When I was recently invited to become a contributor to this discussion, my first reaction was “why me?” Sure, I’m a librarian working with children and teens, a former high school English teacher, a lover of books. But here’s my dirty little secret. Young adult fiction is probably not my favorite. I like it and I read a lot of it, but my own reading tastes are wide and varied, and I’m as likely to have a non-fiction title catch a ride home with me after slaving at the library as the latest teen-centric paranormal romance or dystopian adventure. Furthermore, beside the way my faith informs my life on a cellular level—how I live and breathe with the daily struggle of spirituality—it’s not the first thing I think about when I pick up a new book.
So, I wondered, what on earth could possibly justify me authoring a monthly muse on YA lit for a blog sponsored by the Association for Mormon Letters?
I haven’t fully settled that question in my own mind yet; I’m hoping part of the answer will come as I enter the fray. But in one way, I think I am qualified. I love young adults. Yes, teens can be loud, impulsive, insensitive to the feelings of others, and utterly infuriating at times. But they are also boundlessly creative, vividly engaged in the world, open to new experiences, funny, and kind.
Reading is one of the best ways to inspire vivid engagement in the world. The best literature written for young adults by authors of any faith serves as a space where teens, who are testing out their theories about the grand concerns of life, can think and feel and act imaginatively without fear of repercussions. In a book they can battle demons, both of their own and others’ making, without permanent, real-world consequences. Teens who build empathy, integrity and courage in the pages of a book carry those virtues onto their sidewalks and into their schools, and eventually into the wider world. I can think of no better reason to work at making reading a pleasure for them.
When I was teaching, I tried to instill in my students the power of words. I told them how a single letter on a blank page would create a sound in the mind of a reader; a carefully crafted sentence would inspire a vision in the mind’s eye. The best stories would create entire worlds, where a character’s joys and sorrows would make you laugh or cry, or even change your mind. We have a generation of LDS authors writing for the young adult market who are doing that with grace and style. What a wonderful time to be a reader.
So that’s it. I love books, and I love kids, and I hope that somehow qualifies me to offer my opinions on how those things work together. Of course, I welcome your thoughts on the subject as well. I look forward to our ongoing conversation.