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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » Another request for Young Adult reading suggestions

   
Author Topic: Another request for Young Adult reading suggestions
Icarus
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I'm back to use the Hatrack Hive Mind again!

Some of you know I'm a writer. I have a novel manuscript that is getting ready to go out on submission to editors in the very near future. I've been looking for comp titles to give to people wanting to get a sense of what niche it fills . . . kind of like "may appeal to people who like ___." That's what I was going for when I started this thread. After having read most of the books recommended there, I found many really good books, but not quite what I was looking for.

I think in that thread I focused on the wrong aspect of my novel. I was focusing on the element some of my beta readers thought was most unique, I guess--the very understated speculative fiction element. I'm thinking now--after having read Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, actually, that what I should be focusing on is the tone of my book and the nature of its protagonist.

So, here's what I'm looking for:
  • boy books
  • Strong emotional throughline as opposed to action stories
  • YA, not middle grade
  • On the young end of YA--say a protagonist of fourteen or so
  • recent

Can anybody suggest books that meet the majority of those criteria?

To give you a sense, the comp titles in my mind are not recent, but I'd say my book might appeal to readers who enjoyed Jumper and Dragonsong. And yes, I know those two don't match all the criteria I just listed. [Smile]

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imogen
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The number one I have is The Cardturner by Louis Sacher which fits #1, #2, #3 but not #4. It is relatively recent (2010), but not new release.

[ October 09, 2011, 10:18 PM: Message edited by: imogen ]

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Icarus
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2010 is absolutely recent enough. It looks interesting; I'll give it a read! [Smile]
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AchillesHeel
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Magic's Promise by Mercedes Lackey.
*Male teenage main character.
*Despite the fantasy setting (telepathic horses!) its all about young love, building relationships and self acceptance. All the while it builds the trilogy's plot.
*The main character is gay, and the whole last bit of the book is a very vivid depiction of violent hatred and suicidal depression. Definitely not for children.
*Not recent at all, sorry.

I may only be suggesting this because I discovered The Last Herald-Mage trilogy shortly after I finished the Harper Hall Trilogy.

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ambyr
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It doesn't really hit your current points--the protagonist is female, and I think 11--but for recent with understated speculative fiction edge and focused on the emotional throughline, I think the Newbery-medal-winning When You Reach Me might be a good call.

Also seconding The Cardturner. Protagonist is I think 16 or 17, but keep in mind that protagonists are generally 3-4 years older than the target audience--if you're looking for something with a 14-year-old protagonist, you're mostly looking at things marketed at 10-year-olds, which are going to be pretty firmly middle-grade. (When You Reach Me being an exception to this, I think; obviously it's not true of all books.)

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Icarus
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Actually, fourteen is generally considered a problem age because it's on the cusp between YA and MG. There are subcategories, and people do speak of "Young YA" or "Older YA." There are totally YA novels with 14-year-old protagonists--and of course there are MG's with 14-year-old protagonists also. But that's precisely why I'm asking for YA suggestions with younger protagonists. [Smile] If your advice to me is to tell me to write a different book, it's a bit too late for that, and it doesn't really address the question. [Wink]
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Teshi
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All of David Almond tend to fill your criteria. They are suitable for Middle School emotionally and are certainly not action-driven. However, they vary in accessibility to an American YA audience.

I also read part of one to some comrade teachers and they were mightily confused, a response I didn't really understand.

I'm confused by your "young end of YA" being 14. I would say the young end of YA is eleven or 12 and that once kids reach 15 or 16 or so they may not specifically seek out adult books if they are non-readers but they are rapidly emotionally getting into what I would call books that are intended for adults but emotionally and reading level suitable for teenage readers. I wouldn't give a sixteen year old a teen book; I expect them to be making the transition into adult literature regardless of how exciting it is. Fifteen would depend on the kid and many fourteen year olds I would be giving them certain titles from the adult section such as the Triffids.

What you're saying is that actually there are a whole ton of YA books that are actually intended for 16 year olds. If this is the publishing understanding of what the target audience is, that explains why I found the YA section ludicrously innapropriate and dominated by romance when I was twelve and thirteen.

In Chapters, they have 9-12 and then YA. Surely this means that YA begins at 11 or so and at the very top end, reaches maybe 15 for girls and even lower for boys. Can you imagine a teenage boy older than 15 (at the top end) in the YA section? No; most people who read transition into the adult section at 14 or 15.

But again, the sexy teenage romance which I wouldn't give to anyone younger than 15 also ends up in this section whereas I feel it should be attached to the romance section or in "Teen Romance" not YA.

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adenam
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Perhaps Armageddon Summer by Jane Yolen and Bruce Coville. I don't remember the exact age of the protagonists but I think they are on the younger range of the teenager spectrum and it definitely chronicles their emotional development. It might be a little old though, it's from 1999.

Also Messenger by Lois Lowry (sequel/companion to The Giver and Gathering Blue. Again not sure the exact age of the protagonist but I remember him as a young teenager. It's much newer from 2006.

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Blayne Bradley
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The Stonekeeper's Curse. I really reccomend it, 3 books so far afaik.
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Icarus
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I really enjoyedThe Cardturner, imogen. Thanks for the recommendation. [Smile]

Teshi, over the decades, Young Adult has morphed away from where it was when I was a teen, which is much as you describe, to, yeah, pretty much the way I describe. There's still a wide range of plotlines and topics, but the expectation is that YA readers are mature enough to read about fairly sophisticated topics, but that they prefer protagonists who are closer to their own age. As a prototype/progenitor, think The Outsiders. YA fantasy and science fiction tends to run a little less mature in its theming; the kids who read them tend to want a bit less sexual content. On the other hand of the sexuality extreme you do have a crapton of romances, and yeah, they run the gamut from cute and chaste to reasonably racy. I've never been to a Chapters, but 11 - 13 is more or less Middle Grade, and yes, young adult would largely from readers aged fourteen to maybe seventeen or so. And ambyr is right that young readers generally tend to read about protagonists one to three years older than they are, so if we're not getting down to fine subdivisions like "Young YA," then yes, the prototypical YA character is sixteen or older. Fourteen is a much more common age for an MG protagonist.

There is a fair bit of outcry generated when parents and other gatekeepers don't get that YA these days is geared at kids who are fairly mature and aware about things such as abuse, rape, drugs, sex, death, and so forth, and who want to read about characters close to their age but they don't want their books emotionally or thematically dumbed down for them.

I believe there is a need for and a value in books that explore difficult themes with a special focus on a teen's perspective. An adult book might explore some of these topics, but not really hit what the teen experience of them might be like--having an almost-adult understanding of the world and physical abilities, but being trapped with a kid's lack of freedom and resources. Being a kid going through a friend's suicide, say, is a very different experience than being an adult going through the same thing. One of the difficulties you may face is adults believing you need to be sheltered and so refusing to talk to you about what you need to talk about. For kids who like to read, a lot of times a good book can help you work through your own confusions and beliefs.

Another prototypical modern YA book, 1976's Ordinary People, saved my life, I believe. It follows a teen through the fallout from his own suicide attempt after his brother's death, and how he struggles to rebuild his life, with the aid of a therapist. When I encountered this book I was trying to put my life together after my own incompetent suicide attempt, living in a culture where people hid trauma and mental illness and just about anything I needed to talk about was taboo and sinful. Conrad's healing journey (I didn't even need to look up his name) became my own. Obviously it didn't obviate the need for more help, healing, and therapy, but when I read it as a teenager, it was a lifesaver to me. I can't conceive of a book written for grownups pegging what I was going through so correctly.

This is not to say that all YA is dramatic stuff about death and sex. Just like books for older readers, it runs the gamut. As I alluded to, spec-fiction on the whole tends to be more innocent sexually, though probably more violent. I'm thinking here about books like The Hunger Games and The Mazerunner and Divergent.

There are YA readers who are younger than that rough 13/14 - 17/18 range, and there are certainly readers who are older. YA stories are often more plot-driven than their adult counterparts, and the increased focus on narrative appeals to many readers (including me). It's also fair to say that a lot of teens read YA and more adult-oriented fiction. Nothing is clear-cut. And this is where my MS comes in. The easy wisdom is to say that there are no YA readers much younger than 14, so you can't have a protagonist this age. However, kids younger than fourteen do sometimes, in real life, go through issues you can't explore within an MG book, and sometimes you can't just place an older character in a given setting.

This tension between an older understanding of YA--where YA is perceived to be, say, The Babysitters' Club instead of A Separate Peace, has erupted in controversy several times and led to attempted book-bannings. Banned Books Week ends this weekend, so it's worth noting that most of the books on the ALA's list of top challenged books every year (my apologies for being US-centric, but that's what I know; I imagine there is a Canadian analog) are YA titles. A few years ago there was an outcry within the SF community when Nancy Kress blogged about having read a YA where a teen discovered her mom having sex with her boyfriend within the first chapter or so. OSC waded into this one, agreeing that YA books had gotten too raunchy, with, IIRC, an implication that YA writers were basically trying to sell more books by being more edgy. More recently, there was a renewed brouhaha over Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak (1999), in which a teen girl works through the fallout of her rape at a high school party. Last summer, there was a twitterstorm of outrage over Meghan Cox Gurdon's article in the Wall Street Journal claiming that YA writers were filling their books with misery and darkness in order to sell more books. There was an outpouring of opposition to her article from both YA authors and fans on twitter, using the hastag #YASaves. Here is a recording of an NPR debate between Gurdon and YA author Maureen Johnson.

I'm kind of partial to the way things stand now as opposed to the understanding of YA that was more common (though obviously not universal, in light of the very old examples I've shared here) when I was a teen. Not just because of my own experience as a teen reader, but because YA is a very comfortable fit for me as a writer. I didn't know I was writing YA when I started out, but others noticed that I tended to write about teens, while expecting my readers to have a sophisticated vocabulary and be able to handle a bit of darkness. I have tried to get into MG and so far been put off by the titles I've tried. This is not to say that I've written (yet) about pederasty, suicide, gender confusion, or what have you. But, for instance, in the manuscript my agent is about to send around, I have a kid who runs away from a father most of us would agree is abusive.

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Icarus
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I just finished reading Messenger, and now I'm depressed. [Frown]
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BlackBlade
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Quick, grab a copy of The Giver, that will cheer you right up!
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Dobbie
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quote:
Originally posted by Icarus:
There are totally YA novels with 14-year-old protagonists--and of course there are MG's with 14-year-old protagonists also.

That actually sounds more MG.
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Teshi
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Thanks for taking me through that, Icarus.

quote:
who want to read about characters close to their age but they don't want their books emotionally or thematically dumbed down for them.
I guess one of the confusions for me is just how obsessed with "teen issues" the teen age-group is. I never had any of these issues as a young person. For me, being a teenager was more about increasing responsibility and intellectual understanding rather than issues like pregnancy, abuse, boyfriend issues etc. I understand people who struggle with these issues need to read about other people going through them, but also I would like to see there be fiction that recognises that not everyone's teenage life is like that-- or has to be like that in order to be legitimate.

Also, if what you describe is the case then shops like Chapters have it very wrong. They top out at 9-12, as I said, which implies that thirteen year olds should be reading YA-type books, and while a few thirteen year olds are dealing with issues surrounding sex, most are probably not-- unless I'm being appallingly naive.

*

I don't write older protagonists than the intended age, at least not deliberately. Perhaps this will be a problem for me in the future, but I think that when I write longer stories I'm thinking about the emotional/intellectual complexity rather than the "rating" of the material. When I was a young reader, I think I was happy to read about people of all ages provided the story was compelling.

Hm. I wonder if this will be a difficulty for me.

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DDDaysh
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quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
Quick, grab a copy of The Giver, that will cheer you right up!

lol..

Actually, I mentioned "The Giver" at work the other day, and NO ONE I worked with had even heard of it. And, it's not like none of them read, three of them are avid readers. I thought that it was pretty strange.

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imogen
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quote:
Originally posted by Icarus:
I really enjoyedThe Cardturner, imogen. Thanks for the recommendation. [Smile]

No problems. I thought it was fantastic.

Hmm. I'm trying to think but all the books I can come up with have older protagonists. The Messenger by Markus Zusak and Tom the Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta are both excellent with strong male leads and emotional storylines, but at the older end of YA.

I'll keep thinking.

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Icarus
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I just started reading Okay For Now, which also features a 14-year-old protagonist but seems to land on the YA side of the divide.

Teshi, I think there are YA books that recognize that not everyone's teen years are full of Issues and Drama. Honestly, I think most YA novels (apart from romances, perhaps) fall in this category. It's just that the heavy ones maybe get more press.

I as a reader am happy, as you say, to read about protagonists of all ages and genders, but the conventional wisdom is that plenty of readers, perhaps even a majority of casual young readers, are not. I wouldn't worry about it unless, as I have, you place a protagonist in that no-man's-land of fourteen. But if that's what's right for the story, that's what you need to do.

Here's a post about it from agent Mary Kole that caused me a lot of angst when it came out: http://kidlit.com/2010/11/20/is-it-mg-or-ya/ She basically says get out of the gray area between MG and YA if you can. Sometimes, though, (I'd say) the story you need to tell requires a protagonist that's in that gray area and wouldn't work any other way.

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adenam
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quote:
Originally posted by Icarus:
I just finished reading Messenger, and now I'm depressed. [Frown]

I'm sorry. Was it what you were looking for?
Gathering Blue actually ends on a happier note as I recall.

spoilers
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-

-

-

When I first read it in middle school I didn't accept that he died until my friends opened the book and proved it to me.

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Jeff C.
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OSC posted a blog and recommended a YA novel. Has anyone read it?
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Dobbie
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The blog or the book?
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kmbboots
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quote:
Originally posted by DDDaysh:
quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
Quick, grab a copy of The Giver, that will cheer you right up!

lol..

Actually, I mentioned "The Giver" at work the other day, and NO ONE I worked with had even heard of it. And, it's not like none of them read, three of them are avid readers. I thought that it was pretty strange.

It isn't that strange if they were older than young adults when it came out. I didn't read it until I was deciding whether to get it for one of my nieces.
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katdog42
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quote:
Originally posted by Jeff C.:
OSC posted a blog and recommended a YA novel. Has anyone read it?

Are you talking about his recent post regarding "The Emerald Atlas"? I just read it (my niece was reading it) and found it to be interesting. Not as intriguing as Harry Potter, and not nearly as emotional and thought-provoking as The Giver, but certainly not bad at all. I will likely pick up the next installment.
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Icarus
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I haven't yet; it looked like a secondary world fantasy. I might go take another look at the column.
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