Before Nora Roberts novels, I read books like Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell and Number the Stars by Lois Lowry.

Sweet Valley books followed me through the adolescent years. During my freshman year in high school, the series branched out into SVH: Senior Year, which I read thoroughly. In addition, I read some of the SVU college years, which dealt with some sexual issues but were never outright promiscuous.

Other than Sweet Valley, I read series like Clearwater Crossing by Laura Peyton Roberts which dealt with teens facing family fissures, religious crises, cancer, peer pressure, and the struggle to make a difference in their school and community. Despite their heavy themes, these books were entertaining and the characters felt very real and were easy to identify with.

Another series I enjoyed was Lurlene McDaniel's Dawn Rochelle books about a cancer-stricken teenage girl. Though it, too, dealt with heavy issues, I enjoyed them just as much as SVH. The most romantic book I think I read before my first full-blown romance novel was by Julie Garwood entitled A Girl Named Summer. Looking back, the subject matter seems innocent.

And though J.K. Rowling is shelved in Kid's Fiction in most bookstores, everyone around me was reading Harry Potter. This was my first reading experience inside a world that is purely fantasy. I adored it, despite the controversy surrounding the series at the time.

The pros of today's YA market versus that of a decade ago is that it has expanded and that more teens are reading. When I began working at BaM - before the YA "boom" - high schoolers loitered mostly on the magazine aisle and in the Joe Muggs cafe. Eight months later, the Young Adult (and Manga) section was high on traffic and teens could be found sitting for hours in quiet corners thoroughout the store. If I'm pleased with any aspect of the impact of Twilight and its like titles, it's this. The question is, though, are teens more likely to read now because today's YA is more promiscuous?

Books like Meg Cabot's The Princess Diaries volumes are the kind my younger sister bought and wouldn't have given either of our parents pause. Like Julie Garwood, Cabot writes both YA and mainstream romance - but they are clearly distinguished as such. While the YA boom was going on, Cabot remained a favorite and, right along with Twilight, her titles seemed to go quickly once they were on the shelves.

Recently, I began to add new YA titles to my TBR pile. There aren't many but I'm slowly paddling my way back into teen fiction. There are some titles I'm eager to explore, based mostly on good reviews....

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

In America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota--and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it's worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life. . . .In this powerful novel, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers a thrilling, fast-paced adventure set in a vivid and raw, uncertain future.

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

Meghan Chase has a secret destiny—one she could never have imagined…
Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan's life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school…or at home.

When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she's known is about to change.

But she could never have guessed the truth—that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she'll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face…and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart.

Mistwood by Leah Cypess

Isabel remembers nothing. Nothing before the prince rode into her forest to take her back to the castle. Nothing about who she is supposed to be, or the powers she is supposed to have.

Prince Rokan needs Isabel to be his Shifter. He needs her ability to shift to animal form, to wind, to mist. He needs her lethal speed and superhuman strength. And he needs her loyalty—because without it, she may be his greatest threat.

Isabel knows that her prince is lying to her, but she can't help wanting to protect him from the dangers and intrigues of the court . . . until a deadly truth shatters the bond between them.

Now Isabel faces a choice that threatens her loyalty, her heart . . . and everything she thought she knew.

Readers, I'd love to hear your thoughts on YA then and now. Since my TBR pile is branching into YA, if you have any recommended titles, shout them out!

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