Let’s face it: generally, I like young adult fiction ten times more than I like adult fiction.
Why? YA is rarely pretentious. It doesn’t try to be haute literature. It doesn’t try to be The Great American Novel. That’s not to say that YA isn’t quality literature; it simply seems to be less about the author’s prestige and more about the teens it’s meant for. YA shares wisdom, shares stories, shares information, shares inspiration. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s not afraid to be goofy or ridiculous or confused. At the same time, the best YA fiction doesn’t patronize adolescent readers, doesn’t skip the hard stuff because “they’re too young to get it.” This is why YA authors deserve an immense amount of respect: they write for people who are wavering on the line between kid and adult, who are the age that is perhaps the toughest age to be.
An interesting look at the history of YA fiction here.
The following are the books that helped me through that awkward, awkward time (and books I’m still fond of today). Note that I’m forgoing the books widely considered to be YA staples–The Giver, Ella Enchanted, Harry Potter, The Outsiders, etc.–in favor of the lesser-known (but still fantastic) titles on my shelf.
Top Ten (Lesser-Known) Young Adult Fiction Books (random order)
A Certain Slant of Light, Laura Whitcomb
In the class of the high school English teacher she has been haunting, Helen feels them: for the first time in 130 years, human eyes are looking at her. They belong to a boy, a boy who has not seemed remarkable until now. And Helen—terrified, but intrigued—is drawn to him. The fact that he is in a body and she is not presents this unlikely couple with their first challenge. But as the lovers struggle to find a way to be together, they begin to discover the secrets of their former lives and of the young people they come to possess.
Ophelia, Lisa Klein
Written by a professor of Renaissance literature/Shakespeare, Ophelia finally gives poor Ophelia (“get thee to a nunnery!”) her say.
A rowdy, motherless girl, she grows up at Elsinore Castle to become the queen’s lady-in-waiting. When she catches the attention of Prince Hamlet, their love blossoms in secret. But bloody deeds soon turn Denmark into a place of madness, and Ophelia must choose between her love for Hamlet and her own life. She devises a plan to escape from Elsinore…holding a dangerous secret.
Saving Francesca, Melina Marchetta
The voice of Francesca is so clear. The voices of the other characters are so clear. They’re snarky and sharp and drop pop-culture references like nobody’s business. All while wearing private school uniforms.
“St. Sebastian’s pretends it’s coed by giving us our own toilet. The rest of the place is all male, and I know what you’re thinking if you’re a girl. What a dream come true, right? Seven hundred and fifty boys and thirty girls? But the reality is that it’s either like living in a fishbowl or like you don’t exist.” (Taken from back cover: Knopf 2004 edition)
The Two Princesses of Bamarre, Gail Carson Levine
If you’re a YA connoisseur, or if you were young in the ’90s, you’ve probably read Ella Enchanted. The Two Princes of Bamarre is by the same author (GCL, master of YA fantasy), and I think I love it even more than Ella Enchanted, if that’s possible. For once, the shy, fearful character gets to be the hero.
The two princesses of Bamarre couldn’t be more different. Princess Addie is fearful and shy. Her deepest wish is for safety. Princess Meryl is bold and brave. Her deepest wish is to save the Kingdom of Bamarre. They are sisters, and they mean the world to each other. Then disaster strikes, and Addie–terrified and unprepared–sets out on a perilous quest. In her path are the monsters of Bamarre: ogres, specters, gryphons, and dragons. Addie must battle them, but time is running out, and the sisters’ lives–and Bamarre’s fate–hang in the balance. (Taken from back cover: Scholastic, Inc. 2001 edition)
Jenny of the Tetons, Kristiana Gregory
My aunt gave this book to me for my birthday one year. It’s tricky to pick out a book for another person no matter how well you know them, but she chose perfectly. Jenny of the Tetons features characters based on real 19th-century pioneers. Need I say more?
Orphaned by an Indian raid while traveling West with a wagon train, fifteen-year-old Carrie Hill is befriended by the English trapper Beaver Dick and taken to live with his wife Jenny and their six children. Carrie Hill hates Indians. Indians killed her parents and ruined her life. To her dismay, Carrie discovers that Beaver Dick’s wife, Jenny, is a Shoshoni Indian! But as Carrie’s wounds heal under Jenny’s gentle care, she begins to respect and love this kind woman.
P.S. Sorry about the weird spacing in this post. WordPress won’t let me make it better, for some reason.