What YA Needs

Back in July, the #YANeedsMore hashtag turned my Twitter feed into a wish list of what librarians, readers, and book people wanted to see published for teens.  I’ve been thinking about it, and I want to add my own. YA needs more congenital disabilities.

Let me put it another way. YA does not need any more stories about tragic accidents or illnesses that affect the protagonists’ ability to do what they love most.  A few examples:

  • A runner loses a leg in The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen.
  • A dancer loses a leg in A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatramen.
  • An artist loses her drawing arm in Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham.

I like all of these books and recommend them often, but I want to tell future YA writers: this story has been told.  Let’s tell a new story.  Some people have had physical differences our whole lives.  Perhaps that could be a story, and I can tell you from experience that story isn’t a tragic one.

Monday Morning Music with Dolly Parton

dumplin“All the best things in my life have started with a Dolly Parton song.”

So begins Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, which is easily one of the best teen novels this year, in my opinion.  Willowdean Dickson is a girl whose story is well worth being read.  Even if you (like me) don’t have any interest in beauty pageants, give this book a chance.

In honor of Dumplin’ now being available for purchase (and I do recommend you do purchase it), here is some Dolly.

If you like… Anne of Green Gables

anaofcaliforniaFirst of all, let me admit something: I didn’t read Anne of Green Gables until I was an adult, and I’ve never seen the beloved mini-series.  So I don’t have the connection to the story (or the crush on Gilbert Blythe) that many women of my generation do.  That said, I liked the book, and when I saw Ana of California by Andi Teran, which is being marketed as a modern retelling of Anne of Green Gables, I was intrigued.

I reviewed Ana of California for Margins Magazine. My review, in part:

“Look at the shelf of beloved books that mothers and daughters read together.  Anne of Green Gables. Betsy-Tacy. Ballet Shoes. The Secret Garden. Matilda. Harriet the Spy. Surely you notice what’s missing.

What would you change, if you could, about one of these books to make it more representative of your experience? What would you keep?

Andi Teran asked herself those questions about one of her childhood favorites, Anne of Green Gables.  There is a lot to love about the book.  Anne is a bold and spunky girl who makes things happen.  She has inspired many young girls to do the same over the years.  The book’s themes of family and belonging are still relevant today.  But it is all so gentle and sweet in a way that modern readers might find fantastic.  And the all-white world of the book doesn’t represent Teran’s Mexican-American heritage.”

So Teran created a new story that felt more true to her.  She kept pieces of the original material, and fans of Anne of Green Gables will have fun finding them and making the connections.  Will those long-time fans of Anne fall in love with Ana’s story in the same way as they did with the original?  Probably not.  But I expect they’ll find it fun and interesting, nonetheless.

Check out more of my reader’s advisory posts here.

Title Trends in Teen Fiction

One of the perks of the particular type of librarianing that I do is that I have access to lots and lots of advance reader copies (ARCs) at my office.  Recently I was scanning the titles of the teen fiction ARCs I had and noticing some trends.  Just for fun, here are some of my findings:

 Everything is big.

 It’s all about forever.

 Action words are hot.

 Secrets and lies are still in.


The truth is that I have been reading a lot of teen fiction lately, but I can’t blog, tweet, or anything about it because it is for an award committee which requires confidentiality.  So this is what blog readers get when it comes to teen fiction.  At least for a while. ;)

Thursday 3: The Near-Future in YA Fiction



The Hunger Games and Divergent offer a couple of possible futures for humanity, but they are set in well established futures that are removed from our world by an indeterminate number of years.  What about the near future?

In these three books, teens take on a world that’s kind of like ours but with a “what if?” at the center of the story.

What if an extreme religion took over?  In Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle, it doesn’t take long for the Church of America to become ubiquitous.  Vivian isn’t a believer in the predicted Rapture, but when her parents (and a lot of other people) disappear, she is determined to find out what happened.

What if a bank took over when the economy went really bad? That’s what happens in Hit by Delilah Dawson.  Too much debt? You just might become an indentured servant of Valor National Bank.

What if you could choose to forget? More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera is the least futuristic of any of these books, but the marketing material for this book sets it in a “near-future summer in the Bronx.”  In this future, there is a way to erase memories, and Aaron thinks that might be a way for him to forget a part of himself he doesn’t want to acknowledge.

Can you think of any others to add to this list?

Raising a feminist?

Somewhere in my social media feed a link titled 18 Ways to Make Sure Your Child’s a Feminist caught my eye.  Of course I clicked.  And found myself nodding in agreement at the suggestions (Lead by example, challenge stereotypes, watch your language, etc) most of which are things I’m doing or trying to do.  The one that stood out to me, though, was number 15:

“15. Teach them about inspiring women who’ve changed the world. It wouldn’t be the same without Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks, or Anne Frank, now would it?”

radamericanomenNow there are a lot of great biographies of women who have changed the world.  If you’re looking for a particular woman’s story, I’d be happy to recommend one to you.   But if you just want to share the idea that there are a lot of different women who have changed the world in a lot of different ways, I recommend Rad American Women A-Z.  Not only does this book share one page profiles of women like education activist Jovita Idar, artist Maya Lin, and journalist Nellie Bly among many others, but it also encourages young people to be rad in their own way.  What more could you ask for?

For me, the book was a mix of names and accomplishments I knew with more than a few that were new to me.  As I turned the pages, I found myself happily surprised by the inclusion of musicians and artists along with activists and scientists.  Soon, my seven-year-old daughter was peeking over my shoulder.  The bright colors and bold text grabbed her curiosity, and she started asking questions about the women on the pages.  Almost none of the names were familiar to her.

It occurred to me then that I need to be more intentional in making sure she sees what women have done (and are doing) to make a difference in our world.  This book is exactly what I need to get started.





Thank you to City Lights Publishing for the review copy of this book.

Diversity at AWP15

awpIt’s about listening and humility.

At the AWP conference this past Saturday, I made it a point to attend as many discussions about diversity as I could.  The conference is aimed at writers not librarians–I only dream of calling myself a writer–but I found the perspective quite valuable.  I attended panels that featured writers of color discussing their work and their experiences in the publishing world, and the conversations kept coming back to listening and humility.

Can you write outside of your own experiences, including those of race, culture, and gender?  Sure.  But be aware of the complexity there.  Be aware of the history and the stereotypes that exist. Do your research, but–perhaps most importantly–beware of research.  Facts are good, but they only take you so far.  Facts read from books or gleaned from acquaintances don’t tell the whole story of a race or culture.  Facts don’t get at the intricacies of humor and language.  In her panel Navigating the Waters of Authentic Voice in YA Native Fiction Debbie Reese, who writes the fantastic blog American Indians in Children’s Literature, cautioned that even primary sources about American Indians can be problematic.  She urged non-Native writers to focus on being allies rather than being voices for Native people.

WNDB_ButtonIn the Race in YA Lit panel, writers from various cultural backgrounds shared their experiences with micro-aggressions, self silencing, and burn-out at always having to educate people about privilege and race issues.  There was some frustration in the conversation, but there was also optimism.  A lot of optimism actually.  Just the fact that we were having that conversation about race at a major conference means something.  The fact that #weneeddiversebooks wasn’t just a hashtag fad means something.

“Allies are important,” moderator Swati Avasthi (author of Chasing Shadows) said as she noted that the audience was mostly white. But there were cautions in this session too.  Avasthi said, “If you’re trying to do your research, do it with humility. Don’t go in and speak first.” Varian Johnson (author of The Great Greene Heist) offered this consideration: “Are you writing to exploit or enrich? Are you writing to expand the conversation or because you heard diversity is trendy?”

I spend a lot of time on this blog asking people to listen to me or explaining what people aren’t getting about my experience.  My day at AWP was a really valuable chance to stop talking and listen.  I don’t remember who said it, but this sentiment got a lot of nods: We are all on this journey.  No one has all the answers.  Let’s do what we can to keep this conversation going rather than shutting it down.

In the spirit of enriching the conversation, I offer these links:

Talking about religion…

I have been eagerly following the discussion of Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit going on at Teen Librarian Toolbox.  I haven’t been talking about religion very much anymore on this blog.  It is one of those awkward topics after all, like politics, that people tend to avoid.  But I am still reading about it a lot, and I am very glad that others are talking about it.   After all,  I spent most of my life (including all of my teen years) as a person of faith in a non-mainstream religion, and I seem to always be drawn to stories that reflect the feelings that I remember from my religious experience, including the feeling of not wanting to be part of the religious identity I had always known.

starbirdHere are just a few of the teen fiction titles that resonated with me, and my admittedly unusual experience, on the subject of faith:

  • Hush by Eishes Chayil – This story addresses issues of sex abuse in a minority religious community in which reporting to the outside authorities is discouraged.  It affected me deeply since it was an issue for my former religion as well.
  • Like No Other by Una LaMarche – While there has been some discussion of the problematic portrayal of Hasidic Judaism in this book, I thought that Devorah’s emotional experience struggling with her faith and strict religious community was beautifully written.  I think that is an important story to tell, and I saw this story as a way of sharing parts of my own.
  • Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock – Starbird’s situation in this book is even more different from mine than the previous two on this list–she lives in a cult–but, again, it is the emotional experience that resonated with me.  When she leaves her home and interacts with the Outside for the first time, she learns that Outsiders are not all bad and that her ideas about the world might not be completely accurate.  This is, perhaps, one of my favorite de-conversion stories that I’ve read for its grace in capturing a nuanced experience.
  • Eden West by Pete Hautman – While I’m on the subject of cults*, I’ll throw this book into the discussion even though it won’t be published until April.  There are already too many cults in teen fiction, but I’ll allow this one.  Yes, the cult has some weird beliefs, but Hautman lets his character figure it out slowly and reluctantly.  No matter how weird one’s beliefs are, the process of leaving them is slow and reluctant.  Too many teen novels don’t get that.  This one does.  Watch for it.

A few other titles that make the list: A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt (atheism/agnosticism & Orthodox Judaism), Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu (Quiverful Christianity; Publishes in June 2015), A World Away by Nancy Grossman (Amish). On the nonfiction shelves: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson or Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler.  I have a running list going on my book list wiki.

None of these books is an exact match to my experience of religion or of separating from it, but each of them offers some glimpse into the world of making your own way in the world that is different from the way you were raised (or considering the possibility of doing that).  That is not an easy thing to do, and it is not easy to capture.  I am looking forward to the continued discussion on TLT, and I applaud them for taking up a topic that people often avoid discussing in mixed company.

Curious about my current religious identity? I shared that story here.

* When you are part of a minority group that isn’t often reflected in fiction, you tend to find similarities where you can.  There is an emotional resonance for me with these stories about cults because they are also a minority belief group. My discussion of these books should not constitute a commentary on religion in general or in specific.

A new look at the end of the world (or, another #YAlittrend)

“In the Bible, the end of the world went on for a whole book.  But the real and of the world, Aiden knew, would never be more than a paragraph or two. The real end of the world would just be small things piled up.” —Son of Fortune by Victoria McKernan

YA lit has explored all sorts of ways the world might end or change drastically in various post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels that have been popular in recent years.  The book I quote above isn’t about the end of the world at all, but I thought the quote was interesting since I’ve read several teen novels this year, including a few that will publish in the year ahead) that take on the Biblical end of the world in various ways.  The trendwatcher in me has been taking note of these:

  • vivianThis Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready explores the rapture and religious fundamentalism.  I liked the story and the suspense, and I think that the message that religious extremism should be avoided will certainly resonate with a lot of young readers looking for a middle ground.
  • Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle has a more satirical edge to it that I liked.  It’s basically a road trip novel with social commentary thrown in for good measure.  Not to mention a post-apocalyptic style world. (Pubs January 2015)
  • No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss turns this trend on its head. This book takes place after the predicted End did not happen.  The family who banked their future on the prophecy is now homeless and navigating the challenges of the same old world. (Pubs March 2015)
  • Eden West by Pete Hautman is less about the actual end of the world and more about how it feels to live with the End hanging over you.  As someone raised in a non-mainstream religion with a similar focus on an End that could happen at any moment, I related to the story of being torn between the present and the possible future.  (Pubs April 2015)

I admit that my religious history might have me seeking out books like this out of personal interest, but it feels like a trend to me.  Or maybe it’s just the usual interest in non-mainstream religion (See also: Like No Other by Una LaMarche and Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock) that has always been a part of teen fiction.  Either way, I’m watching it.

See my previous discussions of trends in teen fiction here and here.

More trends in teen fiction

I have a few more #YAlittrends to add to the conversation started on Twitter months ago.  I added a few of my insights in this post, and here’s what I’m seeing in 2014 and ahead to 2015:

  • doubtfactGenre-blending – Is it magical realism or realistic fantasy?  Whatever you want to call it, it doesn’t fit neatly into one category like we are used to.  Some of the more interesting genre-blenders I’ve read recently: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, There Will be Lies by Nick Lake, and Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King.
  • Distortion of Truth – This could be lumped in with the Secrets & Lies category I identified in my previous trend post, but I wonder if we’ll see more books focus on the media like The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi and How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon.  I think that teens are thinking about and paying attention to issues like the ones addressed in these books.
  • Verse – Novels in verse aren’t new (and there are lots of terrible ones out there), but I’ve read some particularly excellent or interesting verse novels this year.  The Crossover by Kwame Alexander is one that comes to mind as a standout, but I might also mention A Time to Dance, which I blogged about here, and The Red Pencil.
  • chanceyouThe Effects of Mental Illness – These books aren’t always the easiest books to read, but I’m glad that they exist.  The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi is a powerful look at one family dealing with a mental break.  All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is a heart-wrenching story of suicide and bipolar disorder.  Whether it is about friends or family, the reality is that mental illness isn’t just about the people with the disease.  Also: Courage for Beginners by Karen Harrington and The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Any other teen fiction readers seeing trends?  Use the #YAlittrends hashtag on Twitter or share here in the comments.