Watch the YouTube video here >>> https://youtu.be/w5RmSEtWc7k
We know many teachers are always looking for a good new book recommendation to teach, so we wanted to give you our list. First off, let’s define young adult literature. You (look at Jonathan) created your own class in your masters program to study the definition of young adult, so why don’t you define it for us. :)
Sure, yeah, that was a really fun class by the way. I got to study lots of young adult novels and read tons of the scholarly discussion on the topic. So here’s my definition:
The label “Young Adult” refers to a story that tackles the difficult, and oftentimes adult, issues that arise during an adolescent’s journey toward identity, a journey told through a distinctly teen voice that holds the same potential for literary value as its “Grownup” peers.
So it has to tackle difficult issues and be told through a teen voice … those are important distinctions.
And you see this as different from children’s literature?
Yeah, there aren’t any firm hard age lines, but definitely a difference. I think 13 years old is a good starting point. 13-18 is a good starting line.
Okay, so let’s get started. We’ve got 10 young adult recommendations for you today … some older, lesser discovered works and some newer ones. Because these stories are all tackling real teenage issues, there are bound to be scenes or topics in them that some people will find objectionable. Please read them and decide for yourself (or Google them).
Though a couple of them required parent permission to read, I had all of these in my classroom library and students read them every year. We think they’re amazing stories that would yield wonderful learning experiences for all classrooms allowed to teach them. Here we go …
First, the HONORABLE MENTIONS
In the world of UGLIES by Scott Westerfeld, teenagers undergo the government-paid-for surgery to become beautiful just like everyone else in society on their 16th birthday. There’s a lot of high action and some teen romance in this to go around, as well as the dystopian world that takes us into all the timely conversations about the full tapestry of human beauty and our insecurities about ourselves and each other.
In FEED by M.T. Anderson, the moon (the 51st US state) is an industrialized wasteland like Earth and the place teenagers like to go hangout after school. We’ve developed a technological marvel called the Feed, surgically implanted in our brains so we can communicate and be entertained 24-7. The Feed knows everything we want and gives it to us immediately. What could be wrong with that?! In this believable future, Beauty and Art have been lost and we’re forced to make the decision -- What are we going to let define us?
I AM THE MESSENGER (or THE MESSENGER in Australia) by Markus Zusak tells the story of totally average nineteen-year-old taxi cab driver Ed Kennedy. His problems start when the whole town falsely praises him for foiling a bank robbery. Then the first mysterious playing cards start appearing in his mailbox. Each card has a message for him to deliver. Or else. As Ed starts to obey the blackmailers, he realizes he’s delivering simple, personalized messages of love to difficult people.
Markus Zusak's THE BOOK THIEF is an astounding piece of literature narrated by the character Death. What does Death think about our wars? Our famines? Our day-to-day lives? We may not often think about such things, but he does. It's his job to see the world as it is. Infinite in color. And fear. Especially in Nazi Germany. So when Death gets fascinated by young German foster girl Liesel Meminger, we do too. This story pays tribute to the simple power of words, to their ability to change our minds, destroy our lives, move our souls, recount our memories, and yes, heal our world.
And now … our Top Ten ...
In DRUMS, GIRLS, AND DANGEROUS PIE by Jordan Sonnenblick, 13-year old Steven Alper plays drums in the All-City Jazz Band and crushes on the hottest girl in school, but when his little annoying brother gets very sick, Steven’s world crashes into struggles with grief and illness and fighting parents and making sense of pain amid his love of girls and music.
In SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson, Melinda called the cops and ruined the end-of-summer party. Now, everyone hates her, and she’s not talking to any of them. Instead, she’s turning to art to wrestle through the secrets about what really happened that night. She’ll have to dig deep into her psyche with her art teacher to finally get the courage to speak again. Riddled with symbolism of rebirth and life, the novel offers hope in the middle of the darkest times.
IF I STAY by Gayle Forman is a haunting love story between two talented teen musicians, one a rocker and one a cello-ist. Few stories help us visualize the world between life and death like this one, and it’s through these events and conversations that we struggle with why we all want to be alive in the first place. What is so special about living this life we all have?
In THE COMPOUND by S.A. Bodeen, the world has ended, and 15-year old Eli and his family have been surviving in an underground bunker for 6 years now. But some serious problems come up and Eli starts to wonder if they’d have better chances back up on the surface. Is it actually so bad up there that they’re stuck down here forever? And why doesn’t everyone want to talk about it? This psychological and situational thriller will engage all levels and genders of readers.
HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins isn’t just a survival story of 16-year old Katniss. Deep themes of teenage love and familial loyalty help us love the characters amid the fast-paced scenes. Then it goes deeper into political uprising (with Roman Empire undertones and Dante’s 9 circles of hell) and the way the media uses the spectacle of TV to seduce us into cheering for violence, desiring fake beauty, and settling to survive instead of fighting to thrive.
MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner is the first of a series of high action stories. A group of older kids find themselves in the middle of a giant maze with unbelievable secrets. Every day they’re fighting for survival and trying to solve the mystery. Then as the maze starts acting funny and rules start changing, they realize the secrets are even more massive than they could have imagined. This story taps into the moral questions around human survival, government control, and lots of discussion around the value of a human life.
UNWIND by Neal Shusterman shows us the future of America where teenagers can be unwound if society doesn’t think they are worth letting become adults. We meet three soon-to-be unwinds whose futures become very intertwined, some wanting to live at all costs and some wanting to die. This fast-paced story challenges our thinking about lots of big issues in society, what it means to be a human at our core, and how much we desire to make an impact with our lives.
PAPER TOWNS by John Green taps into the teen desire to matter and connect. Teenagers Quentin Jacobsen and Margo Roth Spiegelman have lived near each other a long time but not really known each other. And Quentin thinks a surprise visit by Margo and a night of comical revenge pranks has helped him understand her. But he’s way off. He has a lot to learn about how fake the world feels and how much more people want to live for.
THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher - Imagine you’re high schooler Clay Jensen … you return home from school one day to find a box of cassette tapes recorded by the girl who recently committed suicide. As readers listen to the tapes with Clay, they learn about the high school dynamic, the crazy teen relationships, the loneliness, the backstabbing, the loyalty, the love, and the secrets. And through it all, you learn empathy for other humans who you thought you know, but didn’t. And now you see others with new eyes and a new heart … and you reach out to connect with those around you.
One person may read John Green's YA novel LOOKING FOR ALASKA and see more than enough questionable behaviors to necessitate the public banning of a book. (Yes, a few schools out there actually tried this.) Another might look past those things and see a tight-knit group of teens exploring the Great Perhaps and trying to decide What will happen in this life? and What will we do when it hurts? and What happens after this life? "Is it nothing? POOF?" Or is there more?
Maybe Alaska, the girl who intrigues everyone she meets, is right. Maybe "straight and fast" is the best way to navigate this life.
Miles Halter may not have a clue about Alaska or her philosophy on life, but if you try to stump him, you'll soon learn that when it comes to the last words of famous people he knows his stuff. They've always intrigued him, as if someone's last words say "in bulk" who someone really is as a person. When Miles leaves for boarding school, he doesn't expect to experience much of the Great Perhaps, but he's glad he does, even if it changes his life forever. His life collision with the Colonel, Lara, Takumi, and especially Alaska, fills his life with something he's never had, both friends and experiences he'll never forget.
But it's the questions that rise from The Old Man's religion class that open up their lives and take this book to a level deeper than most YA books I've ever read.
"How will we ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering?" "How do you fit the uncontestable fact of suffering into your understanding of the world?" "How do you hope to navigate through life in spite of it?" "What is your cause for hope?"
Big questions, certainly. Questions that thinking adults sometimes stop to ask themselves, and now perhaps, so do young adults.
Conversation of the Day: What young adult book (not children’s book) do you think belongs on the list or honorable mention and why?
Hop on over to watch the video and share your thoughts in the conversation.