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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    The Bibliophile

    Newsflash, casual readers: Young adult literature is not just for kids.

    Most readers misunderstand the young adult classification. But get it straight: books written for a teen audience are often even more compelling, controversial and literary as books written for adults.

    The genre is believed to have started with J.D. Salinger’s classic “”The Catcher in The Rye,”” a book about a young man and how his life is so “”goddam crumby.”” You can see how this might turn people off from the genre. But it’s an important distinction that Holden Caulfield considers his story from some time after it happened, and that the book was marketed to adults. “”The Catcher in the Rye”” is a great book, but it lacks what makes the young adult genre special.

    In a recent Washington Times article (“”Children’s books lack moral lessons,”” Oct. 4), columnist Julia Duin expressed exactly what readers of books exclusively marketed to adults fail to understand. Young adult books are not about moral lessons, as Duin suggests they should be. This is not “”Dick and Jane Learn to Share.”” Books written for teenagers should and do address the serious social, intellectual and moral issues teens and young adults are dealing with. The mark of an accomplished novel is no different for young adult books than it is for adult novels, and no one should overlook a book because it has a young protagonist.

    As college students, we are often subject to ageism; do middle-aged soccer moms get pulled over as often as we do for speeding? Are their bags searched for shoplifting as often as ours are? To dismiss a book that is written for young people is in the same vein of discrimination. If the world took us seriously and stopped patronizing us, it might learn something. Just like readers all would from reading books for and about young adults.

    On the current New York Times list of bestselling hardcover fiction books for adults, there are five crime novels and five romance novels. The bestsellers in children’s books, which includes young adult novels, features a book about a suicide, one about drug addiction, a Newberry-winning allegory of childhood, and two in a series about post-apocalyptic dystopian America (and oh, yeah, some book by “”Hills”” star Lauren Conrad).

    It seems obvious which list has more heft and depth behind its members. Books written for teens  deal with issues adult novelists are too commercial or too literary to deal with, but deserve to be considered nonetheless.

    It’s possible to read the entire adult list and find no relevance to your own life, unless you’re a Scottish rogue, a Harvard symbologist or a Pattersonian sociopath. That is not possible with the list of books for teens: the issues there are pertinent, relevant, immediate and personal.

    The real first book in the young adult genre was S.E. Hinton’s 1967 “”The Outsiders.”” It considers important issues teens and young adults face, but not from the perspective of a jaded almost-adult, like “”Catcher in the Rye.”” It considers the agony of being young and trying to be an adult from the perspective of a teen (and was written by one, too; Hinton was 15 when she began writing the book).

    There’s more to young adult literature than “”Twilight.”” Most of the books written for the genre are smart, honest and readable — characteristics that much of adult and literary fiction sorely lacks. As Newberry-winning author Kate DiCamillo said in an interview with, the only difference between writing for adults and writing for a younger audience is that she tries to end on a note of hope.

    There are more than a few adult books that would have been much better if written with this in mind (“”Catcher in the Rye”” arguably being one of them). But young adult books don’t have to be happy or hopeful. What they have to be, most often, is fresh, creative and real.

    If you’re a skeptic, try reading Megan McCafferty’s “”Sloppy Firsts”” series and try to say the portrayal of college is in any way inauthentic. Pick up John Green’s “”Paper Towns”” and say you’ve never mis-imagined someone. Finish Suzanne Collins’ “”The Hunger Games”” and say you’re not scared for the future of America. Read through M.T. Anderson’s National Book Award winner “”The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing”” and be challenged to reconsider history.

    It’s no coincidence that books for young people are the ones with the most passion, poise and punch in the current literary landscape.

    — Anna Swenson is a sophomore majoring in English. She can be reached at

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