Realistic YA Fiction Is Here to Stay (Then Again, It Never Went Away)

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As the manager of our books for young readers section, I could not be more delighted with all the ink being devoted lately to the topic of young adult fiction. Specifically, I’m thrilled at the focus on contemporary realistic YA books. One of our favorite authors, John Green, has been widely credited for this surge in demand for stories that don’t involve dystopias, zombies, or vampires. The only part of this flurry of attention I take issue with is the idea that realistic fiction for young readers is “new.” (See, for example, “How Reality Became the Hot New Thing in YA.”)

At the risk of sounding like, “Back in my day, we walked uphill in the snow…” I’d like to argue that great realistic fiction for young readers has been here all along.

tfiosThe millions of copies of John Green’s novels sold to young readers (and adults, too, which I’m fine with, by the way) are a welcomed development to anyone interested in books and reading. However, to say that he, or any of the “new” crop of writers, has thrown open the door for contemporary fiction discounts decades of strong young adult contemporary writers. I can think of dozens of authors of realistic fiction for young readers whose books not only became bestsellers upon publication years ago ago, but remain on current reading lists generated by schools, libraries, periodicals, and bookstores throughout the country. At this point, I think we can now call them “YA classics.”

A few decades ago, I co-owned Logos, a bookstore in New Orleans. There and then — as I do here and now — I read a lot of the books we carried for young readers to make sure I was familiar with what we were selling, and I found plenty of realism in those pages: peer pressure, rebellion and brutality (Robert Cormier and S.E. Hinton), rape and self-image (Laurie Halse Anderson), race issues (Walter Dean Myers, Sharon Draper, and Robert Lipsyte), teen crime (Lois Duncan), suicide (Jay Asher), etc.

Compelling, well-written YA novels are nothing new. We’ve seen them since the publication of The Outsiders almost 50 years ago, and we’re seeing them still with the success of books such as the stunning historical novel, Between Shades of Gray, written just a few years ago by Ruta Sepetys. So as we revel in the success of authors such as John Green, E. Lockhart, and Rainbow Rowell, let’s not forget the still-relevant writers who truly “opened the door” and paved the way for young adult literature to be the smashing success it is today.

-Mary Grey James
Manager of Books for Young Readers

 

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Some more favorite titles . . .  Stephanie Appell, our assistant manager of books for young readers, says:

One of the things I appreciate most about the YA landscape today is how sprawling it is. YA is a category, not a genre, but it contains genres: There’s YA mystery, YA sci-fi, YA romance, YA horror … So just as we take for granted that adults want to read books about people set in the contemporary moment, I wish we’d find it a little bit easier to understand that of course YA readers want those stories too. One of the things I find particularly wonderful about realistic or contemporary YA is that it often succeeds at being really inclusive, reflecting the diversity of experiences and backgrounds of readers and telling the kinds of stories in which readers can see themselves.

speakI’ve tried to pick titles a little bit off the beaten path here, but also titles that I just love and want basically everyone in the world to read:

Jellicoe Road – Melina Marchetta

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Saenz

Winger – Andrew Smith

Ask the Passengers – A.S. King

The Sky is Everywhere – Jandy Nelson

Side Effects May Vary – Julie Murphy

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – Jesse Andrews

Faking Normal – Courtney Stevens

Crash and Burn Michael Hassan

If You Could Be Mine – Sara Farizan 

The Geography of You and Me Jennifer E. Smith

And one title that is absolutely ON the beaten path but deserves every ounce of praise it has ever received is Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. I cannot think of a more necessary book for every teenager to read than Speak. If I could somehow arrange for every person in the world to receive a copy on, say, their 14th birthday, à la a Hogwarts acceptance letter, I would. – Steph

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Great YA novels from then and now: 

The Outsiders (Paperback)

$10.00
ISBN-13: 9780142407332
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Speak, 4/2006

I Am the Cheese (Paperback)

$8.99
ISBN-13: 9780375840395
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Ember, 9/2007


$8.99
ISBN-13: 9780375829871
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Ember, 9/2004

Monster (Paperback)

$9.99
ISBN-13: 9780064407311
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Amistad, 5/2001


$8.99
ISBN-13: 9780064472883
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Amistad, 5/2002


Fallen Angels (Paperback)

$7.99
ISBN-13: 9780545055765
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Scholastic Paperbacks, 5/2008


Slam! (Paperback)

$6.99
ISBN-13: 9780545055741
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Scholastic Paperbacks, 5/2008

The Contender (Mass Market Paperback)

$8.99
ISBN-13: 9780064470391
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: HarperTeen, 4/1987

Out of My Mind (Paperback)

$8.99
ISBN-13: 9781416971719
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1/2012


Tears of a Tiger (Mass Market Paperback)

$7.99
ISBN-13: 9780689806988
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Simon Pulse, 2/1996

Copper Sun (Paperback)

$9.99
ISBN-13: 9781416953487
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1/2008

Killing Mr. Griffin (Paperback)

$8.99
ISBN-13: 9780316099004
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 10/2010


$7.99
ISBN-13: 9780316098991
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 10/2010

Thirteen Reasons Why (Paperback)

$10.99
ISBN-13: 9781595141880
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Razorbill, 10/2009

$8.99
ISBN-13: 9780142420591
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Speak, 4/2012

$17.99
ISBN-13: 9781442408920
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2/2012

Jellicoe Road (Paperback)

$9.99
ISBN-13: 9780061431852
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: HarperTeen, 3/2010

Winger (Paperback)

$11.99
ISBN-13: 9781442444935
Availability: Coming Soon – Available for Pre-Order Now
Published: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 9/2014

Ask the Passengers (Hardcover)

$17.99
ISBN-13: 9780316194686
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 10/2012

$8.99
ISBN-13: 9780142417805
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Speak, 3/2011

$17.99
ISBN-13: 9780062245359
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Balzer & Bray/Harperteen, 3/2014

$7.95
ISBN-13: 9781419705328
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Harry N. Abrams, 5/2013

$17.99
ISBN-13: 9780062245380
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Harper Teen, 2/2014

Crash and Burn (Hardcover)

$18.99
ISBN-13: 9780062112903
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Balzer & Bray/Harperteen, 2/2013

$16.95
ISBN-13: 9781616202514
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 8/2013

Speak (Paperback)

$9.99
ISBN-13: 9780312674397
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Square Fish, 5/2011

$18.00
ISBN-13: 9780316254779
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Poppy, 4/2014

 

And a couple of books on the subject itself . . .

$14.99
ISBN-13: 9780061756351
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: William Morrow Paperbacks, 8/2009

it happens
ISBN-13: 9781617510311
Availability: Coming soon – available for pre-order now
Published: Voya Press

 

Bonus: Read what Yashwina Canter, the youngest member of the Parnassus bookselling team, said on the subject and the books she’d add to that list.