Growing up can be glorious, exhilarating and difficult—and that might very well be just one day. For generations, writers have explored this most complex, yet all too relatable topic, in the genre of literature commonly known as Young Adult Fiction, or simply YA.
The past couple of decades have been a boon to this genre of literature. Global YA sensations include series such as Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games and The Shadowhunter Chronicles, and singular top-sellers including A Fault in Our Stars, The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian, The Book Thief and most recently The Hate U Give, captivating audiences of all ages, backgrounds and regions.
However, these modern-day reflections of the accomplishment and angst that often accompany the period of life between childhood and adulthood are part of a legacy of literature that helped generations of people through the most trying times. Do vintage classics including Charlotte’s Web, The Outsiders, The Catcher in the Rye, the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ring a bell?
Legendary List: One of the most extensive lists of “best of the best” in YA was compiled by Time magazine: http://time.com/100-best-young-adult-books/
In no specific order, we’ll look at five authors of Young Adult Fiction whose contributions to literature provided voices of truth for millions of young people. These works also afford those with a passion for literature and collecting the unique opportunity to amass a library of references that speak volumes and can become a cherished collection.
—Judy Blume: Born in 1938 and raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey, she currently resides in Key West, Florida, with her husband, where they operate the nonprofit Books & Books @ The Studios. She’s the award-winning author of 29 books including the revolutionary YA works Freckle Juice, Blubber and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Her first book was published in 1969. Her books dealt with topics not often discussed with young adults of 1970s America. Subjects including teen sex, birth control, bullying, body image and death.
In addition to selling more than 85 million copies of her books, which include versions in 32 languages, Blume has long been an active advocate of the National Coalition Against Censorship, according to information on judyblume.com.
—John Greene: Born in 1977 in Indianapolis, Ind. He is an award-winning novelist specializing in YA fiction. To date, he’s authored five books and co-authored an additional two, with two of his books (A Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns) transformed into feature films. In an uncommon, but innovative move, Green teamed up with fellow YA author David Levithan (New York Times best-selling author of Every Day and Invisibility) to co-author the series Will Grayson, according to Green’s official site, www.johngreenebooks.com. Another element of his body of work is viewable via YouTube. In the virtual universe, he teamed up with his brother, Hank, more than a decade ago to communicate primarily through video blogs at vlogbrothers.com on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers). The brothers also developed the program Crash Course (https://www.youtube.com/user/crashcourse), which features vlogs where the subjects of history, literature, economics, biology, chemistry and government, among others, are discussed. Each program is led by an expert in the field. At present, the Crash Course channel has 7.4 million subscribers, and the vlogbrothers greet a community of 3.1 million subscribers on YouTube.
YA Perspective: “The defining characteristic of YA literature is emotional truth,” responded David Levithan, author of Every Day, in an article appearing in The Atlantic. “Even if we’re not the same as the characters we read, they are all dealing with things—issues of who they are, who they should be, what they should and shouldn’t do—that we all deal with, in their own ways. With The Hunger Games, even if we will never be in Katniss’s shoes, the decisions she makes make emotional sense to us—even when she makes the wrong ones.”
—Jason Reynolds (1970): In his own words this Brooklyn-based writer plans to: NOT WRITE BORING BOOKS. Based on the sales of and accolades surrounding the 11 books he’s written, it appears he is on target with his goal. Graduating from The University of Maryland, College Park, he’s earned a litany of awards in the nine years since the debut of this New York Times bestselling author’s first novel. He’s the winner of a Kirkus Award, Walter Dean Myers Award, an NAACP Image Award, and several Coretta Scott King honors. This is in addition to being named a Newberry Award, Printz Award and National Book Award honoree, according to his author’s page at the site of his publisher, Simon & Schuster.
Among the YA books Reynolds’ has written is Ghost, All American Boys, Long Way Down, For Every One, and As Brave as You.
—J.K. Rowling (1965): Is a native of Gloucestershire, England, the daughter of an aircraft engineer for Rolls Royce and a science technician in the chemistry department at Wycedean Comprehensive, where Rowling received her education, according to information obtained at her site. Her first book came together when she was 6, and at the age of 11, she had penned her first novel: a story about seven diamonds and their owners.
Following her graduation from university, she worked in London, and her career included work as a researcher with Amnesty International. The idea for Harry Potter was perceived in 1990, and in the course of five years’ time Rowling developed the entire series. She taught English for the next several years until her first book was published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books in 1997. In 2001, Warner Bros. debuted the film version of the first book, which was followed by eight more films recounting the series, ending the final film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, which was released in 2011.
Although Rowling began as an author of children’s literature, the Harry Potter series had evolved to such a point that, by the publication of the fourth book (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), her work was classified as young adult fiction, as well.
—J.D. Salinger (1919-2010): Another native New Yorker, Jerome David Salinger was not a successful student, and ultimately was sent to the Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Later he took evening classes at Columbia University, where he met Whit Burnett, a professor who ultimately helped Salinger get his work published.
He was drafted during World War II, during which time he began working on chapters of a book featuring the life and experiences of young Holden Caulfield. According to Biography.com. In 1951, Salinger’s work was published as The Catcher in the Rye. Although it is now regarded as an example of classic young adult fiction, early on it received its share of criticism and calls for censorship, as well as praise. It went on to sell 65 million copies. However, it also became part of the story involving the tragic assassination of John Lennon in 1980. Mark David Chapman, the man who murdered Lennon, had a copy of The Catcher in the Rye and said the reason for the attack was spelled out in the book.
Young Adult Fiction Fact: The Harry Potter series has sold more copies than the combined populations of the United States, Canada, Australia, and the UK. (Source: BookRiot.com)
As history has proven, there are always stories to be shared and lessons from which to learn. Some of the most poignant, relatable, influential and inspiring are those told through the experiences and eyes of young adults.