While the mere mention of the whole Jacob-Edward-Bella love triangle might test your gag reflex, there is one thing everyone can thank Twilight for: It’s one of the few recent best-selling series to lure the over-16 crowd back into the exhilarating and provocative world of young adult literature.
What makes mature adults duck into the young adult (YA) shelves at the bookstore or click ‘Teens’ on Amazon? Everybody’s got personal reasons, but here’s one that’s pretty universal: Many YA books are excellent. They might be even more satisfying now that you’ve survived those melodramatic years.
“You get to go back to a time of firsts,” says Meghan Miller Brawley, 29, a librarian and YA fan who blogs on Foreveryoungadult.com. “Everything, every day was so important. You get to get caught up in that, but a couple of hours later, you finish the book, you look around, and you’re grown up again.”
Some say modern-day YA books are more violent, more up-front about sexuality, more heart-breakingly realistic, than their predecessors. Others believe the material is just as much of a guilty pleasure as it’s always been.
First kisses! Football practice! Cliques! Prom! Books that depict some of these fraught emotional landscapes are YA staples. In realistic fiction these days, “big issues aren’t treated as big issues, and in that way, they’re able to be addressed,” says Brawley. “Not every book about a gay teen is a book about a Gay Teen, in capital letters.”
If you liked Cynthia Voigt’s Homecoming and Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, check out What Can’t Wait by Ashley Hope (a Mexican-American teen’s parents pressure her to marry after high school), What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen (a teen embarks on self-discovery after she moves to a new town with her dad) and Hidden by Tomas Mournian (a gay teen shunned by his family struggles for safety and acceptance).
Lots of historical adolescent fiction could fall under the romance umbrella. An equally large chunk of beloved period fiction was about not-so-lovely times, such as the Civil War and the Holocaust. Why? “I think kids like to read about kids who are going through something that’s harder than what they’re going through,” says Brawley.
Some teens read classics willingly, and not just for English class. If you like fairy tales, mythology and classics, check out Jane by April Lindner, a contemporary take on Jane Eyre that recasts the heroine as a nanny who falls for her employer, a bad-boy rock star. Fantasies are often written as series, which is apt; readers can grow up with their fictional counterparts.