By YA Author Suzanne Casamento
During a recent interview, I was asked why I write young adult (YA) novels. I jokingly responded, “Maybe I don’t want to grow up.” But later, I realized the real reason is because writing for young adults is an opportunity to teach.
When kids cross over to double digits, every little moment can be monumental. An argument with a friend or a glance from a crush takes on epic importance. Emotions race at tornado speeds. Everything is so new, mysterious and alluring. And unfortunately, even the bad stuff can be alluring.
The beauty of young adult literature is that it gives kids an opportunity to experience things, through characters, without actually experiencing them. It also teaches them that there are consequences, physical and emotional, to actions. So when and if kids are faced with making decisions in their own lives, they have some knowledge on which to base those decisions.
That is a privilege and a joy.
I recently published Fingerprints, a story about 16 year old Savanna. When her mother remarries and their house is invaded by her new stepbrother and stepsister, Savanna is extra grateful for her amazing boyfriend, David. But as his thoughtful ways become increasingly controlling, Savanna seeks help from her mom, only to find that she’s too wrapped up in her new family to care.
Fingerprints infuses warning signs into a funny, heartwarming book about friendship, family and love. It subtly teaches readers what to watch out for when it comes to relationships.
My favorite YA novels (below-in no particular order) also subtly teach while telling an engaging story. Perhaps you’ll encourage your kids to read them this summer. Or read them yourself!
1. Looking for Alaska by John Green – When Miles “Pudge” Halter headed off to boarding school in Alabama to discover the “Great Perhaps,” he had no idea that it would take form as the beautiful, mysterious, messed-up girl down the hall, Alaska. Green’s prose sucks you in on page one and takes you on a thoughtful journey about friendship, love and loss.
2. Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume – How could I create a list of favorites without including the Queen of YA? Tiger Eyes is my favorite Judy Blume novel because it’s a story about healing. After Davey’s father dies, she and her family move from New Jersey to New Mexico to be with extended family. While hiking in a canyon, she makes a friend who helps her learn to live again.
As a kid, I remember the canyons coming alive. I had never seen red rocks or desert. This mysterious setting almost becomes a character in the book. Now is the perfect time to read it since Tiger Eyes, the movie, will be in theaters this summer.
3. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson – This important novel examines the power of voice. Melinda is afraid to tell why she called the police at the end of summer party. Now the whole school hates her. But she’d rather not speak than explain what really happened. This Printz Award winning novel is a must for teenage girls.
4. Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne – All you fantasy lovers out there will love this tale about Faye’s stay at Holbrook Academy. She feels strangely connected to the school, but her visions are making it difficult to tell what’s real and what’s not. It’s up to her to unravel a mystery and perhaps, even save the world.
5. Cut by Patricia McCormick – McCormick does an amazing job dealing with the difficult subject of cutting. Callie’s internal dialogue coupled with group sessions so real you feel like you’re sitting in the circle, give the reader great insight as to the dangers of feeling powerless.
6. Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr – This National Book Award finalist does an amazing job of telling Deanna’s story about how one moment doesn’t have to define you. This novel brings hope to anyone who seeks redemption.
7. Tyrell by Coe Booth – Young adult fiction is lopsided with female main characters. But in this Los Angeles Times Book Prize winning novel, Coe Booth does a brilliant job of getting inside Tyrell’s head as he works a plan to change his life. The gritty, raw and real prose has you rooting for Tyrell from the minute you pick it up.
8. Saving Zoe by Alyson Noel – A year after her sister is murdered, Echo finds Chloe’s diary. She becomes so immersed in Zoe’s secret life that she’s not sure who’s who anymore. This funny and tearjerking novel explores the bond of sisterhood like no other.
9. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton – S.E. Hinton was just 17 years old when she set the stage for the YA genre with this groundbreaking classic. This book about friendship, enemies and the societal gap between rich and poor, first published in 1967, will forever stay gold.
10. Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen – I may just be the biggest Sarah Dessen fan alive. Keeping the Moon is my favorite because in it, she nails friendship between girls. When introverted Colie ends up in the beach town of Colby for the summer, she has no idea that her neighbors, Morgan, Isabel and Norman, will teach her everything she needs to know about friendship, confidence and love.
Dessen does an amazing job of telling stories about kids who are just like the real kids who read her books. Universal fears, desires and feelings flow effortlessly in all of her novels. I’ve packed her most recent book, The Moon and More, to read on vacation this week. I can’t wait!
What are some of your YA favorites?
Don’t forget to revisit TMoM’s suggested summer reading list for adults here!
Author Suzanne Casamento is Katie’s childhood friend, and currently lives in LA. She also keeps a blog called “The Question of the Day” and included a link to the interview she references above.