Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Reading Contemporary Young Adult Literature

I was the lucky winner of these hardcover books a few weeks ago from Leandra. And what perfect timing because we had ten glorious days of Easter holidays and I had time to read all these. And there was no fighting :)

Although my favorite genre is historical, I enjoy stories set in the here and now, reflecting the troubles and trials of children in today's world. And boy do we live in challenging times, given that teenagers are looking for love ... in all the wrong places.

My favorite out of this bunch was HOW TO LOVE. The characters were real and I imagined a very happily-ever-after ending for many reasons, chiefly because they were good kids who chose to do wrong, but also lived with the consequences, and learned to love again. Both the boy and girl had a strong, supportive family, which was refreshing to see in a YA book.

FAKING NORMAL was my next favorite about a girl who is trying to be normal after being raped. I didn't guess who the rapist was until the author revealed it. I had suspected another character, so it was perfect. I like surprises. Again, I liked that the main character had a supportive family. It was a great contrast to the other major character's family, whose dad kills the mom. Yikes. But this is the reality for some kids. So these two kids' lives are intimately bound for a while. And here they learn to love, rightly.

MAYBE ONE DAY was a bittersweet story about friendship. Again, the girls had strong families that made the book enjoyable to read. They make some crummy choices but they are spot on as to why ... fear drives many of our decisions. However, I felt like this story has been done a million times, where a best friend is dying and imparts wisdom, so there weren't any surprises.

Loved the voice in THE BEGINNING OF EVERYTHING but frankly was repelled by the casual sex depicted. I think the main character was quite self aware when he said something about *using* a girl. Yup, recreational sex is like scratching an itch. Nothing special. But the problem is our bodies/souls are forever changed when we have sex, and we are not designed for heartbreak. We are made for love.

PANIC was the most disappointing of these five books. Felt like a riff on HUNGER GAMES. I had no respect for characters who thought so little of their lives that they would risk throwing it away for a mere 50 grand. The only reason I skimmed this book was to see how many stupid things the characters would do. And I do not equate foolhardiness with courage. Sorry. I couldn't believe that a dumb game like Panic was a tradition in this small town. I felt they all deserved to die. Sorry for being so uncharitable, but the stakes have to be high for a reason. And I wasn't buying any of them.

My kids and I have had interesting discussions about these books. I don't censor what they read, but they know that if something is offensive or disturbing, they should put it away.

These books reflect our culture and the distorted sense of love. Young people naturally think that love is all about wanting to be with the person, the pleasure you take, how the other makes you feel. Of course, love has those components but real love is an act of will, doing what is best for the other. It's a boy protecting a girl, a girl trusting a boy, and both exercising self-control. For young people reading this: the best way to measure love is given by Saint John Paul II in his book, Love and Responsibility: The greater the feeling of responsibility for the person the more true love there is. I highly recommend this book.


Gary Ludlam said...

I'll have to pass this list along to Elizabeth, both the recommendations for and against.
I think the current fad of YA dystopia might be running out of steam. Elizabeth read the Divergent series and found a similar problem to what you noted about Panic - the concept was unbelievable. Hunger Games, to me, suffered from that a bit. Authors too often stick something in to push the story in a particular direction that just doesn't make sense in terms of human nature. I think we need less "high concept" and more good story.

Mirka Breen said...

I think there's only so much dystopian tales the market can absorb before readers wake up and notice none of the scenarios is grounded in what turns out to be... but then another one pops up.
Loved your reviews.

Faith E. Hough said...

I read contemporary YA in phases; I see it as one of the most important things authors can write today if they do it well (I don't think I can) but it's hard to wade through the ones that have accepted some of the worst things about this world as okay or unchangeable. I wish there were more romantic stories of true, unselfish (or at least maturing in that direction) love.
Thank you for taking the time to review these, Vijaya!

Leandra Wallace said...

Super interesting to read your thoughts on these! I actually haven't read a single one of my five yet...(my TBR pile is towering!) But I'm thinking How To Love will prolly be my fav too.

Vijaya said...

Gary, exactly! We need stories that reflect our human nature, be they utopian or dystopian.

Mirka, I've read a ms that is grounded in reality, but the genre is still too saturated.

Faith, the books are reflecting our culture of anything goes. I was happy to see couples move in the proper direction in some of these. And yes, wouldn't it be great to see a true romance for teens that reflected true love?

Leandra, I hope you knock some of the books off that tower this summer. And thank YOU for sending me these because I write contemp. YA and it's good to see what the competition is :)

Marcia said...

I'm partway through How to Love now. Oh, and it was comforting to see that someone else couldn't buy into Divergent for the same reason I couldn't. Just didn't believe it.