Not too long ago, adults who enjoyed reading books written for children and teenagers were a little embarrassed. Harry Potter changed all that, and now grown-ups don’t mind admitting they love kids’ literature. In fact, the publishing industry estimates that well over half of the readers of young adult (YA) books, marketed for twelve-to-eighteen-year-olds, are real adults. (We all know that a twelve-year-old isn’t an adult, young or otherwise; an eighteen-year-old . . . maybe).
Industry expert Michael Cart thinks of the current era as the “golden age” of YA literature: “With the dawn of the new millennium, YA began evolving at a dizzying pace, spinning off a near surfeit of trends.”
YA isn’t a genre — YA novels encompass a variety of genres, from fantasy to mystery to historical fiction to contemporary realism. Like adult fiction, some YA fiction is high-quality and some isn’t. What all YA fiction has in common is a teenage protagonist coming of age. “To come of age is perhaps the most common ground there could be among readers,” says Virginia Zimmerman, professor of English literature at Bucknell University in an article in the Atlantic (“Why So Many Adults Love Young Adult Literature”).
Many YA books are great choices for book clubs — well-written, character-driven, fast-paced, and full of topics that will stimulate interesting discussions. Last week, I facilitated a discussion on Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, which has been on the New York Times YA bestseller list for over a year, claiming the #1 spot for several weeks. I’ve discussed some great books with this group (Nutshell by Ian McEwan, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan), but one of the participants said at the end of the meeting, “This was our best discussion yet!”
The Hate U Give is, on the surface, an “issue” novel, focusing on the Black Lives Matter movement. Our discussion didn’t focus on this issue, but on the novel as a literary work. How did the author bring complexity into what could have been a predictable story about police brutality? How did she bring the characters, both major and minor, to life? How would the book have been written differently if it were intended for an older audience? There was so much to talk about that we ran out of time before we ran out of topics.
Consider adding a YA novel into the mix when you’re making your book club selections. We’d love to facilitate your discussion!