When you think of young adult fiction – or YA fiction – what themes come to mind? Dystopian novels? Vampire stories? Coming of age sagas?
And who buys those books? What would you say if I told you that more than half of the readers of books classified as young adult fiction are not in the YA demographic of ages 12 to 17? That’s right, according to a study by Bowker Market Research, the 18 and up age group accounts for 55 percent of YA sales with the 30 to 44 age group accounting for 38 percent.
If you’re like me, you look at those numbers and think of parents buying the books for their kids, but researchers asked study participants about that. More than 75 percent of over-18 respondents reported that they were buying the books for their own reading.
The wildly popular Harry Potter series started a trend in the publishing industry, and it is one that continues at full throttle. For example, on some book lists, the first Hunger Games book tops George Orwell’s 1984 as the most popular dystopia-themed book ever. The trend is that adults are reading and enjoying young adult fiction.
Five young adult fiction novels you should read
If you have limited your look at YA books to only the ones made into blockbuster movies, such as Twilight or Divergent, it may be time to branch out. Here are five YA books (four newer books and one classic) that adults should read.
Young adult fiction – Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin’s, 2013)
Rainbow Rowell writes poignantly and realistically about the often-overwhelming ups and downs of first love in this gem of a novel. Rowell uses a dual narrative format to introduce us to two 16-year-olds growing up in Nebraska in the 1980s.
As a 40-seomthing native of Nebraska herself, Rowell offers keen observations and details that make this novel ring true.
Both teens are misfits in some ways. Park, for example is half-Korean in a mostly Caucasian part of Omaha. He also likes music and comic books instead of what most of his peers are into — sports. The eldest of five siblings, Eleanor has a rough home life and a poor body image. In defiance, she shows off her wild hair and her quirky sense of style.
Despite the disapproval of their families and friends, the two find themselves drawn together and embark on an intense roller coaster of a relationship. You will enjoy the ride.
Favorite Quote: “Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.
Young adult fiction – I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (Dial Books, 2014)
This is a story of love, family, loyalty, betrayal and magic. If you like books that feature magical realism in the vein of authors Isabel Allende or Gabriel García Marquez, you will enjoy this beautifully written novel.
The story is narrated in alternating voices by estranged fraternal twins Noah and Jude. As we get to know them and their unique stories, we learn of the deep bond they share. It is a bond filled with love and with pain.
Nelson has a lyrical style of writing that is appealing for readers of all ages, and her plot weaves a mystery that you will want to solve, and yet you will be sorry when it is over.
Favorite Quote: “Meeting your soul mate is like walking into a house you’ve been in before – you will recognize the furniture, the pictures on the wall, the books on the shelves, the contents of drawers: You could find your way around in the dark if you had to.”
Young adult fiction – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2007)
Alexie’s semi-autobiographical novel brings us into the world of Junior, a young Native American who takes the leap of leaving the Spokane Indian Reservation where he has grown up to attend an all-white high school.
Junior is a cartoonist, and the book contains drawings by Ellen Forney that parallel Junior’s sometimes funny but often heartbreaking experiences. As Junior grapples with questions of self-worth and identity, we are forced to confront our own insecurities as well. Ultimately, this book delivers a powerful message of how to overcome setbacks and prejudices.
Favorite Quote: “I used to think the world was broken down by tribes,’ I said. ‘By Black and White. By Indian and White. But I know this isn’t true. The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not.”
Young adult fiction – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005)
This powerful historical fiction novel by Australian author Markus Zusak was listed on The New York Times Best Seller list for about 230 weeks.
Set in Nazi Germany, we meet Liesel Meminger, a foster child who learns to read and then steals books to satisfy her craving for more material. She then shares the books with others, including her foster parents; Max, the Jewish man hiding in her basement; and the mayor’s wife, who allows Liesel to steal books from her library.
In a time of darkness and death, books provide a window and a way out of the despair for Liesel and for those she grows to care about.
Favorite quote: “People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and ends, but to me it’s quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors. Waxy yellows, cloud-spot blues. Murky darkness. In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them.”
Young adult fiction – I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (Little, Brown, 1948)
British author Dodie Smith is better known for her children’s book turned Disney classic, The Hundred and One Dalmatians. She wrote I Capture the Castle when she was living in California during World War II. An established playwright at the time, Smith wanted to write of a simpler, happier time, so she created this memorable coming-of-age novel about an eccentric family.
The narrator is Cassandra Mortmain, a smart, funny teenager who writes in her journal about her family’s struggles as they try to make ends meet while living in a decaying English castle in the 1930s.
The book is rich in its depiction of family relationships, observations of others and of the pain and pleasures of growing up.
Favorite Quote: “Perhaps watching someone you love suffer can teach you even more than suffering yourself can.”