August has been a celebration of the beloved Book Week. To wrap it up, this week we hear from Danielle Binks, who's something of an expert on young adult writing. She takes us through the genre from A to Z.
A • Adaptation. Lately it feels like the Box Office is ruled by adaptations of young adult (YA) franchises – from Hunger Games to The Fault in Our Stars. But don’t forget, Hollywood has a rather illustrious history of adapting YA and children’s books for the big screen, such as; The Wizard of Oz, The Outsiders, and To Kill A Mockingbird.
B • Banned books. Children’s and YA are still amongst the most banned and challenged of all books, especially in America. In 2013, six of the Top 10 most challenged books were YA titles, according to the Office for Intellectual Freedom.
C • Comeback “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” — C.S. Lewis
D • Diversity. From authors of colour, to LGBTQI representation – this has been a serious issue in youth literature for a while now, but grassroots campaigns like #WeNeedDiverseBooks are leading the charge for change.
E • Ebooks. Children’s and YA are largely responsible for the steady increase of ebook sales. But in the US there’s growing concern over ebook piracy of YA books, and what authors/publishers can do to discourage readers from downloading illegally.
F • Female Dominated. Very different from the adult literary landscape, YA and children’s publishing is not only friendly to women writers, it is often considered to be female-led, since women occupy the majority of jobs in the industry.
G • Gatekeepers. A frustrating reality of youth literature is that oftentimes readers have a hard time accessing the books intended for them, because adults have very strong opinions about what they shouldn’t read. Listen to Keith Gray’s talk from the 2013 Reading Matters Conference; ‘Gatekeepers – the good, the bad and my mother’.
H • Harry Potter. The books have sold more than 450 million copies and last year author JK Rowling was named a literacy hero for helping to promote a love of reading in an entire generation. Harry Potter books take out seven of the top ten spots in the list of 100 Bestselling Books of All Time – two Dan Brown novels and Fifty Shades of Grey take the other three slots (kinda embarrassing for adult literature, huh?).
I • Inky Awards. Organised by the Centre for Youth Literature, the Inkys are the most important YA book awards in Australia because actual young adults select both the long and shortlist, and winners are voted for by the teen readers of InsideaDog.com.au
J • Judy Blume. She still deserves the Queen of YA title, even 45 years after her first book was published. Blume revolutionised YA in the 70s and 80s by removing moralising and preaching from teen novels. Explaining the motivation behind one of her most popular books, Forever (published in 1975) Blume explained: “My daughter Randy asked for a story about two nice kids who have sex without either of them having to die.”
K • KidLit. YA and children’s literature is sometimes referred to as ‘KidLit’ as well as ‘Youth Literature’.
L • Little Bookroom. The Little Bookroom has been bringing children's books to Melbourne since 1960. If you need help buying book presents, look no further than these children’s book specialists.
N • New Adult. This is a fairly new readership label some may confuse with Young Adult (understandably, since it piggybacks on the popularity of YA). It’s a marketing term coined in 2009 by St. Martin’s Press to describe books that deal with college-years and characters in their 20s – increasingly these books are separated from YA for their more steamy romances (they often come with Parental Advisory warnings). But the New Adult/NA readership is also made up of generations who grew up having YA marketed to them, and are still fans of those books that continue to explore ‘firsts’ (and reaffirm that just because you’ve left your teens behind, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got your life completely sorted).
O • Online Communities. Lots of young people build their literary communities online. Of course there’s Goodreads (for book reviews and discussions) but increasingly the YA readership is drawn to multi-platform storytelling. Like the hugely successful web series ‘The Lizzie Bennett Diaries’ – a modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which also saw each character have their own Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter accounts, adding new dimensions to the story and allowing interaction with fans.
P • Printz Award. The Michael L. Printz Award is an American Library Association literary award that annually recognizes the best book written for teens.
Image source: Flickr / Duncan Hall
Q • Questioning. The mark of a truly good YA novel is how much the author pushes their audience to question themselves, characters and the status quo. People often assume that all YA books are literary-fluff because they look back at their own childhoods with rose-coloured glasses and forget just how messy they actually were. I like John Steinbeck’s description of that time when children start catching adults out; “It is an aching kind of growing.”
R • Readership. This is very important: YA is not a genre, it is a readership – referring to the age-group the books are intended for. Just like adult books, it’s made up of genres – there’s horror, romance, thriller, literary and on and on and on.
S • Stephen Colbert. The host of The Colbert Report nailed it when he said; “A young adult novel is a regular novel that people actually read.” Back in 2012 Bowker Market Research discovered that readers aged 30 to 44 accounted for 28% of YA sales, and since then the numbers have been increasing.
T • Twilight. Please refrain from using Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight as your go-to reference for “what the kids are reading these days.” It’s not a thing anymore.
U • Utopia. YA Dystopias are so 2010. After The Hunger Games and Divergent (and about a million others), it now feels like we’re shifting away from the bleak, post-apocalyptic, alternate universe trend of Dystopias. A new “trend” in YA may be memoir and autobiography – and there are plenty of titles to get excited about in 2014. To name a few: El Deafo by Cece Bell, Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin, We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly, a true story by Josh Sundquist, not to mention David Burton’s How to Be Happy which won the Text Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing this year.
V • VlogBrothers. John Green is the most popular YA author writing today (his book The Fault in Our Stars even made it to #1 on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com in 2011 … before it was written) VlogBrothers is the popular video blog he and his brother host on YouTube.
W • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. If you’re a newbie to the wonderful world of contemporary YA then give this book a read. It’s one of the most talked-about YA titles of 2014, and for good reason. It’s a suspenseful story of family privilege and first love, personal mythology and burning secrets.
X • X-Rated. A lot of YA literature is about exploring firsts – so sex is bound to happen. We’re past the prudish phase of G-rated YA books (thanks, Judy Blume!) Concerns in YA are now about honest portrayals of female sexuality and representing diverse sexuality.
Y • YALSA. The Young Adult Library Services Association. They run one of the best blogs around for all things YA.
Z • Z for Zachariah. Robert C. O'Brien’s book won an Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery in 1976, and in 2015 a movie adaptation will be hitting our screens with Aussie actress Margot Robbie in the lead.
Danielle Binks is a book reviewer on her personal blog Alpha Reader, with a particular interest in children’s and young adult literature. She is also Digital Editor at Spinifex Press, and online columnist for Kill Your Darlings. She completed Professional Writing & Editing studies at RMIT in 2009 and is currently working on her first novel – a contemporary Australian novel for young adult readers. Tweet her @danielle_binks.
Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.