One huge trend in literature has been the emergence over the last 70 years of a genre now described as "young adult fiction."
I think of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, published in 1951, as the first big title of this type. The follow-ons are legion: The Outsiders, Lord of the Flies, A Wrinkle in Time, Judy Blume's books, The Giver, R.L. Stine's Goose Bumps series, the Harry Potter adventures and the Hunger Games trilogy. Many fine books here.
Some YA books qualify as serious literature, but most do not. What they seem to share is teenage protagonists. It has been explained that teenagers seek understanding of their own situations and are less interested in, say, midlife crises or the issues of aging. Fair enough.
(Curiously, it was reported in 2012 that more than half the YA titles now are purchased and read by people between the ages of 18 and 40. Perhaps some people take a little longer to ease into adulthood. Or maybe grownups' vocabularies are shrinking. Who knows?)
Current Young Adult Titles
Every year since 1922, the Association for Library Service to Children has given annual Newbery Medals for young people's books, including for outstanding young adult titles. Awards for 2014 books will be announced next month.
I went on a bibliophile website, Goodreads.com, to see which books are trending in its site's voting for this year's young adult award.
At right is the candidate most favored by Goodreads reviewers. It embodies two of the most common themes of last year's YA output:
-- It has a female author, like eight of the ten top-rated books. (Take that, STEM people! No glass ceiling in YA!) Of course, it is possible that 80 percent of readers are female as well.
-- Its plot radiates and pulses with magical realism. Only three of the top 10 YA books seemed to involve plausible, real stories. The other seven dabble in everything from the above-mentioned magical realism to fantasy to storytelling with a "possibly magic hairbrush."
Here is a description of the storyline in A Snicker of Magic:
Twelve-year-old Felicity arrives in Midnight Gulch with her nomadic, ever-relocating
mother. The town, once filled with magic, has lost its gift. Felicity, a "word person,"
sees magic everywhere -- "shining above strangers, tucked into church eaves, in her
dog's floppy ears." Can she restore the town's magic and make Midnight Gulch her
As I mentioned, this is the most favored book for the Newbery Medal this year. I'm not a fan of magical realism, which is also a big theme in films and adult fiction these days. I'm pretty sure my 12-year-old self would not have checked this book out at the library.
And reader reviews at Goodreads did run the gamut. One woman even said it was a good "pick-me-up" to read when she was suffering a painful case of shingles.
Another said, "This was sweet and maybe a little too adorable. I liked it though."
Then there were my people. One wrote, "It was okay but the words moving around and having life almost was a little much for me. . . . And when the shadows started dancing I was done."
Several commenters objected to the possibly excessive use of the (apparently positive) descriptive term "spindiddly." One posted this amusing graphic.
Much as the Goodreads people favor this book, I'm skeptical. I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that the Newbery judging panel will award its prize to some other title.
More on that next month.