Where Has All the Humor Gone in YA Books?
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