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Where Has All the Humor Gone in YA Books?

2012 July 9
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Teens watch and love funnymen Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Conan O’Brien, and David Letterman, but there’s a real lack of funny YA books for teens. Yes, I know teens like serious contemporary fiction or whatever is popular in the media/movies right now — and that’s zombies, superheroes and adventure/survival/horror stuff — but I also know they like to laugh, too, and feel good at the end of a book. Many YA books feature sarcastic teens, but there’s a lack of purely lighthearted, laugh-out-loud books for teens. John Green and David Levithan’s Will Grayson, Will Grayson (2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults) was the last book that I read that I thought was funny: Tiny Cooper made me laugh. It wasn’t completely lighthearted, but it walked the fine line between being serious and being humorous.

David Lubar’s Sleeping Freshman Never Lie (2006 Best Books for Young Adults) was funny (but also had its serious aspects) — 9th grader Scott offers a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” to his unborn sibling on surviving freshman year of high school as he himself is being picked on by upperclassmen for his lunch money and tortured to death in gym, among other things.

There’s so much more outright humor written for younger kids (Louis Sachar’s books, Dan Gutman’s books, the Captain Underpants books…) but much less for teens.

Libba Bray’s 2010 Michael Printz Award-winning Going Bovine had its quirkily humorous moments. Bray’s Beauty Queens (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults) did, too, as it took a darkly satirical look at celebrity culture and the resilience of teen beauty pageant girls stuck on a presumably deserted island.

Almost everything Terry Pratchett writes is funny, especially the first of the Tiffany Aching books, The Wee Free Men (part of the Discworld series featuring the hilarious Mac Nac Feegles, six -inch-tall blue Scots-Irish imps with kleptomania), which is also wonderful on audio (2005 Audiobooks for Young Adults).

Louise Rennison’s books are funny too.

John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines (2007 Michael Printz Honor Award) was funny.

Meg Cabot is funny. I especially liked All-American Girl.

Ally Carter’s Gallagher Academy series is funny. It made 2009’s Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults list under the category “Spies and Intrigue.”

Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has its funny moments, and it was one of the 2008 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults list.

2007 Popular Paperback Awards featured funny books in the “What’s So Funny” category, and Gordon Korman’s Son of the Mob is featured. Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones are also on the list.

The Death Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean, (2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults) is a very funny book. When Pepper Roux was born, his aunt had a vision from Saint Constance that the boy would die on his fourteenth birthday. So Pepper Roux hopes to outrun his fate by running away and embarks on a series of madcap adventures in which he becomes, among other things, the captain of a ship, a deli-meat slicing would-be Cupid, a sloppy journalist, and telegram delivery boy and a reluctant legionnaire. Nearly every episode ends in a disaster with Pepper fleeing the wrath of one person after another for his incompetence. Luckily, it all ends happily.

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride (2011 William Morris Debut Award finalist and 2011 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults) is a very funny black comedy. Sam, a college dropout working at a Plumpy’s fast food joint, is attacked by Douglas, an older, powerful, and violent Necromancer who has recognized that Sam is one, too, and wants to eliminate him as a threat. One way he shows Sam he means business is by delivering a brown paper package tied up with string containing the severed head of Sam’s friend and fellow fast food employee Brooke. Only in this case, Brooke’s head can talk and she’s not happy about what’s happened to her!

There are a few books recently released or coming out soon that look like they might be humorous. The recently published book 52 Reasons To Hate My Father by Jessica Brody has a few incredulously funny bits, especially the part where wealthy, pampered heiress Lexington has to figure out how to turn on a vacuum cleaner after being forced to work for a week as a maid. Another debut book that is also funny is My Awesome Awful Popularity Plan by Seth Rudetsky. In it, sophomore Justin, gay and overweight and the most unpopular guy in school, comes up with a plan to make gorgeous Chuck, captain of the football team, fall for him, have his first kiss, and also become popular. Justin’s voice is very funny as he wryly comments on getting picked on because he’s gay. His best friend says it’s because he’s too “out there”  — one example is when Justin is being very public about wanting to make the day of the Tony Award nominations a school holiday, among other things.

I love zombies and realistic YA books that make me cry, but I also like to mix them up with lighthearted books as well and I’m sure I’m not alone. I know (hope) I’ve missed some lighthearted books that are out there. I’d love to hear what other suggestions you all might have.

— Sharon Rawlins, currently reading Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl and thoroughly enjoying its witty Austenian prose and characterizations

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13 Responses
  1. Riley permalink
    July 9, 2012

    You _have_ to read (or even better, listen to the audiobook version) “Carter Finally Gets It” by Brent Crawford! (It also has a sequel, “Carter’s Big Break.”) Definitely one of the funniest books I’ve ever read (and my wife also adored listening to it, too), and Nick Podehl is amazing as the narrator. He also narrated Don Calame’s “Swim the Fly,” which is also supposed to be hilarious.

  2. July 9, 2012

    We could definitely use more humour in YA, but there are some out there already: Team Human (as mentioned on Twitter), Sirenz 1 & 2, Welcome, Caller This is Chloe, I’d say Stephanie Perkins even has some humour in Anna & Lola too.

  3. Betsy Frase permalink
    July 9, 2012

    Sharon, I’ve been *eagerly* awaiting Don Calame’s new book, due out this fall. I think *Swim the Fly* may have some of the funniest scenes ever, and I wasn’t surprised at all to find out that he was a screenwriter…it begs to be filmed.

  4. Betsy Fraser permalink
    July 9, 2012

    Sorry, I do know how to spell my name. That wasn’t meant to be funny.

  5. Sharon Rawlins permalink
    July 9, 2012

    @Riley. Thanks for the great suggestions! I own Don Calame’s “Swim the Fly” and have heard it’s funny but just haven’t gotten around to reading it. “Call the Shots” is his new one that sounds really funny too. I love Nick Podehl! He narrated Will Grayson, Will Grayson and the Chaos Walking series and did a fantastic job with these very different books. Can’t wait to listen to him narrating Brent Crawford’s books.

  6. Sharon Rawlins permalink
    July 9, 2012

    @Betsy. LOL. You know I would never have said anything! I have the galley of “Call the Shots” by Calame and can’t wait to read it but still need to read “Swim the Fly” first.

    @Brenna. Great suggestions. I knew there were books I’d forgotten. You’re right about “Anna and the French Kiss” by Perkins being funny. I really enjoyed that one. Haven’t read “Lola and the Boy Next Door” yet.

  7. July 10, 2012

    I keep seeing Swim the Fly, which is the book that came to my mind as soon as I saw the title of this posting. It’s absolutely hilarious in a 15-year-old boy “that’s what she said” kind of way:)

  8. amy permalink
    July 11, 2012

    After crying – no sobbing my eyes out – through the last 50 pages of A Monster Calls, I needed something *immediately* to lighten the mood. James Proimos’s 12 Things to Do Before You Crash and Burn had me laughing for 45 minutes straight.

    I also thought Au Revoir Crazy Euorpean Chick by Joe Scheiber was pretty funny.

  9. Jennie permalink
    July 12, 2012

    Spoiled, by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, was funny and lighthearted. I haven’t read the sequel, Messy, yet, but I’m expecting more of the same.

  10. Ariana permalink
    September 30, 2012

    I cannot BELIEVE nobody has posted Audrey, Wait! by Robin Brenway. I can wholeheartedly say that it is my favorite book. It’s about this girl who’s ex wrote a insane, mad song about her and it became the most famous song, ever. Sounds cliche, but it is SO funny and SO sweet. She is awesome and her friends are awesome and her parents are awesome. Amazing book, reccomended it to all of my friends.
    Also is Thwonk by Joan Bauer. really funny and dramatic, like all of her books, and one of my favorites. Cliche, but her voice in the matter is NOT. She’s really funny and amazing without trying to be.

  11. Sharon Rawlins permalink
    October 1, 2012

    @Ariana. You’re right! I should have mentioned “Audrey, Wait!” by Robin Brenway. A lot of people recommended it but at the time, I hadn’t read it so I didn’t feel I could discuss it adequately. I love Joan Bauer too. Squashed is one of my favorites. I also laughed a lot at Daisy and Dylan’s relationship in Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley.

  12. October 20, 2012

    Thanks so much for this post. I wondered if anyone else noticed the lack of humor in YA these days. It kind of bugs me. I already ordered “Will Grayson,” and I see some others from your list that I’m going to buy! Mind if I link to this post from my YA Review blog?

  13. Sharon Rawlins permalink
    October 20, 2012

    @Henry. I’ve no objections at all. Go right ahead! Thank you.

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