Friday, July 1, 2011

The Girl is...thinking about young adult books

We interrupt our normal blog about World War II popular culture, for this brief commercial: I have books. Beautiful, shiny new books. And next Saturday, you can have one too, if you join me for the launch of The Girl is Murder at Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, PA at 2:00 PM. We’ll be celebrating with locally brewed root beer and cream soda, and other assorted treats.
Here’s a quick blurb for those of you who aren’t familiar with my spanking new series:
It's the Fall of 1942 and Iris's world is rapidly changing. Her Pop is back from the war with a missing leg, limiting his ability to do the physically grueling part of his detective work. Iris is dying to help, especially when she discovers that one of Pop's cases involves a boy at her school. Now, instead of sitting at home watching Deanna Durbin movies, Iris is sneaking out of the house, double crossing her friends, and dancing at the Savoy till all hours of the night. There's certainly never a dull moment in the private eye business.
And here’s a little praise:
“What makes this such a standout is the cast. Sounding like they’re right out of the 1940s (well, a 1940’s movie, anyway), the characters, young and old, pop off the pages. Iris, intriguing and infuriating, captures the tension inherent in the teenage years, no matter what the decade. This joint is jumping.” —Booklist, Starred Review
I know what you’re thinking: I’m a grown up. Why would I buy a young adult book unless I was getting it as a gift for a young adult?
Allow me to dispel a few misconceptions about what Young Adult means in the book world:
1.     Young Adult books are only for young adults. While you can be too young to read young adult (see picture at right), you can never be too old. If Harry Potter and The Hunger Games have taught us nothing else, it’s that good stories transcend age.
2.     Young adult means vampires and other supernatural beasties. Look, I know that certain books containing sparkly, moody vampires have been enormously popular and have done much to get previously reluctant readers to turn to books for their entertainment. I don’t begrudge them a bit. But if you’ve avoiding reading YA because you think that’s all young adult fiction has to offer, fear not – there are a lot of amazing stories out there with nary a hint of the supernatural.
3.     Young adult means rudimentary writing. Now there are some fighting words! Some of the most exquisite writing I’ve encountered has been in the YA world. Sure, the writing tends to be more compact, the stories more immediate, but that’s hardly a flaw.
4.     Young adult means preachy morals and sanitized plots. Maybe back in the day when Go Ask Alice was all the rage (and even then, while there was a preachy plot, there was hardly a sanitized one – sex and drugs – oh my!), but today’s young adult novels are far from heavy-handed morality tales. Sure, some of the best contain a takeaway for the reader, but that’s hardly the only thing they contain. And the stories are much more sophisticated than you might believe. It’s not all brooding high school students worried about what to wear to the prom. The best characters emulate real people – with all their flaws, naughty words, and bad decisions firmly intact. 
5.     People will judge me for reading kids books. Um, no. Just no. And if you’re that concerned about what the nameless, faceless masses think, get a kindle (it’s harder to figure out what someone’s reading when there’s no cover) or remove the dustcover from another book and disguise it with that.  I recommend War and Peace. What could sound more adult than that?
Look, YA might not be for you and that’s okay. But keep in mind that like most divisions in the publishing world, the YA designation can often feel arbitrary, assigned to a book because of the age of the characters rather than because of their level of sophistication.
Got a YA recommendation to get someone started? Hit the comments!

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