Image: Dystopia by Enokson on Flickr
Young adult (YA) fiction ranges across themes and styles. The definition of YA differs across organisations, beginning at ages 11 to 13 up until about 18- 21 years old. Many storylines deal with social and personal issues teenagers identify with.
Given the value teenagers place on relationships, culture and peers, an understanding of the genre is critical if you want to engage them in reading.
Reading a selection of YA fiction enables you to get to know your students, their interests and concerns, opening up valuable avenues for discussion. Teens value the opinion of their peers above nearly anything else and sites such as www.goodreads.com, are vibrant hubs with reviews, recommendations and discussions.
A number of well-known ‘adult’ authors such as John Grisham, Jodi Picoult, Kevin Brooks, and even children’s fiction writer Julia Donaldson are now writing for this age. These and other writers have produced some exemplary pieces of literature to address the gap that used to exist between child and adult fiction. While some YA authors write about teenage ideology, passions and concentrations, others present fantastical stories based on dystopian or supernatural worlds. As a result there are books for the discerning, the mature and even the most reluctant of teen readers.
Below are some popular themes in young adult fiction along with examples of recommended reads to engage teen readers.
Dystopian novels tend to cover subjects like science fiction, survival, social classes, injustice and conflict. Popular titles include The Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness, The Blood of the Lamb Trilogy by Mandy Hager (NZ), the Dust lands’-Blood Red Road series by Moira Young and of course The Hunger Games Trilogy.
The author of the Maze Runner series, James Dashner says he was influenced by The Ender’s Game and Lord of the Flies. The series provides a good mix of dystopia and science fiction.
Veronica Roth’s Divergent series is a cure for anyone looking for a dystopian trilogy perhaps as absorbing as The Hunger Games Trilogy. The series covers typical Dystopian subjects such as identity, families, courage, social classes and science fiction. You can view the Harper Collins' Discussion Guide (PDF) to this book here.
Novels dealing with the supernatural include themes such as good and evil, relationships and conflict woven, reminiscent of the Twilight series.
A good example is the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. Reaching number 8 on the New York Times Best Sellers Children’s books list, this series will satiate cravings for demons, magic, blood and revenge.
The Fallen series by Lauren Kate covers the supernatural, romance and reincarnation. Winner of the Teen Reads Awards Winner in 2010, this series is a good hook for girls who are reluctant to read.
Bruiser by Neal Shusterman explores the supernatural, child abuse and family problems and is on numerous honours and awards lists including the 2011 ALA-YALSA Quick Picks Award List and YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers List.
There are currently very few titles for teens in this genre. However, two notable titles are Swim the Fly by Don Calame, which is full of adolescent boy humour and was so popular the author wrote a sequel Beat the Band.
While girls seeking variation from Dystopia and vampire romance might like Keren David’s: Lia’s guide to winning the lottery. Kirkus reviews called it ‘Tart, funny and fast-moving, with a touch of rueful realism and a lot of heart’.
Novels in Verse
Novels in verse are quick to get through and tell a story with the minimum amount of words in the most heartfelt way. Karen Hesse, Margarita Engle, Helen Frost, Andrea Cheng, Sharon Creech, Nikki Grimes and Steven Herrick are some the exceptionally talented names in this genre.
Young adult writer Margarita Engle has won numerous honours for The Surrender Tree. Her novels cover not just the history and charm of Cuba, but also her concern for this island nation’s social issues such as oppression of women and slavery.
Published to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, The watch that ends the night: voices from the Titanic by Allan Wolf brings history alive through, twenty -four voices.
Visit PapersPast, a digitised database of New Zealand’s historical newspapers for articles on the sinking of the Titanic and to find out what got reported in the aftermath of this disaster.
Social, personal and global issues
A number of authors focus on issues of the day ranging from war, the environment, civil rights and politics to mental health, relationships and bullying.
New Zealand writer Mandy Hager makes it a point to get her readers thinking about social and global issues. Her latest book Nature of Ash makes a statement about political ideologies which are current and very much at the forefront of peoples’ thinking today. Her previous books Smashed and The Blood of the Lamb Trilogy have received awards for young adult fiction in New Zealand.
British author Mal Peet’s books explore themes of war, coming of age, history, relationships. His latest book Life: an exploded diagram spans generations against the backdrop of the Second World War right up until 9/11.