Young Adult Literature

What YA Talking About?: September 2015 in YA News

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Last month, I kicked off a new feature highlighting some of the news and discussions happening in the young adult literature world. I put out a call asking for a possible title for this series, and Librarian Pirate over on Tumblr suggested “What YA Talking About?” It’s perfect.

So what YA talking about in September? Here’s a rundown of September in the YA world.

It’s self-serving, but I’m going to begin with things as they related to my work this month. Feel free to skip on down if you want. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, here’s a YA reading list I shared again this year. Earlier this year, YA Interrobang offered up a list of YA titles with Hispanic lead characters, too.

Banned Books Week launched on September 27 and runs through the week. This year, as you’ll likely remember, I put together a book drive to get copies of the challenged book Some Girls Are down to Charleston for anyone who would want a copy. This got some great coverage in Charleston, including an excellent piece in the Post & Courier, as well as a piece on their local news station. Watch the video, as it features a teen and a parent talking about why reading tough books matters. Teenagers are awesome.

Perhaps the most discussed news this month came out of the Nielsen Summit. Children’s book sales, including those for YA books, are up. That wasn’t what raised concern or discussion. What did was a discussion about whether the label “YA” necessarily describes what it is these books are or the market they’re hitting. If 80% of the YA books sold are being sold to adults, it was suggested perhaps the label should not be “YA” but rather, “YAH” — Young At Heart.

There’s so much to unpack here. First and foremost, the 80% sales figure is disingenuous. “Sold to adults” could mean anything: books sold to adults who are buying them for their teens, books sold to adults who are sharing them with their teens, and, perhaps the piece so frustratingly under-discussed, YA books sold to teenagers who have to use their parents credit cards to buy them online. Are adults buying and consuming YA books for themselves? Absolutely. But I would hazard a guess the number might be more close to 50 or 60% of sales by adults are for those adults. It’s certainly not 80%.

Second, removing the label “YA” and calling it “YAH” does the very thing that has been slowly happening for a while now: erasing the needs and interests of teens from the very category of books that feature their stories. We regularly disregard the needs and interests of teenagers, especially in conversations about YA lit, so to even bring up the idea that the category could better be named something else is further separating teens from their stories.

This is a problem that’s been discussed at length in other places, but in short, by removing the fact YA is full of teen stories, we forget that the actions of characters in those stories are reflective of teen developments, interests, desires, and behaviors. And that penetrates into criticism of YA books, which further maligns it and allows adults too much sway into the ways that teens “should” and “should not” be portrayed culturally.

Adults can and should read YA. Adults cannot and should not have the right to determine how teenagers behave or are depicted. Teens are complicated, complex, messy, and awesome because of those things.

The National Book Awards named their long list of titles in Young People’s Literature. It’s a nicely diverse list, though it’s worth noting there’s a dearth of female-leaning YA stories present. Not surprising and not detracting from those titles being honored or the work of the committee who developed this list, but it’s noteworthy in regards of being a thing we see happen over and over again with prestigious book honors.

But on the bright side, here’s a great, thought-provoking look at one teacher’s experience teaching Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson to his students at an all-boys school. An educator making a difference.

Patrick Ness, along with a swarm of other young adult authors, helped raise over $1 million dollars to help with the Syrian refugee crisis. One of the reasons the YA world continues to be outstanding is because they rise to the challenge — and this was an awesome outpouring of support for an important cause.

We’re a month into the changes with the New York Times Bestsellers list for YA books, and it’s been a refreshing change — more positive than I anticipated it would be. The list, which had been male-dominated, has now moved to being female-dominated and more representative of what the category looks like realistically. Likewise, the ebook list has also been changing up, allowing more mid-list YA authors to hit the list. I’m going to be keeping my eye on the ebook list and how publishers strategize this: I bet we’ll see more sales on YA titles for $1 and see those books end up on the list in the following weeks.

Twilight by Stephenie turns the big 1-0 this year. Author and editor Daniel Kraus wrote one of the best retrospective looks at her book, talking about both the highlights and the low lights. This piece might be one of the most even-handed looks at this game changing YA title.  And speaking of Twilight, we’ll be getting a special 10th anniversary edition with bonus content.

Finally, a (big!) look at the book announcements and film adaptation news of note from September:







And speaking of Allegiant, here’s the official teaser trailer: