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Author: Diane Colson

I have been a librarian working with youth since 1998, beginning at the Alachua County Library District, and later at Palm Harbor Library and Nashville Public Library. Possibly because of the edgy nature of teen literature, or possibly because my maturation process crashed at the age of fifteen years-old, I love YA books. And I enjoy working with YAs as well, although I'm just as happy doing Toddler Time. By some good fortune, I have served on a number of YALSA selection committees (Outstanding Books for the College Bound, Popular Paperbacks, Alex Award, Odyssey Award, Nonfiction Award, Morris Award, and Printz) as well as a smattering of process committees. Currently I am serving on the YALSA Board. .I also review books for VOYA, School Library Journal's Adult4Teen Blog, BookPage, and Booklist.

Picture Books for Young Adults

Guest post by Jessica Ormonde

Picture books aren’t just for kids anymore. They can be for all ages. Even a graphic novel is a picture book if you think about it.

There are quite a few titles that while packaged in the traditional picture book format feature twisted humor or complex themes that will appeal to young adults.  

New Interest Group – Picture Books for Young Adults

One of my favorite audiences for booktalks is a group of middle school students. I love their tough exteriors, their hyper-aware disinterest, and their expectation that anything I say will be boring. For that reason, I like to line up my books on a table and ask them to pick which books look interesting. If there are a couple of picture books in the mix, inevitably someone will go for the laugh and select one of those. For example, I might set out these:

The picture books mixed in this line-up have a sarcastic edge that is just right for thirteen-year-old readers. They serve to break the ice and get the audience comfortable about choosing other books in my display. And it’s a way to raise awareness for the non-babyish appeal of many picture books.

The trick is finding these transcendent picture books. I have gathered a few favorites over the years. Maybe you have, too. These books are discovered not through subject headings or award lists, but through the experience of reading book after book and recognizing the appeal.

This Is Where YALSA Gets Really Interesting!

Did you know that YALSA has Interest Groups?

Well, technically, YALSA has just two interest groups : Teen Mental Health, convened by Meaghan Hunt-Wilson, and the Washington DC Metro Area, convened by Carrie Kausch. But next week at the ALA Annual Conference, the YALSA Board will be discussing the revitalization of interest groups. The possibilities for interest groups topics are as vast and varied as the teens we work with. As evidenced by the interest groups listed above, the focus can be a specific issue, or it can be the virtual meeting space for a geographical area, or something completely different that falls under the banner of young adult library services.

Woman with a book pop art retro style. Literature and reading. Education school University. Clever girl

Personally, I think forming interest groups is ideal for members with an affection for specific collection development topics. These could be the hot topics of the day, such as an interest group that promotes diversity in library materials, or an ageless topic, such as interest groups that suggest good books for class discussions. Although YALSA creates wonderful lists and chooses literary awards each year, there’s still so much left to explore.

Take graphic novels, for example. YALSA compiles an annual list of noteworthy graphic novels published over the previous 15 months, called Great Graphic Novels for Teens. Perhaps an interest group focusing on graphic novels may be more interested in creating topical lists, or grade level recommendations. Interest groups are member-driven and flexible, very different from YALSA committees that must be aligned with the objectives of the strategic plan.

Crossovers: It Happened to Me

Jon and David Kushner
David and Jon Kushner

Earlier this year, journalist David Kushner published his eloquent memoir, Alligator Candy. At the core of his story is a terrible crime. When Kushner was just four-years-old, he watched his older brother, Jon, ride away on his bicycle, never to return. Jon’s mutilated body was found later. At first, Kushner is a confused small boy missing his brother, fearing that he could have prevented the crime had he not requested candy from the store. Then, as a thirteen-year-old boy, he secretly begins reading accounts from the newspapers on microfilm at the library. There were details that he couldn’t have even imagined as a four-year-old boy.

After publishing several books and articles as an adult, Kushner was ready to write about Jon’s disappearance and murder. As part of his research, he received access to police records. He discovers details that are so horrific that he wonders how his family survived.  Kushner also realizes that while Jon’s disappearance and murder devastated his family, the entire community was deeply affected by the violence of the crime.

Crossovers: Call Me Unreliable

At first, there is a sense of, “what?…wait!” Something a character says, perhaps, that contradicts the words of the narrator. Maybe you suddenly realize that the narrator has never actually been in the green bedroom, or that she doesn’t speak unless her husband is there. Out of loyalty or expediency, we readers tend to accept our narrator’s version of events. But sometimes the author reveals hints that the narrator’s perspective may be a little…off. Once the suspicion is planted, the story becomes a wild thing, just as likely to conjure psychic terror as it is to end in benign misunderstanding. Here are three adult books with unreliable narrator that will appeal to teen readers.

girl on the traincartwheelhead full of ghosts

One of the most popular books of 2015 was Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train. What begins as a tale about a lonely woman who is mesmerized by young lovers seen daily as she passes by on her commuter train grows into an impossible series of coincidences and misunderstandings. Every character in the book is suspect. Readers come to realize that at least one person is lying, at least one person is delusional, and at least a couple of characters are dangerously violent. Hawkins deftly twists the readers’ loyalties, alternating between three unreliable narrators.

Crossovers: When Is It Rape?

The girls says she didn’t want to have sex. The guys says she was all over him. The girl says she was drugged. The guy says she was drinking heavy all night. Maybe there is evidence that the girl had sex with the guy, or maybe there isn’t. She says rape, he says no way. Who is right?

missoulaPopular nonfiction author Jon Krakauer investigates the issue in Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town.  Missoula is home to the University of Montana, devoted to their Grizzly football team. Thus Krakauer weaves the magical protection afforded to football players who are accused of rape. The stories of two college girls who name football players as their rapists form the main narrative threads of the book. It would be a cautionary tale for the college-bound, but the lessons remain clouded by the biases of the media and the college’s investment in its football team. Obvious important issues, such as the ability to give consent when semi-conscious, are brushed aside with some variation of, “She asked for it.”

speakLaurie Halse Anderson dives into the painful emotional aftermath of rape in her 1999 debut novel, Speak. High school freshman Melinda is rolled inside herself after she is raped by a popular older boy at a summer party. Her immediate instinct – call the police – resulted in the party’s break-up. While everyone knows that Melinda called the police, they believe it was to purposefully end the party. Melinda herself is so traumatized that she can’t even speak. Anderson’s deeply moving and disturbing novel won her accolades, winning one of the very first Printz Honor Book awards in 2000. Through Melinda, readers learn that the validity of a rape claim is too often judged by the accuser’s physical attractiveness and social standing. A hot and popular guy would not need to have sex with a lowly freshman, thus her accusation must be based on Melinda’s own wishful thinking.

luckiest girl aliveA recent novel published for adults considers the potential for long-term consequences of rape. The Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll introduces the somewhat despicable Ani when she is twenty-eight years old. An unapologetic snob, Ani is all about appearances; impressive job, expensive clothes, and a desirable, rich fiance. Readers quickly realize that Ani is compensating for her internal torment, a sense of worthlessness tied to events in youth. In alternating chapters, Ani returns to her fourteen-year-old self, attending a prestigious high school where she attempts to fit in with the popular crowd. It is not a happy time. The novel is dark, dealing with damaged sexuality in ways that many teen readers would find disturbing. But it clearly illustrates the trauma of rape as it may resonate throughout a victim’s life.

Crossovers: Oh, Alice!

For so many readers, Lewis Carroll’s Alice books presented a glorious composition of word play, fantasy, and understated hilarity that could be compared to no others. Coupled with John Tenniel’s winsome illustrations, Carroll’s tales quickly became popular with adults and children, a status enjoyed to this day. In so many ways, the Alice books have been the perfect crossovers, with an irrepressible weirdness that can beguile the imagination and an undercurrent of political commentary and psychological menace that captures the most sophisticated readers.

original illustration by John Tenniel

after aliceThis year, contemporary author Gregory Maguire takes us back to Wonderland with his own playful word play and fantastical imaginings. After Alice is not a sequel so much as an enhancement of the original tales, blending bits of Wonderland with Through the Looking Glass. The heroine is Alice’s friend, Ada, she of the ringlets mentioned in Carroll’s book. Ada wears a back brace and counts sensible Alice as her only friend. Her adventures begin when, in search of Alice, she finds herself swallowed by the ground and deposited in the sea. On the beach, Ada meets the first of many familiar friends, the Walrus and the Carpenter.

Maguire’s tale includes the parallel story of Alice’s older sister, Lydia, who is dozing over her book when Alice chases the White Rabbit. Lydia is at that impossible half child-half woman age, and the recent loss of their mother has increased her angst. A few real characters make cameo appearances: An elderly Charles Darwin visits Lydia’s father and a stuttering Charles Dodgson experiments with photography. Like his treatment of The Wizard of Oz story, Maguire creates magnificent personalities for minor characters.

Alice has made her way into the pages of YA literature many times. Sometimes she is scarcely recognizable, and other times she is overshadowed by her assorted sidekicks. Here a few YA books that take the reader back to Wonderland.

Crossovers: Race Matters

sacrificeIt’s 1987. A middle school teacher follows the sound of anguished cries to find a young black girl lying in the filth of an abandoned basement. The girl, fourteen-year-old Sybilla, is bound and has racial epithets scrawled on her body. Later Sybilla reveals that she had been left in the basement after being abducted and repeatedly raped by white cops. Although Sybilla clearly wishes to avoid the publicity her charges will bring, her case becomes a crusade for justice in the impoverished African American community. A well-known civil rights champion, Reverend Marcus Mudrick, teams with his lawyer brother to publicize and punish the accused, but there are unintended consequences.

The Sacrifice, an adult book by Joyce Carol Oates, is told from multiple viewpoints. Sybilla’s mother, Ednetta, has learned the skills needed to survive a life of poverty and abuse. She lives with a convicted murderer, Anis, who has lived his own life in the shadow of racial violence. Readers are plunged from the interior life of one character after another, quickly realizing the verity of each viewpoint.

Crossovers: Weighty Issues

DietlandOne of this year’s hot debuts is Dietland by Sarai Walker. Written for adults, the novel is related by the immensely likable Plum Kettle, an intelligent young woman who responds to “Dear Kitty” emails from adolescent girls in need of guidance. Beyond that, Plum hides. Weighing in at over 300 pounds, Plum attracts all the wrong kinds of attention, and it’s just unbearable. Her plan is gastric bypass surgery, after which she can reclaim her given name, Alicia, and wear all the cute clothes she’s been storing in her closet.

But Plum’s life goes completely off course when she meets a group of woman who battle society’s preoccupation with physical beauty. Plum alternately loves them and hates them, reactions, no doubt, shared by many readers. What seems to be a straightforward story about one overweight woman explodes into a high stakes action adventure featuring a terrorist group known as “Jennifer.” This book packs a lot, but perhaps most poignant are the “Dear Kitty” emails. Teen readers will come to love Plum through her thoughtful and funny responses.

Booklist: Survival Stories

For readers looking for action-packed survival stories in real life situations, here’s a selection of fiction and nonfiction about struggles to live through harrowing condition at sea, in the mountains, and in the wilderness.

PeakPeak by Roland Smith

On April 25, 2015, nineteen people died on the slopes of Mt. Everest when an earthquake triggered an avalanche. Nevertheless, the quest to scale the tallest mountain in the world calls to many, perhaps too many, guaranteeing that the slopes will once again fill with climbers. The showmanship of this kind of achievement is one of the issues in Roland Smith’s Peak. 

Peak is the given name of a fourteen-year-old, daredevil teen boy who is arrested for scaling a skyscraper in New York City. As a way out of juvenile detention, Peak agrees to cross the globe to stay with the mountaineer father he barely knows. His father has a scheme to make Peak the youngest to ever climb Mt. Everett, a dangerous scheme that could be big money for Peak’s dad. This is complicated by the fact that a fourteen-year-old Nepalese boy in the same expedition.

Readers can expect Smith’s characteristic high-level suspense and authentic details. The added drama of Peak’s race to be the youngest flushes out the undercurrents of greed and ambition that can fuel such deadly expeditions.