It Was Epic!
I recently attended Epic Reads Day, a HarperCollins event that featured half a dozen YA authors discussing some of their latest books. (By the way, if you ever get the chance to visit the offices of a publisher, I highly recommend it. So many books!)
To prepare, I made sure I read at least one book by each of the published authors in attendance. I was a bit mixed on my personal enjoyment of the titles, but it was an important experience for a few reasons. There were several titles I read (Red Queen, Shatter Me) that I knew my students had gone gaga for, but I’d never gotten around to them. Although they were fantasy/sci-fi titles (which are my jam), they didn’t do much for me. But it was interesting to see that these titles that were making such waves in YA featured strong female protagonists.
I also read some other titles (Monday’s Not Coming, The Poet X, Opposite of Always) that were much more grounded and realistic. I am generally not a fan of realistic fiction, but these titles made me rethink my stance. These books resonated with me. And they inspired me to delve more deeply into contemporary YA and MG titles. Some of the standouts have been The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, Operation Frog Effect, Front Desk, The Benefits of Being an Octopus, Girl in Pieces, and Moxie. These books have been helping me see YA fiction in some new and interesting ways.
A few months back, I wrote about how students can learn from books (“Stories Have Power: YA Fiction as a Life Model”). That post focused on a short story I had come across that had flabbergasted me with its insensitivity and crooked sense of morality. I pointed out that, since YA is meant for a younger audience, it can be part of formative learning and character development. The reading I’ve been doing lately has been reminding me of this, as well, but in a much more positive way. It’s also reminding me that students are not the only ones who can benefit from reading good YA stories.
Many of the titles I’ve mentioned are relatively “quiet” stories. They are, for the most part, grounded, self-contained, and intimate. These stories read very much like contemporary teen autobiographies. They also provide some excellent role models for how a modern teen might approach life. In reading these stories, I frequently found myself nodding along and thinking, “Yes! This is the kind of experience I wish teens had!”
These stories also prompted discussions of some serious topics between myself and my wife, as well as informing conversations between myself and some education colleagues. I found myself reflecting on how I deal with and relate to some of my quieter students while reading The Poet X and The Benefits of Being an Octopus. Both books have me rethinking how I approach and relate to students. Operation Frog Effect, though aimed at younger middle graders, was still quite enjoyable and moving. It also reiterated the importance of getting students engaged with what they are learning. Moxie made me probe my own thoughts about how girls and young women are treated in school settings. Girl in Pieces was a searing, devastating look at teen mental health. All of these titles have me considering how I can provide more support to students, both within and beyond the classroom.
I think that too often, adults look down on YA books as being too immature, or childish, or just “beneath” them. (We really need to end literacy shaming!) But I think if more adults were reading and sharing strong YA stories, it could provide them with a window into the lives of contemporary youth. Adult readers might also find some role models they would want to share with their teens–whether they’re students or children. At the very least, the issues raised in contemporary YA are important ones for adults, particularly educators, to be aware of. These books can spark discussions not only between teachers and students, but also between adults. We all want our teens to have healthy and fulfilling experiences. Discussing the topics in contemporary YA can help ensure that students feel seen, heard, and supported.
In Other Words…
It’s important for educators to read current books. If those books are contemporary realistic fiction YA, they might provide important insights into modern teens. They might also provide important avenues for discussions with both teens and other adults. Librarians are uniquely positioned to be at the forefront of the latest topics and trends in contemporary fiction for students. They are also able to have discussions with students, either individually or via book clubs, that might not otherwise line up directly with the curriculum. We all want our teens to have healthy and fulfilling experiences. Being familiar with the topics in contemporary YA can help ensure that students feel seen, heard, and supported.
(Links go to Steve’s GoodReads review for each title)
Author: Steve Tetreault
Steve has been teaching middle school English for 20 years, has several degrees in education, and recently finished his last semester as a school library media specialist student. He is certified as a teacher, school library media specialist, supervisor, and administrator. He is an old dog constantly learning new tricks!