What YA novels would you recommend to an older adult as examples of well-crafted fiction?
Join LibraryThing to post.
I have an elderly editorial-services client, a retired schoolteacher, who is writing his memoirs. He is trying to learn some skills of vivid narrative writing, but he doesn't read much; conventional adult fiction just doesn't hold his interest.
I thought of directing him to some solid YA storytelling that wouldn't make heavy literary and intellectual demands on him. I thought it might be easier for him to focus on the author's craft in a context that requires good technique to hold a young person's attention. Something fairly realistic (and not too grim) would be preferable to magical fantasy for this gentleman, so no Harry Potter-type selections, thanks.
If he's happy to read books aimed at female readers, there are a couple of older titles that I'd recommend. The solitary by Lynn Hall is a beautifully subtle character study of an 18 year old coming to terms with her family's past and learning who she is and what she wants from life. It's very short, but powerful. I also recommend In summer light by Zibby Oneal, which is about a 16/17-y-o and her relationship with her father, a famous painter, and how she deals with living under his shadow. It's also a gorgeous depiction of a hot summer on an island off New England.
Both these books avoid a lot of the trends and references that date YA books, and although both were written for the YA market, I feel that they are well-written and mature enough for adults to appreciate - I still do, *mumble* years after I discovered them in my teens!
Maybe some narrative non-fiction, like Ruth Reichl's books, might also be something to recommend.
The Giver is one of those books I think everyone should read, especially if he's trying for emotional depth.
Hmm I agree with The Giver. It is definitely one of those books everyone should read.
Great suggestions! Thank you. I've decided to try The Giver as an initial experiment. The male protagonist and the themes sound like something he could relate to. And the point about emotional depth, atlarge, is most apt.
Don't stop now if you have other ideas.
The first one that comes to mind is The Book Thief, mentioned above. Amazing book. I'm told that it's not sold as a YA in the author's home country, Australia.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Unwind by Neal Schusterman
Ok, I've just finished The Giver. (My Amazon Prime order came so fast that they must have shipped before I ordered it!) Very nicely done, even if the moral of the story is a bit heavy-handed. I'm not sure it will help me show my client the kind of examples of narrative and description that he needs to see, but the reading experience will still be good for him.
Now I'll try The Book Thief.
Thanks for the great lists.
Thanks for that tip, extrajoker. From the sample pages I've just read at Amazon and the associated reader reviews, I think you're right, that's a better choice for my purposes.
>12 Actually, I enjoyed The Book Thief; I just didn't think it was what s/he was looking for. :)
I had actually typed "she" at first, then decided I was being presumptuous and edited in the "/".
I liked I Am Messenger, too, but The Book Thief is superb writing. jbattis2 and I just disagree on that one. The Book Thief has sustained its popularity among a wide cross-section of readers for a extended amount of time, so that's one reason I thought it might be a good choice. My two "she's", wife and daughter, both heavy readers, rate it highly.
But if your instinct is I Am The Messenger is a better choice, go with your instinct. It's a good book and an easier read.
Someone mentioned The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian - This is a good example of telling life experiences. Sherman Alexie based the book on his experiences growing up. What type of background does your client have? City, farming, a specific ethnic background?
He's in his seventies and spent his early years in Southern California. The youthful escapades he recalls sound pretty innocent by today's standards. And it's fair to say that many or most adults of today did grow up with an earlier standard; they don't relate to a gritty-underbelly picture of youth. In simple truth, their memories are nothing at all like urban horror stories--no nostalgic sugar coating required.
He served as a Navy airman (though not as a pilot) before becoming an elementary schoolteacher, first in a very remote rural area of Northern California and later in the city. Ethnicity: I'd have to say generic mixed white.
I'm more than halfway through I Am the Messenger and am finding it well done, but it's dragging a bit through recycling of essentially the same content over and over and through a painfully slow unfolding of what I perceive to be the main message about Ed's journey of self-discovery. My client is not a very patient reader. I don't regret this reading experience myself, but I'm not sure it makes sense for me to recommend it to him.
I find myself a bit dismayed at the apparent prevalence of strong dark themes in young people's reading matter these days. To be sure, there's a need for realism and also a need for common ground with alienated youth. Even if some young people are not themselves into premature sex, drugs, and crime, with histories of abusive alcoholic families, they probably know people who are. But there has to be something in between teen noir and escapist magical fantasy. Where are those books?
Ok, I've read I Am The Messenger. It was well written, though again a bit heavy-handed with the message. But more than the message per se--well, please just let me say this: next time a recommendation steers me straight into an obvious religious allegory, I'd appreciate a warning.
What I'm finding myself wondering now is how representative these two samples are of current YA literature. Without overgeneralizing, would it be fair to say
• that they tend to deliver a message, moral, or lesson,
• that they tend not to be very subtle about it, and
• that the authors' struggle to avoid condescension shows a little bit?
And if these things are so, then I'd add a question: how do the youngsters seem to like reading these books? How do they respond?
If these are not fair surmises, then I'd welcome a counterexample.
I'm grateful for all comments. This is not my field, and I'm pretty lost in it.
When I was a young adult, I read books on the surface levels and tended not to notice the "obvious" messages or allegories or even obvious religiosity of some books. I loved L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time etc without noticing all the Christianity, and The Giver and various other books. I would probably have enjoyed the Narnia books if I'd read them at that age, but I didn't read them until later.
Regarding your question, however, the answer is no, no, and no. There are many books that don't deliver a message, moral, or lesson - or don't do it in any obvious way - and don't remotely speak down to their readers. I love YA books, good YA books.
I recommend again John Green, Maureen Johnson, and David Levithan's books, specifically Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars by John, 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen, and Love is the Higher Law by David. Also Saving Francesca by Malina Marchetta.
If he is willing to try fantasy and science fiction (or you're interested), Kristin Cashore's Graceling series and Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan books are wonderful.
*dusts off soapbox*
I would call The Giver more Middle Grade (ages 10-14) than YA...and in MG, you can get away with a little more didacticism. Most YA that teens love ISN'T overly moralizing or didactic. I think on the whole that I Am the Messenger is one of those YA books that English teachers love, but that aren't the ones that get passed from hand to hand in the hallways at school. The ones that DO get passed around (books by people like Laurie Halse Anderson and Ellen Hopkins) are often dark or gritty because teens are brave readers--and often use books as a way to "try on" different life situations and learn about the world and think about how they would act in similar circumstances. Other teens use those dark books to learn that they're not the only ones in difficult circumstances and that they can overcome their abusive relationship or anorexia or whatever.
When you think about it, the YA fiction world tends to reflect what's out there for adults...and what's big for adults in terms of popular mass market fiction is urban fantasy and thrillers. So...
There are in-between books out there, though. Just as in the adult fiction world. They just don't always make the headlines.
*steps down* :)
While I Am the Messenger is not, technically speaking, a "religious allegory," I can see how it might be too heavy-handed for some. I'm sorry it's not what you were looking for, but I recommended it because I thought it balanced grim and whim reasonably well.
I don't think your assessment of YA is at all fair. Personally, I think there are some brilliant YA authors out there. Your criteria, though -
" wouldn't make heavy literary and intellectual demands on him"
"fairly realistic (and not too grim) would be preferable to magical fantasy"
"male protagonist...he could relate to"
"don't relate to a gritty-underbelly picture of youth"
"not a very patient reader"
- are rather limiting.
Perhaps he'd like something with an adventure theme -- man v. nature? Unfortunately, that's not the kind of thing I generally read, so I can't think of any titles for you.
Given that he's looking to write a memoir, though, mightn't it be more useful to him to read actual memoirs, seeing how others have chosen to unfold the narratives of their own lives?
John Green is good. His most recent release maybe not so much as the main characters are cancer kids, though its not too dark.
>26 I don't think your assessment of YA is at all fair.
Sorry, I thought it made it very clear that I was asking a question to test a hypothesis based on a sample of two in a field that's foreign to me. I would not presume to make an assessment that way.
Hunger Games is a safe bet... just tell him to read the book before watching the movie! :)
I just went to Society of Children Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference where I picked up three young adult books. Love and Leftovers is a great book. The other two are mysteries: The Vanishing Game and The Christopher Killer. Your client might like these books. The Vanishing Game has some paranormal in it but are well done.
The Queen's Thief series by Meghan Whalen Turner is excellent. It's fantasy, but not the wand-waving type at all. It feels vaguely historical as it's set in a Byzantine-Greek world. There are gods who influence human events, but their part is fairly minor. The first book is narrated by the main character, Gen, a thief required to steal something very valuable to more than one kingdom. The others books switch the POV around.
The titles are, in order, The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and A Conspiracy of Kings. I think there are two more books yet to be written in the series, but each book has its own arc that is resolved. I do recommend reading in order though — the plot twists are great and it would be a shame to be spoilered.
I love Catherine Called Birdy, though since it's in diary format might a less useful example, but anything by Karen Cushman is good, and particularly The Loud Silence of Francine Green. It's set in the 50s and deals with the communist witch hunts. I tend to rush through books, at least the first time, but I just had to savor it!
I'd also recommend:
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen (well, this is a actually a bit dark)
Phoenix Rising by Karen Hesse (really all of hers)
Maybe Cynthia Voigt's Tillerman books?
Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
Trying to pick ones that aren't just girls girls girls.
Aimed slightly younger readers, but just as well-written as is possible (and funny to boot)
Freddy the Detective by Walter R. Brooks
The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald
Also, has he tried audio books? Plenty of fiction (both YA and adult) and great memoirs in audio format. There's an adult series of comic crime novels by Donald E. Westlake, which are extremely well-written and plotted (not to mention hilarious) and the audio books of the first nine (which are the best anyway) have an amazing reader.
Thanks for all the suggestions so far. I really appreciate all the thought that has gone into them, and I've been glad to learn about these books.
I was hoping that I could get my client to read one of them and then look at it analytically with me. I expected to be able to point to passages of description or action and say, "See, here is how the author makes this event exciting," or "Notice how she includes just enough detail to give us a feel for the place without trying to describe every single feature."
Unfortunately I'm finding that he just doesn't seem to be interested in discussing any writing but his own. I'm going to have to take another tack.
This message has been flagged by multiple users and is no longer displayed (show)
I'd like to invite everyone to check out my first YA Paranormal/Time Travel/First Kiss romance novel entitled "I Kissed a Ghost" Here is the link to the KINDLE edition once there you'll find the link for the paperback version.
I'd like to put a word in against suggesting Hunger Games. Its ragingly popular at the moment, but its dark and horribly written.
I certainly agree that it's dark, but horribly written is a matter of opinion.
Have you tried extrajoker's idea (see message 26) of directing him towards some great memoirs that resonate well with a YA audience but may also offer interest to a more elderly reader? Books that relate more directly to his own writing project might make him more open to seeing how others have handled writing such work. Some suggestions I'd make that fit your criteria are:
Roald Dahl's Boy
I Can Jump Puddles by Alan Marshall
Any of Bill Bryson's travelogues, or The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
Knucklehead by Jon Scieszka
Gerald Durrell's many memoirs
Also, although I haven't read either of these, Teacher Man by Frank McCourt and The Freedom Writers Diary are memoirs written by teachers that might be interesting to him.
Thanks for all these kind efforts on my behalf. I benefited, even if my client didn't.
Trying to get this client to read and discuss works that did what he was trying to do represented one of my last attempts to guide him toward a more effective narrative delivery. Soon after that--and more than a year ago now--I told him I was unable to continue the work. An editor simply can't (and shouldn't) try to take on the writer's job; but unless the writer fulfills his part of the bargain, the editor can't do hers.
I know a lot of self-styled writers who don't see any point in reading the work of others. Some of the most reading-averse are those who claim to write poetry. Needless to say, this lack shows in their writing.
Yeah, I don't know how you can be a good writer if you don't read a lot, particularly with memoirs (and poetry).
I'm sorry you had such a frustrating job, even if it's over now.
I have a friend who asked me to read the first few chapters of this memoir/novel thing she wrote. She's not a reader either, and her writing was awful. Full of details that maybe actually happened but didn't advance the plot at all. She balked when I suggested she read a few books to get the feel for how it's done.
A lot of people seem to think that what they have to say must be pure, unadulterated genius just because it came from them. It takes a pro to accept criticism.
You're right, weener. The only authors who've ever said to me "You're the editor. Change whatever you think needs changing." were indeed pros.
When someone I know asks me to read and comment, I usually decline, saying "I'd rather be your friend than your critic." Very few people can take honest criticism of their writing, even when it's mild.
Besides, in my case they're essentially asking me to give away professional skills that I get paid for. They wouldn't ask someone else for a free tooth filling or brake job or custom tailoring.
I've taken quite a lot of critiquing myself so I'd know exactly how it felt to be edited.
Some people seem to think editors are just supposed to correct their grammar or something. Better than those who DON'T bother to have their grammar checked, but not by much.
Some of the books I've ready in the last year have made me wonder if there were proper editors left, so I'm glad there are. They read like the author had only let family members give them feedback (and they were properly published books, not self-pubs, not religious presses, etc...).
Here are a few books nobody has mentioned that I think of as exceptionally well-crafted, well-written, extremely charming and/or highly unusual; none are fantasy, and none are of the gritty variety.
Jamila Gavin, Coram Boy
Helen Grant, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden
Sonya Hartnett, Thursday's Child
Julie Hearn, Rowan the Strange
Gregory Hughes, Unhooking the Moon
Steve Kluger, My Most Excellent Year
E. Lockhart, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
almost anything by Jaclyn Moriarty
For your client's purposes, though, the Kluger is certainly the best of these.
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.