Monday, November 05, 2007

Michael Bourret doesn't think young adult novels are only for young adults

Telling people that I represent young adult books can be annoying, whether it's because of blank stares from people who don't understand that children's books go through much the same process as adult books, or the gentle ribbing from friends that think I'm still stuck in high school.

But there are great YA books out there that everyone can appreciate and enjoy, like my own client Sara Zarr’s Story of a Girl a finalist for this year’s National Book Award, I put together a short list of some of my favorite books for teens that even adults reluctant to read YA should be able to enjoy and appreciate.

1. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

A gritty, honest, sober look at what it means to be a teenager. Alienated from her peers after calling the cops during a party over the summer, Melinda has become an outcast at school, and can barely speak. We experience her pain, anger, and frustration dealing with her school and home life. It isn’t until much later in the book that we come to understand her silence. This is an important and powerful novel that has started many discussions between parents and children.

2. Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Teenager Steve Harmon is accused of being the lookout during a burglary that ended in murder, and is now on trial for the crime. Innovatively told with a mixture of screenplay dialogue and journal entries, all written by Steve, Monster asks important questions about morality and conscience, and is a quick, engaging read.

3. Twilight by Stehpenie Meyer

Much more commercial than my first two picks, this one has easily been successful with adult readers already. It is the romance between the self-assured Bella and her vampire beau that has quickened many pulses. Like good chocolate, Twilight is the perfect balance between dark bitterness and sugary sweetness. Perfect for any romance reader.

4. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

This one is perfect for anyone who likes sci-fi or fantasy. Set in a world where everyone is made “pretty” on their 16th birthday, Uglies is a Brave New World for the Paris and Britney generation. All of the books in the series deal with issues like beauty standards, the role of government, the importance of free will, and celebrity culture, all the while being a thrill-a-minute ride.

5. Clay by David Almond

The story of two boys who build a monster, Clay deals with questions of faith, character, and evil. This is one of my favorite books, period. The language is beautiful and evocative, and I think anyone can relate to the issues at hand. I find myself recommending this book more often than almost any other.

I hope I can convince some of you who aren’t already hooked on YA books that they’re just as good and varied as the adult books you’re reading. They run the gamut from literary to commercial, and they welcome every genre (and don’t mind mixing them sometimes). For those of you that are reading YA, what would be on your list of recommendations?


  1. Oooh, those are good ones on your list! I'd add the Philip Pullman His Dark Materials trilogy, MT Anderson's Feed and Burger Wuss, Peeps by Scott Westerfeld, Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat series, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card... I'm enjoying YAs these days almost more than "adult books" (and I'm in my 30s).

  2. I have a son who's 12, and I discovered some time ago that YA includes some of the finest writing I've read.

    Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series is fantastic.
    Johnathan Stroud's Bartimaeus Trilolgy is original, funny and a bit dark.
    Avi's Crispin I snuck this book out of his room to finish it on my own.

    There are more, these are just off the top of my head.

  3. So glad you posted this. I don't write YA; but I sure do love reading the good ones, and I wish I could do it.

  4. "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd is one of my very favorite YA books. The writing is not only outstanding, but the MC and the many characters in this story are incredibly entertaining and memorable.

    Also, another favorite of mine is, "Teach Me" by R.A. Nelson. I love her poetic style of writing.

    W.L. Decker

  5. I agree with Catherine about Philip Pullman's books, which both of my kids love. And my husband and I really enjoyed "Ender's Game," though oddly enough, our kids didn't really like this. "The Secret Life of Bees" has been on my to-read list for months.

    Some YA books I have enjoyed are: Louis Sachar's "Holes," Henry Mazer's "The Wild Kid," Debi Gliori's "Pure Dead Magic" (and others -- her books are very funny), Garth Nix's "Abhorsin" series, Edward Bloor's "Tangerine," and Sarah Patricia MacLachlan's "Sarah, Plain and Tall." I'm also a big fan of Michael Morpurgo and have introduced quite a few adults to his books, but my all-time favorites are probably Natalie Babitt's "Tuck Everlasting" and Rachel Field's "Calico Bush" -- both of which were written decades ago, but have an appeal and beauty that is timeless.

  6. Excellent post.

    There are some extremely talented YA authors out there. I’d add to the votes for Philip Pullman. I’d also vote for another Philip – Philip Reeve, author of the amazing Mortal Engines series. Outstanding writing.


    and the best book I've read in a loooong time:

    Markus Zusak's THE BOOK THIEF

    (altho this one wasn't marketed as YA in Australia, I don't believe)

  8. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart is fabulous, and I loved Star Girl by Jerry Spinelli. I have two teenage boys and it's fun to read what they're reading.

  9. I'd like to add three I've read recently: the very charming FRANNIE IN PIECES by Delia Ephron and two by Gabrielle Zevin, ELSEWHERE and MEMOIRS OF A TEENAGE AMNESIAC.

  10. I knew a man in his fifties who picked up his teenage daughter's copy of Ella Enchanted and absolutely loved it. It changed the way he viewed YA literature forever.

  11. Story of a Girl is a wonderful read, and I also highly enjoyed Looking for Alaska. Of course, there's also The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, which has enjoyed a multi-market readership, appealing to mainstream, literary and YA audiences. What writer wouldn't love to write that kind of crossover?

  12. Younger than even YA, I love the middle grade book The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron. It gets a gritty start as the spunky not-even-tweener's favorite habit is listening in on 12-step meetings, and the language is clever and modern and fresh.

  13. Great post, Michael, and my heartfelt congratulations to you and Sara Zarr - I hear that her book is exceptional. :)

    And one anecdotal comment here; about 2 years ago I wanted to do some research into YA because it was a genre I felt I wanted to break into. What I read astonished me. The quality of writing in this area is amazing and I definitely decided early on that if I wanted to sit on the shelves in that section of the bookstore, I was going to have to raise the bar...a LOT.

    How fabulous that it's our youngest generations who are being exposed to such exceptional talent. Thank you so much for the work you and Jim, (my guy at Dystel) and all the rest do in representing and promoting these books. We readers and writers alike sincerely appreciate it. :)

  14. I am a librarian and a passionate young adult reader. I steer our adult patrons to teen fiction as often as I can! Some of my favorites:
    Milkweed, J. Spinelli
    The Book Thief
    Godless, P.Hautman
    The Canning Season, P. Horvath
    The First Part Last
    How I Live Now, M. Rosoff

  15. i started reading YA for research, but now read it for pleasure. I second your mention of the Uglies series. It's wonderful.

    Another book I love is Gary D. Schmidt's "The Wednesday Wars." The narrator is laugh out loud funny and there are touching moments too.

    I'm adding "Clay" to my reading list.

  16. Love this post and all the book lists by commenters. Thanks!

    Hey, I think the archetypes are and have changed for YA lit. It's refreshing. I don't think that a formula, lesson oriented book is getting published for teens or even pre-teens as much.

    A agree with LOOKING FOR ALASKA and TEACH ME. They are great books, and while they teachers aren't creating unit plans arounds these YA books, teens (and teachers and other adults) are finding them and gobbling them up. This is a good thing. I also agree with Pete Hautman's GODLESS, but submit that YA audiences like his INVISIBLE even more.

    Add to the list a young writer, Ned Vizzini. His BE MORE CHILL is hilarious and fresh. His latest, A FUNNY KIND OF A STORY is crafty and on the edge as well.

    Good stuff!

  17. I LOVED Twilight (and the rest of the series) by Stephenie Meyer. It inspired me to take another look at my own YA novel. I've been thinking about reading Scott Westerfeld; I'll def have to check him out.

    I enjoyed your panels at Backspace earlier this month. It was nice to put a person with the face and name from the Web site. Thanks for taking the time to come. It was a great experience.

  18. I would like to add the Australian Kate Constable and her Tremaris trilogy to the titles mentioned here. Ms. Constable has restored my faith in BEAUTIFUL WRITING. And oh, how encouraging to know that someone (many someones, it seems) is writing beautifully for young adults, which is something I strive to do as well.

  19. I just read WICKED LOVELY--a book for teens. Fans of the TWILIGHT series will like it--it's more edgy though.

  20. Michael,
    Your readers might enjoy this audio interview with "Story of a Girl" and "Sweethearts" author Sara Zarr. And, of course, you're mentioned in it!

  21. I completely agree. I am doing an interview with Ellen Hopkins soon and have read all of her books back to back...Yeah, I need a 12 step program to get off of them. My husband, seeing my enthusiasm for them, decided to join me in reading them. He is not a writer/reader as I am. But the other day, after having read her first one and the sequel, Crank and Glass, he came up to me and said, don't you talk with that author chick, Ellen? Can't you get her to hurry up and write another one so I can find out what happened to Bre?

    Uh-huh...You're right.

    I am just as likely to pick up RA Nelson and Ellen Hopkins at the local bookstore as I am Cunningham or Patchett.

    Thanks for this. Great blog btw...I stumbled upon it this morning.

  22. I think it's interesting to consider that for Young Adult novels with Gay (GLBTQ) characters, almost half of the readers seem to be adults - reading for their inner teenagers, perhaps? (At least that's what I've heard anecdotally from booksellers.)

    It makes total sense to me - every time I read a great YA, I'm plunged back in time to my own arrested development age of 16!

    It's nice to think that a really great book aimed at Teens in High School could ultimately appeal not just to the kids in High School NOW, but to everyone who WAS in High School in the past (and, of course, if the book backlists well) to everyone who's GOING TO be in High School!

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