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30 Going on 13
Grown Up Girls Come Out of the YA Book Closet
By Sarah Ockler,
Author of Twenty Boy Summer

There's so much to love about modern young adult (YA) fiction. It's deep and sophisticated. It's edgy, exciting, and heartbreaking. It's well written. And as any teen reader will attest, it's downright entertaining.

But teens aren't the only ones indulging their literary taste buds in this growing genre. Adult readers account for much of YA's explosive success, and thanks in part to the crossover appeal of blockbusters like Harry Potter and Twilight, YA publishers and booksellers have embraced adult readers, making it officially okay for us to show some YA PDA.

YA Lit: Seven Reasons to Swoon

Young adult fiction is typically written with teen readers in mind, but adult fans love the genre for the same reasons:

1. YA lit brings us to a time of heightened emotion. I laughed. I cried. I told off my parents, slammed my door, and broke stuff. Think back before the mortgage or rent, before the office, before the kids. Remember when every action and feeling was a million times intensified and each decision was one of life-or-death? Great YA authors remember, too, reliving those times in vivid detail on each page through complex teen characters and real-life struggles that our hearts, minds, and bodies can relate to.

2. We never really get over that first love. Butterflies in your stomach. Heart banging wildly against your ribs. The forbidden taste of that stolen kiss. Whether you look back on your first love with affection, longing, laughter, embarrassment, or relief, young adult books have the power to reach right in and give your heart a squeeze, just like those first times from so long ago.

3. YA books are digestible. Teen reads tend to be faster reads, written with tight prose that drives the plot and character development without a lot of naval-gazing. The best YA books call forth and use that sense of heightened emotion rather than heavy internal monologue to propel us through the story. This isn't to say YA lit is light and fluffy -- it just packs more punch into fewer pages.

4. YA romance is sexy, not smutty. Well written teen love scenes showcase romance, depth, and -- depending on the story -- sex, in all its forms. But readers won't stumble onto anything throbbing, heaving, or sinewy in a YA story, making teen fiction a great choice for women looking for romantic reads sans the sweaty details.

5. YA spans the shelves with diverse sub-genres. Young adult lit encompasses romance, horror, fantasy, mystery, historical, gay/bi/transgender, sports, chick lit, verse, contemporary, and lots of mix-and-match combinations. No matter which categories classify your faves, the teen section is sure to have a title to please.

6. YA doesn't fear hard issues. The current crop of young adult literature tackles tough topics head on. Whether the story is fantasy or contemporary, romance or mystery, YA characters deal with rape, drug abuse, death and grieving, love, suicide, genocide, street crime, racism, classism, politics, sex and sexuality, parental struggles, body image, and even the occasional vampire-human-werewolf love triangle.

7. YA authors write to compete. Writing for teens is a fierce competition -- not against other YA authors, but against other forms of entertainment. Teens today are a highly discerning and opinionated audience in an era where word-of-mouth spreads in nanoseconds and the next best thing is just one click away. In a sea of teen titles and ever-changing forms of attention-grabbing media, YA authors work hard to craft compelling books that can earn and keep the adoration of young readers.

YA Online: Where to Look For Top Teen Books

With no signs of stopping, young adult fiction continues to grow and diversify, invading the social network scene through book sites and movie-like trailers, online book clubs, teen review blogs, author chats, and hundreds of interactive features that marry books and technology for promotion, education, and fun. Armed with an Internet connection and a Web browser, readers can find lots of places to show a little YA love and discover great new reads:
  • 2009 Debutantes - an online community of young adult and middle grade authors making their publishing debuts in 2009. The site includes the debut book list with descriptions, author contact information, and general discussions about YA literature and writing.

  • Goodreads - a book-focused social network site where members rate and review books, make recommendations, start discussions, and "shelve" books by genre and keywords. The Goodreads YA shelf is a great place to find recent reviews and comparable titles.

  • IndieBound Kids' Next List - a list of recommended reads for teens, hand-picked by independent booksellers all over the country. Check out their recommendations and search online for titles at the indies in your area.

  • > Teens > Books -'s teen section showcases new and upcoming teen reads, including award-winners and seasonal best sellers. You can also search for YA books within specific sub-genres like mysteries, series, historical fiction, and more.

  • YALSA Book Awards & Booklists - the Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association features teen books that have won awards and accolades from literary associations and other professional groups. Categories include the Michael L. Printz Award, Best Books for Young Adults, Teens' Top Ten, and more.

  • Twilight Moms - includes an ongoing discussion of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight books and movies, related book recommendations, shopping links, charity support, interviews, forums, and friendly online connections for women who love Twilight and other teen books.

  • My Favorite Author - a YA book blog by three adult women who love to read young adult fiction. Features book reviews, author interviews, contests and giveaways, and relevant commentary about current YA book trends and topics.
Reluctant YA Readers: Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!

Today's teen book selection is dazzlingly diverse, easily accessible, and wallet-friendly -- most hardcover YA titles sell for about ten dollars less than their adult counterparts. So the next time you're caught reading teen lit with the book covers down, don't explain away your affair with YA or apologize for your youthful taste in literature. Take the opportunity to introduce your companions to the richly entertaining YA community. Tell them what you love about the genre. Make a few personalized recommendations. Maybe even start a YA book club to discuss your favorites.

Together with booksellers, librarians, publishers, authors, and the millions of savvy teen readers devouring and defining this exciting genre, we can embrace our love of young adult fiction -- loud, proud, and post-prom PDA-style.

Happy reading!

©2009 Sarah Ockler, author of Twenty Boy Summer

Author Bio
Sarah Ockler, author of Twenty Boy Summer, wrote and illustrated her first book at age six-an adaptation of Steven Spielberg's E.T. Still recovering from her own adolescence, Sarah now writes for young adults. While nomadic at heart, she currently lives in Upstate New York with her husband Alex and an ever-expanding collection of sea glass.

Visit her online at