Truth be told, as a reader it feels like I jumped from Ann M. Martin to Stephen King, but there was a middle ground where I got into series like Sweet Valley High and Point Horror, and I still have a soft spot for Remember Me and I Know What You Did Last Summer. But besides what I found in the paperback spinners at the local library, I don’t think I completely understood that young adult literature is a type until I got a job as a teen librarian. I was hired based on my experience in the high school classroom, and (trained as an English teacher) my idea of teen lit was basically titles such as Romeo & Juliet, 1984, and Things Fall Apart! At the public library, our youth services manager told me, to read whatever I want, there are no must-reads. However, my amazing colleagues (Lori and Vaun) had put together a list of suggestions for me, and, from this list, the first book I intentionally read as a YA title was The Book Thief – which is FANTASTIC; I highly recommend the audiobook.
There were many books I read in that first year that I loved. Here are just ten of them:
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
- Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going
- I am the Messenger, by Marcus Zusak
- Push, by Sapphire
- The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd
- Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares
- Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli
- Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
- Tangerine, by Edward Bloor
- Tyrell, by Coe Booth
Now, it wouldn’t be #IreadYA week if I didn’t address the Twilight (Twi-hard, Twi-mom) phenomenon/saga. Personally, I didn’t avoid it, I didn’t seek it out – it just happened! Working at the library, the book and its sequels were always checked out, and I put these series titles on hold for patrons what seemed like three times a shift. They were not available, and I was busy discovering graphic novels like American Born Chinese and Journey into Mohawk Country. Then one day, I was cornered by three female teenage library employees; I mean this literally, they boxed me into the niche by the circulation desk! One of them presented me with her personal copy of Twilight, held outwards in two hands, and as three they decreed, “You must read this.” So I did, because I try to read what teens tell me to – recommendations are a two-way street. To sum up my experience: loss of sleep, so many questions, choosing sides, traveling to another branch to check out a sequel… and yes, I rooted against Edward the whole time.
I read YA because I am idealistic, hidden behind a layer of cynicism, sarcasm, and the need to quote movies and/or song lyrics all of the time.
Having taught for several years, the default settings (school, summer vacation, dystopian wasteland), plot devices (first job, relationships, fighting for survival), and complex characters (Arnold Spirit, Precious Jones, Katniss Everdeen) reflect the experiences I saw in the lives of my students. Also, taking teen reading ultimatums seriously, as in the case of Twilight, makes me a stronger librarian – better at readers’ advisory and booktalking. Stripping away all of the professional justifications for my behavior, I read YA because I like it. There are only so many hours in the day, as readers we have to make choices, and I choose YA almost every single time.