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Author: Whitney Etchison

The Next Big Thing: We wish we may, we wish we might…

…get these Next Big Things just right.

YALSA’s upcoming YA Literature Symposium will explore the future of young adult literature. The symposium begins on November 2nd, but we wanted to get a head start here at The Hub, so we’re devoting October to 31 Days of the Next Big Thing. Each day of the month, we’ll bring you forecasts about where YA literature is headed and thoughts on how you can spot trends and predict the future yourself.

by flickr user The She-Creature
So far this month we’ve had great posts on The Hub predicting the next big thing in YA. From fantasy to banned books to social reading, we foresee some exciting developments on the horizon. After working hard at our crystal balls, we decided to have a little fun and ask ourselves, what do we wish would be the next big thing in YA? Read on to find out what we’re yearning for, and then let us know — what do YOU wish would be the next big thing in YA?

Our Wish List

  1. Spies! Books about spies are awesome.
  2. Books about college for students in high school.
  3. Teen novels that talk about social issues without being a how-to manual. Books that that lead teens though challenges instead of just away from them. As with TV, too many of our books seem to glorify behaviors without ever talking out the disastrous outcomes.

The Big Five (+1) in YA: Christianity

Last month, I discussed my quest for YA literature involving Buddhism and the two novels I found that met my criteria. Thanks to a commenter on that post (mclicious), I found a few more using the NoveList Plus service, including Zen and the Art of Faking It and Roots and Wings. However, even the NoveList database found only 31 results in Teen fiction for the search term “Buddhist,” many of which were not modern, or only peripherally involved the religion. In comparison, when using the same search parameters, there were 944 results for the search term “Christian.” (“Jewish” had 365 results, “Muslim” had 75, and “Hindu” had 31.) There is zero scientific method involved in this brief comparison, but it serves as an illustration of the obvious: Christianity in YA literature, at least in the US, is much more prevalent than any of the other Big Five world religions.

That being said, preparing for this post was quite different from last month, when I had a grand total of two books to enjoy. For the past five weeks, I have read as much modern, non-serialized YA fiction involving Christianity as possible, and in the process, have noticed some trends in the characterizations of Christians. On the one hand, some Christians are portrayed as being fundamentalist and intolerant (to varying degrees), particularly of homosexuality and/or science. However, all but one of the novels I read also had positive portrayals of Christians as being people who live out the positive aspects of the religion and rely on their faith in times of strife. Seems valid to me. Since the pool of novels is so much larger, I have chosen what I think are some of the best of the novels that I read, in no particular order.

Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande
This novel does a fine job of balancing the tension between science and religion, as well as showing the darker side of religion (intolerance and manipulation), side by side with the benefits of faith. I particularly adore the science teacher, Ms. Shepherd.

The Big Five (+1) in YA: Buddhism

Religion has always been an important, and often divisive, subject in societies throughout history. Currently, what with the political climate in the United States (particularly in a Presidential election year), the global conflicts involving religious groups, and the ongoing questions of faith that humans have pondered throughout our history as a species, it seems obvious that there should be literature for young adults addressing the topic of religion in meaningful ways. In this series of posts on religious diversity in YA literature, I hope to highlight a number of books that would be appealing to young adult readers who hold any set of beliefs.  Each post will focus on one of the five major world religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism), with a sixth post on Atheism/Agnosticism.

by flickr user JapanDave
The process of preparing for this series has been … interesting. As Maria Kramer describes so well in her post “Thou Shalt Not-Religion and Teen Books”, there is a striking dearth of YA literature that features religious themes or characters, especially for Buddhism and Hinduism. I’ve shrunk the field even further by imposing some restrictions on what YA literature I want to consider for this series:

  1. No historical fiction. I want to highlight novels that take place in contemporary society.
  2. No non-fiction. I want to focus on novels that anyone might pick up because they look interesting, not books someone would read for the main purpose of learning more about a religion. (I may reconsider this in relation to memoirs.)
  3. No books published as part of a long series. (For example, the Payton Skky series by Stephanie Perry Moore.)

These are just my criteria for this particular series of posts. They are not by any means a judgment of worth or importance.

(Almost) Everything I Need to Know About History, I Learned From YA Novels

While this title may be an exaggeration, as I was a history major in college, it’s true that much of what I remember about history comes from reading historical fiction and biographies or memoirs. While not all of the historical books I love are YA, there are a number of YA titles that I would recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about those who came before us.

My inspiration for this post came when a friend told me he doesn’t like history because “It’s just a bunch of memorizing dates.” Whaaaat? No! The most important part of the word history is STORY: the story of men, women, and children who have lived on this earth and done both fantastic and everyday things. I am a true believer that the only way to understand the societies and cultures of today is to look to the past to see how they have developed over time. Stories populated with memorable characters are the best way to contextualize and immerse myself in that past.

What follows is pretty much a mish-mash of titles that have recently taught me about the past. Due to space limitations, I have only provided brief descriptions; check them out on Goodreads for more information.

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
Disease! Always a fascinatingly morbid topic. I had no idea yellow fever was so serious until I read this book. (If, like me, you find epidemics to be weirdly interesting, read the adult novel Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks.)

 

Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Based on Thomas Jefferson’s children with Sally Hemings, this book gives great insight into one of our most well known Presidents. (I’ll say this: the man had a lot of debts and a strange grasp on the idea of equality.)

 

The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman
This novel tells the story of a 13-year-old girl time traveling from 1960 to 1860. It is a truly moving and intriguing look at the lives of slaves in Southern plantations, as well as the relationships between whites and blacks in the South at the start of the 1960s. I found a blurb for it on Amazon by Jane Yolen, which is quite fitting, because this book reminded me of The Devil’s Arithmetic.

Cursing: Not Just for Sailors Anymore

by flickr user joyride1x1

Once again, there is a dust-up over YA literature in the media. The origin of this newest discussion is the study “‘A Helluva Read’: Profanity in Adolescent Literature”, which looked at instances of profanity in adolescent literature, using books from the New York Times Best Sellers List for Children’s Books for June 22 and July 6, 2008. This past week, I read the original study and did some factchecking of what was being reported in the media, particularly in US News & World Report‘s “Is it time to rate young adult books for mature content?”

Let’s start by looking at the study itself. The first thing I noticed in the research method was the extremely wide range of what was considered profane. Everything from “f**k” to “poop” could be counted as an instance of profanity. The study did divide these instances into categories–such as the “seven dirty words,” “sexual words,” and “mild others”–to give readers some sense of the severity of each instance. However, within these categories, there was no way of telling which word was being counted. A book could have three instances of “sexual words,” but they could be anything from “boob” to “dickwad.”

Keeping this in mind, I took a look at the article from US News & World Report.

Outside the Norm: Overweight Female Protagonists

In a world of YA lit that is inundated with covers showing thin, model-like girls dressed for the runway, it’s refreshing to read books that feature protagonists with curvy bodies. The CDC states that 17% of children ages 2-19 are obese, and I believe it is important for these teenagers to see themselves in YA literature. Today I’m focusing on female characters; maybe in another post I can take a look at the guys.

As I was revisiting books to write this post, I realized that it’s hard to read a book with an overweight or obese character without bringing a great deal of personal judgment to the table. We have all been made aware of the health risks that are associated with obesity, so many of us deal with it differently than other types of diversity (sexual orientation, race, religion, etc.). Wanting people to lose weight, sometimes judging them if they don’t, seems justified. But is it? The following books, Artichoke’s Heart and Big Fat Manifesto, made me think about issues like these in deeper ways and also stirred up some feelings (past and present) associated with my own weight and appearance.

In Artichoke’s Heart by Suzanne Supplee, Rosemary Weldon was called a sweaty, fat artichoke by your quintessential mean girl in the 6th grade. Sadly, the name stuck. Rosemary is now an overweight teenager and is still suffering the attacks of the same mean girl. The bullying she receives is a constant part of school but is just a small part of this story, which focuses more on Rosemary’s struggle to lose weight, her first boyfriend, and her relationships with her mother and aunt. There are things I love about this book and things that I think are problematic.

My loves include the characters Kyle and Kay-Kay. Kyle is the boy Rosemary has a crush on, and he thinks she is wonderful just the way she is. As Rosie says, “There wasn’t a hint of disgust or disappointment behind his eyes; Kyle Cox looked at me the way I longed to look at myself.” Kyle is a total jock, popular at school, and he helps Rosemary see herself as something more than her weight. Kay-Kay is a gorgeous, blond cheerleader who also happens to be a wonderful, caring person. Rosie’s assumption that she will be another mean girl gets turned on its head, which is refreshing.

One of my problems is that the author gives stats for Rosie.