Why are YA novels so appealing right now? I know many people in their fifties reading young adult novels like the Harry Potter series and The Hunger Games trilogy. And these non-YA readers just gush about the great storytelling they are finding in their kids’ books. I recently listened to The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, which includes The Hunger Games (2008), Catching Fire (2009) and Mockingjay (2010) and was amazed by how much I enjoyed them. I was just blown away by Suzanne Collins’ narrative skills and plotting. Nothing was conventional. The story was completely fresh.
I won’t tell you about the plot, because it sounded bizarrely unappealing when I first heard it. But my friend Linda insisted that I get over that. I’m glad I took her advice. Just get a copy of the first book, The Hunger Games and give it a try. Don’t spoil it by reading reviews. Let me just say one lady I recommended The Hunger Games to has since read all three books and has already started rereading them. If you liked The Giver by Lois Lowry or Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, the odds you should read The Hunger Games.
I caught this YA trilogy at the perfect time, finishing the first two the night before the third was released on August 24th, which I got from Audible that morning when I woke up. I’m not sure I would have loved them so intensely if I had to read them a year apart, like I’m doing with the WWW trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer, another story that I highly recommend, also featuring a teenage girl as the hero of the story.
My all-time favorite novels are the Heinlein juveniles, twelve science fiction books written in the late 1940s and 1950s by Robert A. Heinlein. I read those books when I was a teenager, and the only books that come close to their excitement since then have been YA novels. Is that a failure to grow up?
Oh, I’ve read hundreds of adult novels that I greatly admire, but they lack the emotional excitement of YA novels. That’s one clue. Adult novels are great for intellectual reasons, but YA novels are fun for their emotions. YA novels are like roller coasters – thrill rides, and even when they deal with ideas, they are sense of wonder thrilling. Maybe us oldsters just want to feel young again.
YA novels defy genre classifications – they are all shelved together and not segregated by topics. For instance The Hunger Games is science fiction, but it’s read and loved by all kinds of readers, including those who would never choose to call themselves fans of science fiction. Stranger still, this trilogy has flown completely under the radar of most hard core science fiction readers.
The Hunger Games and Catching Fire should have been Hugo winners, but they didn’t even make it to the nominee level. Why? I’ve read the 2010 nominees and I think Catching Fire stands up equal to any of those books. Wake, by Robert J. Sawyer also features a teenage girl protagonist and is a YA novel too, but Sawyer is a big name in the SF genre, and Suzanne Collins is not. Julian Comstock is also about tyrannical government that occupies the former United States like The Hunger Games, and its author, but Robert Charles Wilson has already won a Hugo and is well known to SF readers.
In other words, YA novels seem to be a world unto themselves. According to Wikipedia, young-adult fiction is intended for 14 to 21 year olds. I’m not the only one wondering about why us old folks are reading kids’ books, the New York Times ran “The Kids’ Books Are All Right” recently asking the same questions. I agree completely with:
“A lot of contemporary adult literature is characterized by a real distrust of plot,” Grossman said. “I think young adult fiction is one of the few areas of literature right now where storytelling really thrives.”
Over at Ground Zero they asked what has sparked a YA golden age? They point out that sales of adult novels are in decline while YA sales are growing. They also give more first person accounts of adults reading more YA novels than their young adult children. Did the Harry Potter books get us all hooked on reading kids’ books?
Over at the American Library Association they have their YALSA lists of Best Books for Young Adults broken down by long lists and top ten lists going back to 1996. The Hunger Games was on their Top 10 Best Books for 2009, picked from 86 books from the longer list. The Hunger Games was the only book I recognized, so maybe I have a treasure trove of great books to mine. I didn’t recognize any of the 2010 top 10, and only one each from the 2007 and 2008 lists. (I did read that one 2007 book, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and it was impressive.)
YA lit is a vast area of literature that I’m mostly unfamiliar. I need to change that and go exploring. It will give me something to do in my old age, and maybe even help rejuvenate my old mind. Maybe YA books are appealing to us OA (Old Adults) because we’re weary of this old world and crave a younger one.
JWH – 9/1/10