YA Corner: The new girl

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.

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8 Responses to YA Corner: The new girl

  1. Jonathan Langford says:

    An excellent inaugural post. Your third paragraph from the end encapsulates one of the best reasons I know for literature of all kinds — not just YA literature. Thanks for entering the conversation!

  2. Wm Morris says:

    Are we going to extend this column to middle grade fiction as well? Because I really want to talk about Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz series at some point.

    • Jonathan Langford says:

      I’m trying to get a Children’s Lit corner feature going as well. However, I don’t have someone for that at present. Any suggestions? I don’t know which slot would better fit the Alcatraz series…

      • Wm Morris says:

        I don’t know either. I believe that this is a matter of some dispute among those who categorize. I would say that Alcatraz’s sensibility is much closer to YA than children’s lit.

  3. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    Welcome aboard! You mention how you used to teach the way a single letter creates a sound in a reader’s mind. My mother taught me to read at 4 because Dr. Spock said kids like me, the babies who never crawled but scooted, would have trouble learning to read. (Wrong.) So as she sat on the edge of the bed listening to me one night I read the word “can.” She pointed to the last letter of the word, which was “r.” I stubbornly insisted the word was “can” until she explained exactly what you did. Car. Wow. I was hooked. You could change one letter and change the meaning? I ran around the house showing everyone. Them my mother told me that I could go to college and study English and even become a writer, someone who changes letters around to make words. Should I thank Dr. Spock? Or curse him for a life of poverty? :)

  4. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    Just to prove I can do it, I’d like to change the “m” to “n” in “Them” above. (sheez)

    • Mary Walling says:

      My goodness Lisa aren’t we picky? Ever heard of deslexic fingers?
      Anyway, I loved this review. Loving YA is the first thing that’s important here. I think they are very special people, with a very unique insight into things. My mother taught me to love reading when I was 12. She handed me a copy of a Reader’s Digest Condensed book with several stories in it. One was a historical mystery by Victoria Holt. I was hooked forever. I read every Victoria Holt book I could get my hands on. Loved the Trixie Belden series, along with Nance Drew and the Hardy Boys. With those I spent much of my time in the library reading whatever I could find that caught my attention. I came to love “A Tale of Two Cities”, “Cheaper by the Dozen”, Bells on Their Toes”, “Paint Box Summer”. You name it, I read it. Thanks for being there for these YA. They need someone like you to encourage them.

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