This August, my book review blog will be two years old, but I think I've been feeling that 7 year itch about 5 years early. My eyes have been wandering and my attentions straying - to teen books.
Before I committed my attentions to reading kid's books for the purpose of reviewing them, I would read the occasional teen book, especially as my daughter approached that age and content level. Because I shelve in that section, as well as kid's, I have been a "blurb reader" for many many years and noticed the quality and selection of books improving immensely. JK Rowling's Harry Potter raised the bar and bumped adults' interest level for kid's books, and there are so many excellent fantasy novels that have come out for kids in the last ten years, perhaps because of this. Something similar, but not equal, has been happening in the teen section. I think that teen books, on their own, were gradually, steadily improving their content and quality of writing over the last ten years, perhaps riding the tide of Harry Potter. The publication of (and subsequent popularity of) Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga in 2005 definitely created a tsunami of books with similar themes in the world of teen literature. This wave of titles still fills up a large display table in the teen section more than 5 years later. Meyer's book also seemed to coincide with an increase of adult titles in the genre termed "urban fantasy," titles of this nature being found in both the science fiction and romance sections of the bookstore. For adults, this basically means a bunch of sexy vampire hunters who wear leather pants and have tramp stamps (Laurel K Hamilton) or every day folks living amongst vampires, weres and shapeshifters (Charlaine Harris.) These are just the two most popular authors in this genre at the moment. There are many, many more. In fact, it seems to be spreading like a disease every day. I share this with you both for your own edification and also to let you know that I do not intend to review books of this genre, however I will be reviewing fantasy novels that may even contain the occasional, albeit ironic, vampire. I hope to focus my attentions on books that are more along the lines of literature with a capital "L," for teens, if that doesn't sound too pretentious. Don't get me wrong, though, I love less serious books and will probably end up reading and reviewing them from time to time as well.
In spite of the overwhelming presence of supernatural, urban fantasy genre on the shelves, some really amazing authors have been writing some fantastic novels for teens. One interesting thing I have noticed is that there seems to be a very strong community among these authors. They often contribute to anthologies, co-write books together and all seem to know each other and maybe even hang out, kind of like the cool but odd and geeky group of kids in high school. A perfect example of this is GEEKTASTIC. Holly Black , co-auhtor with Tony DiTerlizzi of the Spiderwick Chronicles and among many other things, her Modern Faerie Tale series and teen author Cecil Castelucci came up with the idea for the first story in the book while appearing at the 2007 Comic-Con in San Diego. They decided that no one would publish their story alone and recruited their friends to contribute stories and make it a collection, giving it the subtitle of Stories from the Nerd Herd. Zombies vs.Unicorns is another amazing collection/concept due out in September of this year and is also headed, in part, by Holly Black, who leads Team Unicorn. Justine Larbalestier, author of the Magic or Madness Trilogy and, most recently, Liar, which was the subject of some interesting cover art controversy, leads Team Zombie. Big name competitors, I mean contributors, include Garth Nix, Meg Cabot, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson and Scott Westerfeld. Another thing that I noticed while reading Author's Notes and perusing author's websites is that these people do actually (mostly) all know each other and support each other enthusiastically. John Green happens to be in a writing group with E Lockhart, Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier and Maureen Johnson. The amazing editor and writer David Levithan co-writes with Rachel Cohn and John Green. John Green co-authors with Lauren Myracle and Maureen Johnson. Wendy Mass has a sort of fan page on her website showing pictures of herself with other authors she admires.
Before posting my first review, I wanted to read up a bit so I could get an idea of the lay of the land. I read four books and feel enthusiastically excited about all of them. Interestingly, two are fantasy and two are reality based fiction. And, although I said that I do not anticipate reading and reviewing any of the books from the teen urban fantasy genre, the one book that inspired me to read teen books again is Adam Rex's debut teen novel, Fat Vampire. Don't worry, though. If you know anything about Adam Rex's work you will know that his book is more social commentary than urban fantasy by leaps and bounds. Another thing that reading these books opened up for me was the realization that teen novels, besides being able to have swears, sex and drugs as part of the plot (if so desired, and it is not always desired by authors, I promise) can visit gray areas that young adult literature can't always. I have discovered a level of introspection, thoughtfulness and philosophical probing that (rightfully) doesn't exist in YA books. Duh, I know, but honestly, I thought that teen books on the whole were all kind of like Gossip Girl - vapid, superficial and obsessed with clothes and romance. But, teen books are kinda like high school - there are the cheerleaders, the popular kids, the goths, the stoners, the jocks, the band-aids, gang bangers, the D & D crowd, the quiet kids. They are all here and some of them are zombies, fairies, Greek demigods, werewolves and vampires. Some become your boss. Some end up in jail or dead, but they are all here.
My goal is to read and review books that I would want my daughter to read, or at least wouldn't mind if she read them. My other goal is also to review books that you, the adults, might enjoy reading as well. I know that a lot of you already read YA books and I hope you will join me on my journey into the world of teen literature. I don't have any plans at this point to provide a rating for the books in terms of content, however, if there is enough interest I will consider it. To be honest, I read for character and plot and don't want to have to keep a tally of the use of swears, illegal substances or intimate moments. Hopefully my reviews will give you a good idea of what to expect in terms of possibly inappropriate content based on your personal values system, and as I always (naïvely) hope, maybe even encourage you to read the book before you give it to your child.
Speaking of that, I am very grateful to have both my teenage daughter and my husband (who has been a high school teacher only slightly longer than I have been a bookseller) for reading and discussing these books with me as I venture into the world of teen literature...
So, this time Friday my first review of a teen title will post here. I have added as many labels as possible to alert readers to the fact that this is a TEEN book with TEEN content and I hope there will not be any confusion.