Thursday, March 11, 2010

YA Literature's Growing Popularity

On Monday, the Los Angeles Times (LAT) had an article titled "Young Adult Lit Comes of Age."
YA is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise bleak publishing market. Where adult hardcover sales were down 17.8% for the first half of 2009 versus the same period in 2008, children's/young adult hardcovers were up 30.7%.
The article's author, Susan Carpenter, points to the Harry Potter books as being "largely credited with jump-starting this juggernaut of a trend." The first of the seven Potter books was released in 1997.

Carpenter talks about the crossover appeal that has many adults reading YA literature. And that also has adult writers now writing for the YA market.

I have an 18-year-old niece. When she was in kindergarten, I introduced her to a Dallas restaurant called Simply Fondue. She was entranced by the booths with tables of burners topped by pots of hot cheese and other sauces into which she could dip skewers of fruit, meat and marshmallows.

Simply Fondue became her #1 choice for going out to eat. It was during one such meal together in 1998 that she spent the entire meal describing the first Harry Potter book to me.

Her enthusiasm for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone prompted me to buy the novel so I could stay in touch with her interests. That one meal spawned a pattern we followed for the next six years from the time she was six until she turned twelve. We spent hours discussing the series, arguing over how to pronounce Hermione (she clung to Her-me-one; the debate wasn't settled until the first movie came out) and playing trivia contests about all things Harry Potter moderated by my brother.

Over the past decade, I've tried other YA books she and her younger cousin have recommended to me. While I was impressed by the sales of the Twilight series, all that virginal yearning got pretty boring after a while and I quit soon after beginning Stephenie Meyer's third book.

The YA books I have continued to read include the House of Night series by P.C. and Kristin Cast (see my review here).

Most recently I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and its sequel Catching Fire. The third book in the planned trilogy, Mockingjay, is due out this August, and the first film is scheduled for release next year.

I strongly recommend The Hunger Games. The novel combines an extreme version of today's reality TV with a post-apocalyptic world ruled by an indifferent totalitarian government. The book's protagonist, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, lives with her mother and younger sister in District 12, among the poorest of the dozen districts ruled by the Capitol. As a reminder that rebellion comes with a price, the Capitol holds an annual televised series of games to which each district must send one boy and one girl randomly selected by lot. The twenty-four "tributes" then fight to the death. The last tribute standing is declared the winner.

When her younger sister is picked for the 74th Games, Katniss volunteers to take Prim's place. The other participant from District 12 is Peeta, who once saved Katniss' starving family by slipping her two loaves of bread from his family's bakery. During televised interviews promoting the upcoming games, Peeta reveals to viewers that he has been desperately in love with Katniss most of his life.

Katniss is torn between suspicion that Peeta is just trying to gain audience support and anger over having the burden of an obligation to him because of his kindness years before.

The book is a terrific read; fast-paced and full of sly political wit. I finished it in two sittings over 24 hours.

The LAT article has an interesting take on adults reading YA lit.
"I think part of the reason we're seeing adults reading YA is that often there's no bones made about the fact that a YA book is explicitly intended to entertain," said Lizzie Skurnick, 36, author of "Shelf Discovery"..."YA authors are able to take themselves less seriously. They're able to have a little more fun, and they're less confined by this idea of themselves as Very Important Artists."
Read the article here.

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