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YA Books and Nostalgia

February 14, 2008

I’m working on a round up of kids’ and YA books for the Ledger. I’m having tremendous fun.

I feel like there is a much bigger array of well-written books for young and teen readers than there was when I was younger. I know that part of the reason is that some of the books I loved as a kid (and still love) are still in print, and being read by new generations. And those favorites have helped make a marketplace for new books and new writers. This is not an original thought on my part. Just setting it down as a note to myself. Also, I think the science fiction and fantasy market for YA readers has ballooned. I do not remember specific shelves being set aside for YA genre fiction when I was younger. With a little research, I can learn more about how the trend actually evolved. I’m curious.

I am trying to remember what I was reading between the ages of 8 and 12 or so. I remember reading The Westing Game for the first time. It is still one of my favorite books. Place marker for another post- all-time favorite books list. I wonder what my favorite books have in common.

What does it take for a book to be reread over and over? Can someone (a reviewer?) spot that quality on the first reading?

Because I’ve been reading a whole pile of YA books, I notice that the driving themes and questions are much more based on developing identity. The choices that are made are much more elemental, based on values like bravery versus obedience, conforming or not, aligning with this group or that one. And yes- these are the things that are of resonant importance to young readers who can only imagine themselves being older. The stories show characters figuring things out and making mistakes.

Questions of identity, how you make choices, courage and allegiance- when I was in the “young adult” reader market- I thought real adults had answered those questions in some final form. Now, I know- we’re still wrestling and choosing and trying to be brave. And if it took me working my way through a pile of books about dogs, baseball and high school to realize that, it’s still an important thing to remember.

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