Young adult sections in bookstore -- a parallel universe of little-regarded awesomeness

My editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, rang me yesterday to talk about a weird little phenomenon: people who were going to stores looking for my newest, Little Brother, were walking away unfulfilled because they were looking in the science fiction section, not the young adult section. Many of us grew up in an era before the young adult section -- when the kids' section in the store was just picture books and some 400-volume sharecropped series like Sweet Valley High. No longer -- practically every bookstore now sports a large (and growing) YA section filled with some of the most amazing work being done in any literary genre today.

Indeed, a quick browse through Boing Boing's archives turned up this (incomplete) set of links to my YA section, the young adult books I've loved and blogged here -- most of them are not available on the science fiction shelves of your local store, only in the YA section:

Scott Westerfeld: Pretties/Uglies; Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm: Good As Lilly; Daniel Pinkwater, Scott Westerfeld, Peeps, Jonathan Strahan (ed), The Starry Rift; John Varley: Rolling Thunder, John Varley: Red Thunder; John Varley: Red Thunder; Scott Westerfeld: Uglies, Michael de Larrabeiti: The Borribles; Justine Larbalastier: Magic's Child; Justine Larbalastier: Magic or Madness; Ragnar: Got Your Nose!; Philip Pullman: Northern Lights trilogy; Scott Westerfeld: So Yesterday; Scott Westerfeld: Midnighters trilogy; Kathe Koja: Going Under; Ellen Klages: Portable Childhoods; Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Jane Yolen (eds): The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy for Teens; Changeling, a fairy tale of contemporary New York (Delia Sherman);
Living in a space that no one watches too closely is one of the secret ways that people get to do excellent stuff. Science fiction's status for decades as a pariah genre meant that writers could do things with literary style, theme, and political content that their mainstream counterparts could never get away with (games, comics, early hip-hop, mashups, and many of the other back laneways of popular culture have also enjoyed this status). These days, a lot of the coolest stuff in the universe is happening in the kids' section of your bookstore (and yes, I'm aware of the irony of calling attention to a field that has prospered because it wasn't receiving too much attention to blossom).

So while there's a personal motive to this post -- letting you know where to find Little Brother at your bookstore -- there's also a general tip for living the happy mutant life: check out the YA section at the bookstore and see what's been going on under your nose!

Here's a little more on the subject from Patrick:

We've all been neglecting to include a very important piece of information: *if you want to buy a printed copy, you're going to have to go into the YA section.*

Some copies may wind up shelved in regular SF or general-fiction sections, but most bookstores are pretty rigorous these days: if it's published as YA, it goes into the YA section. As you know, Bob, we made a deliberate decision to publish it into the YA channel, not least because it's the kind of book we know *we* would have loved when we were 15. But it suddenly occurs to me that there are probably a lot of people who now have it in their heads to keep an eye out for *Little Brother* the next time they go into a bookstore...but that doesn't mean they're going to actually go into the section with all the chapter books, Narnia displays, Percy Jackson endcaps, and so forth.

Of course, if they do actually venture over that threshold, they may well discover a whole bunch of outstanding SF and fantasy that's been published onto those shelves in the last decade or so. Powerful SF novels like *Uglies* and *Peeps* by Scott Westerfeld, who John Scalzi calls "the most important contemporary SF author that most of the SF field has never heard of." Fantasy like Garth Nix's brilliant Abhorsen trilogy, or sui-generis novels of science and human character like Ellen Klages' *The Green Glass Sea*. It's almost as if there's an entire alternate world of good reading over there.


  1. Two years ago I was scanning the Fantasy/Sci-Fi section for Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, in a local Chapters. Couldn’t find it. I asked a passing clerk, and he led me to the YA section.

    I do not look like I have any business being in YA, and doubt that hanging out there makes anyone feel comfortable, least of all me ;)

    Since the The Golden Compass movie, I’m curious if they’ve moved or mirrored these books in Fantasy/Sci-Fi.


  2. I second that!

    As a recovering bookseller, I can attest to the fact that the YA section is often ignored. But some of the best reading can be found there. I am a big advocate for ignoring the labels and reading what’s good. Too many adults get put off of reading a book just because it’s labeled as YA, they think it’s too young or some other nonsense.

    The next time you go to a bookstore, do check out the YA section. I love it.

    P.S. I just read Little Brother and it rocks. I’m a bit paranoid now though.

  3. Even before the movie, many bookstores were cross-shelving the Pullman trilogy, helped by the fact that the publisher reissued them in mass market editions with more “adult”-looking covers. (Well, they took Lyra and the polar bear off the cover.) There are a few other titles where this has been done, but for the most part, YA is hidden away in its own little section.

    And to echo what Cory says about YA – yeah, YA fiction rules. To use Pullman again, he once said something along the lines of, “Children’s books are the last bastion of plot,” and he’s right. Outside genre sections like F/SF and Mystery, much of “literary” fiction has fallen in love with poetic turns of phrase and interior struggle at the expense of things actually HAPPENING in the stories.

    The thing about books for young readers: great YA books are good from the word go, otherwise kids will put them down and find something else to entertain them. No kid has ever read a book because of the great review it got in the New York Times, or said, “You know, this book is really slow, but I’m going to give it another hundred pages and see if it picks up.” Hence, YA often makes for fantastic (and often brisk!) reading. And they call this audience “young adult” for a reason: there’s stuff in there to appeal to the young kids in them, but also stuff to appeal to the developing, mature, adult sides of them as well.

    Don’t be afraid of the YA/Teen section! There’s amazing stuff there.

    Full disclosure: I, um, make my living writing books for young adults, so I’m kind of biased.

    Congrats on the book release, Cory–I’ll pick up a copy next time I’m in the YA section.

  4. I don’t recall a young adult section when I was young, way long ago. I guess I just discovered them on my own, or my reading tutor would get them in my hands. Why am I under the impression that kids read less now than they used to? I hope they read more. I should go look up some stats, I know.

  5. Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series, John Christopher’s tripod trilogy, Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series, and John Fitzgerald’s Great Brain books… 4 more great reasons to visit the young adult section. At least once. Preferably while shopping for gifts, so paranoid people don’t look at you funny for being a man alone in the children’s section.

  6. I’m gonna pit this all up to Harry Potter, probably one of the most famous YA books that I didn’t see mentioned above (Maybe I’m skimming too fast).

    There’s a strange Harry Potter-ization thats going on thats sort of reenergized the YA field, I think.

  7. @#4, Jeff:

    I dunno about kids in general, but my 12 year old reads LOTS. Of course it helps that we only allow one hour of time to split between TV & non-educational video games most days.

    He doesn’t read the stuff I read when I was 12, but I’m too happy to have him reading for me to get my feelings hurt if it’s about race cars instead of spaceships.

  8. Ya know, I didn’t see the Bartimaeus Trilogy up there! Jonathan Stroud’s other YA fiction is good too. But we have most definitely come a long way from Paul Zindel, S.E Hinton and Madeline l’Engle.

    I would have to agree about the Harry Potterization of the field; it’s encouraged publishers to put out more YA fantasy in an attempts to cash in. Best thing is, HP is definitely encouraging further reading. Surf some HP fan forums, and you’re almost guaranteed to find a long thread on what else people are reading. (I’ve suggested “The Crying of Lot 49” and the Illuminatus! trilogy to a number of kids. Just doing my part…)

  9. I went into Borders two nights ago to grab Little Brother and also found myself looking in the wrong spot — I was convinced after all the great pre-reviews that it would be out on the “new books” table in front, which I’m sure are not all best sellers. (In fact, they’ve got a separate shelf for those.)

    A quick check of the computer at the un-manned reference desk lead me over to YA, where I found about four copies, face out, but fourth shelf down. I bought one, full cover price.

    I read the first page in the parking lot before I even started the car.

  10. I’m not persuaded. I spent years stealing from my family’s library the “adult books” that my parents didn’t think were suited for me and now you tell me that I should read books for “young adults” (what does it means?!?).
    I remember with repulsion the shitload of feel-good/moralistic crap that at the time passed for “suited for teenagers,” is it really so different now?

  11. I read nonstop this past month — I took some time to stay with my elderly parents, and found myself reading in the early evenings, once they’d gone to bed.

    But when I went to a bookstore to reload, almost everything I wanted to read was from the YA section. I felt a little strange about this, but I shrugged it off because I couldn’t believe how long it had been since I’d read some Jerry Spinelli. All told, I read fifteen books or so.

    Un Lun Dun and Hugo Cabret were fine, but the very best thing I read last month was Criss Cross. It won a Newbery Medal and is a brilliant work of literature that tens of librarians with Amazon accounts have faulted for its plot, in which “nothing happens!”

  12. I was a little embarrassed to be buying a YA novel a couple of years ago called King Dork by Frank Portman. It ended up being my favorite book of the year.

  13. @7: Harry Potter is one of the influences in the rise of excellent YA in the past few years, but not the only one. I’d nominate Meg Cabot for another major influence. The Princess Diaries bounced from just about every place in NY before finding a home — apparently back then people thought it just wouldn’t be commercial. (Insert laughter here.)

    Anyway. I think the past ten years or so have been about booksellers realizing that it’s possible to sell good books directly to YA readers without having to target librarians and schools as middlemen. I’m certainly not seeing as many books get marketed as “worthwhile”.

    @11: Yeah, it’s that different. I grew up an era when the Older Readers section embraced problem novels and Sweet Valley-type series and not much else, so I get where you’re coming from, but the market has completely changed since then. Judging current YA based on the YA you remember from 10 or more years ago is like — I don’t know. Judging video games on your memories of Pong, maybe. Or judging rock ‘n roll by music from the Big Band era.

  14. Terry Pratchett has 3 books in the YA section.

    A Hat Full of Sky
    The Wee Free Men

  15. I started reading Tamora Pierce’s books when I was in middle school… 12 years later and I still wait for each new book. It’s so refreshing to find fantasy/history with female protagonists that aren’t just bad romance heroines.

    @ willie mcbride – I think there’s a lot more subversive YA literature now, a lot more alternative lifestyles represented and more complex themes. You just have to find the authors who don’t think kids are morons.

  16. “I remember with repulsion the shitload of feel-good/moralistic crap that at the time passed for ‘suited for teenagers,’ is it really so different now?”

    Yes, it’s really so different now.

    Bad books happen everywhere, but today there’s a lot of fiction published as YA which is the utter antithesis of “feel-good/moralistic crap.”

  17. Some of the best fiction I’ve read in recent years has been Y.A., especially books by M.T. Anderson, like his “Feed,” the first paragraphs of which pulled me in when I saw the book on a table at my local bookstore awhile back:
    “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.
    “We went there on a Friday, because there was shit-all to do at home. It was the beginning of spring break . . . but I mean we were all pretty null, because for the last like hour we’d been playing with three uninsulated wires that were coming out of the wall.”
    Haven’t yet read his Nat’l Book Award-winning “The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing,” but it looks good as well.

  18. I’m adding Stephen Manes to the list. His book,Chicken Trek, added to the stew of my imagination and really knocked me off kilter in a good way.

  19. Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword is another wonderful book that frequently inhabits the YA section.

    I’ve also seen some “adult” books being sold as YA – I remember an edition of Ender’s Game that seemed like it was being marketed at a younger audience.

  20. It appears that YA is also the category for my favorite author, Patricia C. Wrede. She is the writer of a) the Enchanted Forest series of dragon/human adventures, b) an early darker fantasy series about the land of Lyra, and c) two series of fantasy books set in Regency England, including a pair of books about a magician and his ward, and a current ongoing series about two cousins, Cecilia and Kate, and their adventures, along with their families, in a magical Regency world.

    Wrede’s books have many strengths, but one of the most noticeable ones is her ability to create and maintain extremely charming and spunky characters. Her dialog is just too much fun to read. In fact, they are the only books I reread, and in fact I find myself rereading them regularly. They’re like a tonic, particularly in chaotic times like today!

  21. Ah, I’ve been waiting for Cory to finally fess up to his YA obsession!

    I just finished reading the Uglies Trilogy (well, not Extras yet, I’ll wait for paperback) and I’m surprised no one has mentioned InterWorld by Michael Reaves and Neil Gaiman.

    (I’d also recommend the Alex Unlimited series, which has a similar premise.)

  22. I’m lucky to have a precocious 11 year old daughter who loves to read YA (and “adult”) SF.

    She turned me on to the Scott Westerfield books; I gave her “Ender’s Game”. And she LOVED “Anda’s Game!”

    Now we’re going to fight over who gets to read “Little Brother” first!

  23. greatest YA SF book ever? it has to be HOUSE OF THE SCORPION. the book, by nancy farmer, is a great look at the morality surrounding cloning. my wife is a children’s librarian so i get to read some of her favorite books, many that i love more than the books i usually read! if you like YA, do yourself a favor and read HOUSE OF THE SCORPION. top drawer YA SF!

  24. I’m not so sure quality YA stuff is such a recent phenomenon. I grew up in the 70s and my elementary school librarians were constantly giving me interesting stuff to read from the section I remember being labelled “Juvenile,” which seemed to be geared towards 12-16 year olds. (Madeleine L’Engle and House of Stairs particularly stick out in my mind, but there were plenty of other books with challenging themes and no “feel-good/moralistic crap.” I Am The Cheese? Lord of the Flies?)

    Is that the same demographic as “young adult,” or did I skip a section? Because while I wouldn’t call a 15 year old an adult at all, even with the “young” qualifier, by the time I was out of junior high I was reading pretty much entirely “adult” fiction (which I am not using as a euphemism for porn.)

  25. @#28, El Mariachi:

    You stole my memorable juvenile book list!

    In particular, I Am The Cheese freaked my shit. The rest of it is also exactly what I would list as most memorable (not necessarily what I liked the most) from my juvey list.

    I read a lot of Heinlein as a juvey too, though. I’m pretty sure my parents wouldn’t have been very keen on that had they read the same books, but, honestly, I think most of the weird/racy stuff I disregarded or went over my head, anyway.

  26. “You just have to find the authors who don’t think kids are morons.” Exactly. There’s some great stuff in the YA section. Don’t be afraid of looking like an old perv or weirdo in the kiddie section. They’re just books!

    I loved the Phillip Pullman series (didn’t see the film – I like my imagination better than theirs). Eragon was great (unfortunately saw part of the movie, which was a dud in every way). Holly Black (who wrote some of the Spiderwick Chronicals books – I haven’t read them) has done 3 YA modern fairy tale books. They’re dark, gritty (especially the second book) and entertaining: Tithe, Valiant and Ironside.

  27. Dang, Cory, you’re giving away my seecrets. :) When I browse in bookstores these days, I usually head straight for the YA section. I don’t know why they bother to shelve them separately any more. At first I felt vaguely weird, hanging out in, y’know, the kids’ section, but I keep in mind the C.S. Lewis quote about putting away childish things–including the fear of being thought childish.

    I’ve also got to second Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s recommendation of Garth Nix. Be warned (or apprised) that his stuff is dark dark dark with a side order of dark: one of his earlier works is a dystopic post-apocalyptic YA novel. I went to a signing some years back (for _Mister Monday_, IIRC) and was easily 15 years older than the next oldest attendee. I suspect the demographics would be very very different if he held a signing here today.

    Also, those of you into steampunk (and what are you doing on BoingBoing if you’re not into steampunk, hmmmmm? :)) need to drop whatever you’re doing and hunt down Kenneth Oppel’s novels _Airborn_ (yes, spelled without the ‘e’) and _Skybreaker_. Adventure! Airships! Pirates! There had better be a third book out soon, or I will be very sad!

    Also Cornelia Funke. More overtly for children than the previous two authors, but her “Inkworld” trilogy is terrific, and I liked _The Thief Lord_, too.

  28. I didn’t see Francesca Lia Block’s Dangerous Angels series here, that begins with Weetzie Bat.

    A reminder that readers can also check the YA section of public libraries for Little Brother, and that putting in requests for it will likely increase its sale to libraries.

    A few people mentioned House of the Scorpion. I didn’t care for it when I read it. I thought Kenzuo Ishiguru did a more interesting take on a similar subject in Never Let Me Go. Though it wasn’t a YA book, it could have been.

  29. I ALMOST left Barnes & Noble unfulfilled last night, then I remembered a similar experience when I went to buy Nick Hornby’s latest “Slam” a few months back, finding it in the YA section. Sure enough, there it was in the “What’s New for Teens” section of B&N.

    I would have gotten a lot more sleep last night if I hadn’t found it ;)

  30. Jaclyn Moriarty, Feeling Sorry for Celia and all its sequels. They are all entirely fantastic.

    I guess Septimus Heap is more children’s lit than YA, huh?

  31. #15 posted by Moon: I’ll second those three and add a a couple more from Mr. Pratchett: The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, The Bromeliad Trilogy, Truckers, Diggers, & Wings, and the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, Only You can save Mankind, Johnny & the Dead and Johnny & the Bomb.

  32. I always feel weird going into the YA section in the local Chapters. It doesn’t help that it’s part of the kids section and the media has decreed that single male + place where kids are = pedophile.

    I didn’t see him mentioned above, but Gordon Korman has some great YA books. One of them, Son of Interflux, deals with some of the same themes as Little Brother. Both involve teenagers rebelling against an unbeatable enemy though Son of Interflux is a lot more light-hearted.

  33. As an old adult, this horrifies me. Who remembers Girls’ and Boys’ sections at the bookstore? That made life pretty hard for a faggot who wanted to read Nancy Drew or a budding dyke who was into the Hardy Boys. If, at 50, I wander into the YA section, will the security guard detain me?

    The Young Adult section is an artificial genre created by marketers who worship “the all-important 18 to 34 year-old male” demographic. The same people who churn out crap films and television based on demographic assumptions. Let’s put SF back in SF. Or should we go back to Girls’ and Boys’ sections, too?

  34. There does seem to be a plethora of interesting, or interesting looking books in the YA section. While I’m in school, I don’t really have time to read what I like (as all my reading time is devoted to history), so I’ve been reading to my kiddo stuff that I want to read too. We’re in the middle of Harry Potter series right now (on book 5). I think once we finish that, we might read Cory’s new book (which I’ll pick up this week). I’ve decided to put off Clive Barker’s YA series until she’s a bit older (though I’ve read the first 2 books and they are amazingly good). And I can’t wait for the Graveyard book to come out.

    Incidentally, several people here have said that HP has been driving book reading amongst the younger crowd, which has been my understanding. But I saw Susan Jacoby on C-Span this weekend (she was on Colbert last week, so you might have seen that) and she claims that Harry Potter is not driving sales of other YA books, and in fact is a further dumbing down of culture. Anyone care to comment on that… Here is the link to the videos on the youtube:

    I only saw the end of the interview, and I think her comments are in video 5.


  35. @jlmink: I came in just to recommend Feed. In preparation for a long roadtrip, I got the audiobook from my library. I had no idea it was YA, but loved every minute of it and was sad to hear it end. I’m definitely going to check out more of Anderson’s stuff.

  36. Oh how I wish my young geeky self had access to books like these back in the day…

    [all links take you to wikipedia]

    *King Dork (Frank Portman)

    *An Abundance of Katherines (John Green)

    *Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Rachel Cohn & David Levithan)

    These days I have a full time day job, run my own business and have a family with two little kids. Which is a long way of saying my only time to read fiction is on my bus ride to and from work. YA chapters are short and fit easily into my 20 minute reading window.

  37. Was I the only one who read any books by William Sleator when I was a teenager? “The Boy Who Reversed Himself” was a story about alternate dimensions that I not only found totally compelling, but really encouraged me to read more – especially sci-fi.

    I understand they’re still great reads now, though I haven’t read any of his books since I was a teen. Check them out:

    At Amazon

  38. I love YA! I can walk in the sun again knowing I’m not alone. I’ve noticed more and more “adult” writers showing up in this section; Clive Barker of all people has published 2 charming (yes, a bit dark and disturbing) YA books from a planned trilogy called Arabat.

  39. If, at 50, I wander into the YA section, will the security guard detain me?

    If you have a relative who’s age-appropriate, you’re looking for something for them to try to encourage them to read more. Not that I’ve ever seen a security guard in even the big book stores.

  40. Hey there. First time commenter, chiming in to praise older young adult literature, because YA lit has been a treasure trove of unknown gems for a long time, really. I entered ‘young adult’ reading age nearly twenty years ago and was distinctly sorry to ‘leave’ it in my late teens, when I began to feel odd shopping for books in the children’s sections of the local bookshops. It took me years to find anything even remotely as rewarding to read in the ‘grown-up’ sections, and for a while I grew seriously disenchanted with reading, because everything I tried felt either extremely shallow (plotty adventure stuff for grown-ups for some reason tended to be a lot more intellectually shallow than what I was used to from YA literature), or dry and boring. E.g., I liked to read historical novels as a teenager, but when I tried to transition from historical novels written for teenagers to historical novels written for adults, I found that most of them were fairly formulaic romance novels, only ‘dressed up’ as historical novels.

    Some books that I loved between ages 13 and 17, and which are available in English:

    – My favourite series of historical novels for children/teenagers/young adults is still Rosemary Sutcliff’s Roman Britain series, beautifully atmospheric, morally complex novels about people caught in webs of conflicting loyalties, written in the 1950s and 1960s.

    – Another great book that incidentally also dates back to the fifties is Fritz Mühlenweg’s “Big Tiger and Christian”, about two twelve-year-old boys ‘accidentally’ travelling through Mongolia. This apparently was translated to English back then, and is available, used, and for a steep price, from Amazon. I don’t know if the translation is okay, having only read the original, but there are some readers’ reviews there that sound pretty enthusiastic.

    – Some people probably know Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story. That was originally a children’s book and would probably be marketed as ‘young adult’ today. He also wrote another fantasy novel called Momo; I’m not sure if that is available in English, though.

    – Most of Astrid Lindgren’s writing, though actually mostly intended for younger children, is so good that it can, and should, be read by readers of all ages – Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter and The Brothers Lionheart in particular.

    – Depressing, but impressed me deeply at age twelve or so: Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George. The amazon page for it has a lot of scandalised comments by adult readers because the book, which features a thirteen-year-old Inuit girl who is forced into marriage, contains a rape/near-rape scene. The book is mostly about her trying to survive in the tundra by essentially joining a pack of wolves, but it also tackles the difficult situation of the Inuit in ‘modern’ society.

    And, unavailable in English, but possibly useful for German readers:

    – Wie Spucke im Sand, as well as the Berlin trilogy by Klaus Kordon. Wie Spucke im Sand is the story of an Indian girl who runs away from her village to join the bandits in the mountains; the trilogy tells the story of a working class family in Berlin from 1918 through 1945.

    – Taube unter Falken, by Katherine Allfrey: the story of a Greek girl who is kidnapped by pirates and rescued by Amazons

    – Die Türme des Februar, by Tonke Dragt: a highly surreal SF/fantasy novel about parallel worlds

    I could go on…

  41. Diane Duane’s “Young Wizards” … er, septology? can’t remember off the top of my head … anyway, her series is classified as YA yet is some of the most imaginative and interesting fantasy I’ve ever read. Persistent health problems have delayed her fan-sponsored project (“Big Meow”, which Boing Boing covered) for a few years, but nonetheless, any of her books are usually utterly fantastic reads.

  42. If anyone’s really worried about looking creepy or getting kicked out by security, I suggest saying you’re looking for a gift for your niece/nephew. Might even get you some recommendations.

    The bookstores that irk me are the ones where the YA section shares space with the picture books, and you have to enter a separate “Children’s Books” section to get to them. Not because I mind going back there — I mind because I suspect a fair number of potential teen YA readers are turned off at the thought of getting their books in the Children’s section. (Full disclosure: Calling YA readers “kids” is a huge pet peeve of mine.)

    One of the bookstores near me has moved their YA out into the main store floor, between the audiobooks and the cookbooks. This also means their shelves are relatively sheltered, instead of exposed along the back wall, so browsers don’t have to worry about anyone watching them look at something potentially embarassing.

    I’m guessing their YA sales rose.

  43. if you like King Dork (or just laughing in general), you should check out Miracle Wimp by Erik P. Kraft. It’s about a kid who gets stuck in wood shop by accident, with a crazy teacher and a bunch of kids he calls “the Donkeys.”

    The problem with a lot of YA sections (at least in NY, IMO) is either it’s all chicklit, or the people who run them have no idea what’s current, and it’s mainly just Harry Potter.

  44. The Young Adult section is an artificial genre created by marketers who worship “the all-important 18 to 34 year-old male” demographic.

    The slicing and dicing of the reading public may stem from a similar impulse, Antinous, but I can tell you with some certainty that there are almost no books in the YA section that are pitched at that particular demo. I think the publishing industry in general just assumes that only a small percentage of 18-34 males read at all, and those who do read straight genre fiction (mostly SF or thrillers).

    YA books are marketed at girls (and to a lesser extent bookish boys) of about 12-18. And while I’m not a YA author, I think that those who do deliberately write for a teenage audience would argue that it’s NOT exactly the same as writing for “everyone.” I suppose there’s something to said for a vision of a world where there are no more labels, but as long as that remains an unattainable fantasy I don’t see that this particular category is doing any harm to children or to literature.

    And yes, there has definitely been a flowering in the field lately, and a lot of the credit should probably go to J.K. Rowling. Not because Potter-mania particularly increased the audience of long-term readers, but because it opened up the eyes of publishing companies and “adult” writers to the potential money and recognition that could be earned by toiling in the YA fields, which meant more spent on acquisitions, book design, promotion, etc.

    Also, everyone here should go read every single YA book Scott Westerfeld has ever written. The man’s praises simply cannot be sung often or loudly enough.

  45. I should perhaps add to my Astrid Lindgren recommendation a caveat about the ending of The Brothers Lionheart – it’s not an ending I’m particularly comfortable with (and I wasn’t comfortable with it even as a child). Still, it’s possible to disagree with an ending and still like the book.

  46. my name is roger, and I love YA.

    I am so lucky to work in a middle school! I am surrounded by these books.

    make sure you check out anything by Edmund Bloor, especially Tangerine.

  47. @#15
    I just picked up Johnny and the Dead in YA by PTerry also. My boyfriend read it and Wintersmith and enjoyed them. :)

  48. In a Barnes & Noble near me, the YA section abuts the graphic novel/RPG section, and the books DO look interesting, but, of course, I am too self conscious to browse.

    This may be an empowering informational, just what I needed, some form of approval and validation.

    And, after reading and abstracting 1000 page documents, I would really appreciate some light but artful and thought provoking prose.

  49. @#23
    Is THAT where they’ve been hiding Patricia Wrede? I never get through the entire alphabet in YA…I get a few letters before and after the author I was searching for and end up breaking my budget for books this trip….although in used book stores, I spend a lot of time looking around with fond memories, just tracing the spines of books I love (even when I have copies at home for my young one).

    I love posts like this because the comments section becomes a shopping list. “Authors to try…”

    I read a lot of Heinlein as a kid, and my parents channeled me in the direction of his juvenile fiction as much as they could. By the time I was reading his racier works I was pretty well prepared for it mentally.

  50. One last thing … is this worry about being perceived as a pedophile/predator really genuine? Because unless you’re acting like a predator, and following/pestering/ogling some actual kids, the chances are good that no one is even going to notice what section of the store you’re in at all.

    I would wager that a substantial percentage of YA books are bought by adults, and book store employees have no idea whether a person is shopping for himself, for his kids, for other kids he knows, or whatever … unless you’re behaving inappropriately, they’re not going to risk losing a sale by giving you grief based just on which section of shelves you’re looking at.

  51. And don’t forget the fabulous ‘Ratha/The Named’ series by my friend Clare Bell. The series includes the award-winning ‘Ratha’s Creature’; ‘Clan Ground’, ‘Ratha & Thistle-Chaser’; ‘Ratha’s Challenge’ and the newly published ‘Ratha’s Courage (2008). Check out:

  52. Sadly no mention of one of the most astonishingly brilliant sci-fi works for young adults: M.T. Anderson’s Feed.

  53. @#42, Nanite2000:

    See #28 & #29 – Sleator wrote House of Stairs. (Yeah, I don’t mention House of Stairs by name in #29, but my list is just like #28’s).

  54. So.. I went to go pick up my copy of Little Brother today, since I now knew which section to look for it in. I was walking out the door with my purchase, and the beepbeepbeep alarm went off. I was like, “lol oxymoron”.

    I looked inside the book for the little tag or sticker, but I couldn’t find where they put it. How do I destroy it, with minimal damage to the book? Microwave?

  55. So many good reads. I remember decades ago buying Pinkwater’s “Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death” on an outing to Boston. I was so absorbed in it I missed my T stop and didn’t get home till 3:00 AM.

    To answer HMPF, I have an English copy of Momo, great book. Translated by J. Maxwell Brownjohn. Published by Penguin Books. ISBN 01400.79165. Hope that helps.

    I’d also recommend the Mad Scientists’ Club series. Written in the 60s by Bertrand R. Brinley, comprising 12 short stories and 2 novels. A bunch of small town boys using science to solve mysteries and such. is the official web site, and links to Purple House Press which publishes it as well as other children and young adult books.

    Takes me back to grade school waiting for the Scholastic Book flier, Robert McCloskey’s “Homer Price”, William Hayes “Project: Genius”, Eleanor Cameron’s Mushroom Planet series, Lester del Ray, “Runaway Robot”, Jacques Futrelle “The Thinking Machine”…

    I still periodically re-read these, as well as classics like “Winnie the Pooh” and “The Wind in the Willows”. And, maybe not strictly a young adult novel, but James Schmitz’s “The Witches of Karres” and Telzey Amberdon series are among my favorites.

  56. A second for Diane Duane’s “Young Wizards” series. Amazingly good for many ages.

    Funny, I refused to read the Harry Potter books for a long time because I felt them to be a rip-off OF the Young Wizards series. Nowadays I like them both

  57. @#46 – I second the nod to the Young Wizards series. I swear, the only reason it’s considered YA is because it has kid heroes. It has one of the coolest takes on magic I’ve ever seen.

    I’m always a little embarrassed to go through the YA/teen section — the pickings were slim in that section when I was 12 — but every time I do now I see something that looks interesting and different.

  58. I work in a Barnes & Noble that just moved into a new building last month. In the old store, the YA section was the dividing line between kids and the rest of the store, so that you didn’t actually have to go in the kiddie section to browse. Now it’s even better – more room, and out of the kid’s section entirely. A good sign, I think. You don’t have to stand under the friendly frog to buy Abhorsen, or Wintersmith, or Uglies.

  59. #1: RE location of Pullman’s books:

    I went to a local Barnes & Noble today to get a gift for my mother; Pullman’s Lyra’s Oxford. I found the three “His Dark Materials” novels, in several editions, on the main SF&F shelves.

    I’d pretty much given up when a clerk passed by and asked me if I was looking for something in particular.

    She led me to the YA section, and there was the book . . . along with another edition of the “His Dark Materials” novels and a brand new novelette in overpriced hardcover form.

  60. Just thought I’d chime in with seconding some of those above.
    “The Eye, The Ear, & The Arm” (great step up after the hardy boys mysteries, or the box-car children, or *insert juvenile crime solving team here*), anything Lloyd Alexander (strike that, Everything Lloyd Alexander), Susan Cooper’s “Dark is Rising” series (first series I read twice. Decent movie, as well), Madeline l’Engle, “Eragon” and “Eldest” (not an original bit in the story, but very well stitched together), “Julie of the Wolves” (that brought me back, thanks for mentioning it. I had read that at a time where the title and author of a book meant nothing to me, I was hungry only for plot. Little piece of my life given back to me), and of course Diane Duane, and the first book of His Dark Materials (shame about the movie).

    I would also like to chime in that I love the Harry Potter series, and know of a few folks who started reading in their adult lives because of it… but I like to think of JK Rowling as a storyteller, not a writer (simply because the writing is not well done). I would use it to open up the genre to a child who already reads, but that’s about it.

  61. I grew up on the early Heinleins (Red Planet, Tunnel in the Sky etc), and also a couple of Clarke’s ones for kids (Dolphin Island, Islands in the Sky). I re-read every decade or so. Quality! I’m glad to hear the field is flourishing.

  62. Gotta second Lloyd Alexander. “Time Cat” was a great piece of episodic SF, and his final meisterwerk “The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio” is like Umberto Eco for kids.

    I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned Daniel Pinkwater’s “Young Adult Novel”! The perfect meta-YA novel, and brilliant genre satire! (The Neddiad and its follow-up, The Yggdrasey, are also amazing.)

    I should also mention “The Girl with the Silver Eyes”. It’s not the best writing in the world, but it does touch on beneficial mutation, unexpected drug side effects, and how to deal with alienation. It also refers to other books like The Scarlet Pimpernel, which is an added plus.

    And while Louis Sachar’s “Holes” is not SF or fantasy, it is the tightest piece of fiction I’ve ever read. Three separate plotlines, and if something shows up in one, it’ll show up somewhere else.

  63. No discussion of YA novels in this day and age is complete without mention of Cecil Castellucci, who writes fantastic books (including the first Minx graphic novel The Plain Janes) with great female leads.

  64. I’m kind of surprised that no-one’s mentioned the multi-author YA ‘Jupiter’ series (by Charles Sheffield, Jerry Pournelle, and James P. Hogan). These were explicitly modeled on the Heinlein juveniles.

    More recently, Harry Turtledove’s ‘Crosstime Traffic’ series is great, as are Timothy Zahn’s ‘Dragonback’ series and David Gerrold’s ‘Starsiders’ trilogy. I do most of my book shopping online, so I’m not sure these are actually *in* the YA section, but they should be.

    Also, the kids’ sections of yore, while certainly overrun with series like ‘Sweet Valley High’ and ‘The Babysitters Club’ (bleargh), also had ‘Hardy Boys’ and ‘Tom Swift Jr.’, so it wasn’t all bad.

    Finally, Cory, you said “and yes, I’m aware of the irony of calling attention to a field that has prospered because it wasn’t receiving too much attention to blossom.”

    It’s not *ironic*, Cory, it’s *counter productive* (at least potentially). Now some bluenose is going to be ‘shocked’ at the content of these books and suggest a rating board to keep ‘inappropriate’ material out of the hands of the youngest readers. Great.

  65. Re #42 posted by nanite2000 , May 1, 2008 1:33 PM

    Was I the only one who read any books by William Sleator when I was a teenager? “The Boy Who Reversed Himself” was a story about alternate dimensions that I not only found totally compelling, but really encouraged me to read more – especially sci-fi.
    Check them out: At Amazon

    I did, and the book is not just *about* alternate dimensions, it embodies alternate dimensions: Amazon lists its size as 50.8cm^3, or eight cubic feet. Woe betide the reader (YA or other) who drops that sucker on a toe!

  66. I’ll second #9’s vote for Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy. Bracing social satire, crisply written, intricately plotted; they’re everything the Harry Potter books would be if Rowling were a better writer. (And I *liked* the Harry Potter books!)

    I’d also like send some big up love to the late cartoonist and novelist William Steig, who understood poignancy better than just about any other YA writer. He wrote Shrek, but I really recommend the novels Dominic (1972), The Real Thief (1973), and Abel’s Island (1976). These are perhaps geared toward younger readers, but the writing is so lovely you’ll fall in love with them, too.

  67. I work in a library and I have been known to sneak YA books onto the adults’ “New” shelf just so they can rack up some circulations. Adults don’t know or care. Unfortunately, in our library, YA is where our books go to die, unless I can physically put them in a person’s hands. I wish more people would browse YA, or for that matter, the kids area. There’s some great stuff.

    I’ve seen many adults cross from the adult paranormals to Stephanie Meyer’s vampire series. Many have read “Eragon” and are impatiently waiting for the next. But very few of them actually look in our YA section to see what we’ve got. Shame.

    I absolutely loved Westerfeld’s “Peeps” and M.T. Anderson’s “Thirsty.” (The Westerfeld is great just for the nasty, true parasite descriptions between chapters.)Funny that people should mention Sleator; I just reread Sleator’s “House of Stairs” after twenty-some years.

  68. One book that I don’t think I’ve seen mentioned is Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always, which is the best kids/YA story I have ever read (his new YA series Abarat keeps getting mentioned, but it pales in comparison to Thief).

    Other books I’d suggest are:
    – Terry Pratchett’s books (especially “The Bromeliad”)
    – Jonathan Stroud’s “Bartimaeus” series
    – Garth Nix’s books (the “Seventh Tower” and “Keys to the Kingdom” series)
    – China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun
    – Jeff Smith’s Bone
    – Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet

  69. @Nicole71

    I was just thinking, a lot of the stories people are mentioning as YA are books I’ve picked out of non-YA sections of the public library. I thought those people just don’t have a firm grip for what is and is not YA, but now I’m thinking I’m an idiot, and my local library has a subversive librarian. Viva La Resistance!

  70. To respond to Mindysan33 @ #39, I was so curious about the link that I followed through. I do not know where she is getting her information from, but I disagree wholeheartedly. I’m a YA author, and every YA publisher and author I know attribute the current success of the genre to Harry Potter. Are there children who read HP and nothing else? Of course. Every time you see a blockbuster, runaway hit book, it can be attributed to a population of NON readers glomming on to it (you see the same phenom with runaway adult bestsellers like The DaVinci Code).

    But it also created a population that did pick up the habit of reading. Every HP fan? No, but quite a few of them. And what’s more, it created a population of young people who find reading as entertainment to be an acceptable past time. So often, the attitude taught in schools and in mass culture is that it’s okay to go to a movie for fun or to watch TV for fun, but books have to be “good for you.” There is a much greater stigma aimed at people who read genre fiction than those who, say, watch sitcoms. When the love of reading or acceptability of reading as entertinment is drummed out of the minds of anyone, children or not, it does form a problem.

    Sadly, it seems that this is a view Jacoby is espousing, as she follows up her reference-free assertion that kids aren’t reading books (no matter what the industry is showing otherwise), with arguments that it is ‘crap’ and ‘a waste of time’ to study theme, motif, political commentary, etc. in horror films.

  71. Living in a space that no one watches too closely is one of the secret ways that people get to do excellent stuff.

    Precisely! And that is one reason why I publish online: most people – including bloggers – think´ ‘self-published crap’ and pay little attention. Consequently I can do exactly what I like in my fiction – without worrying about sales, without worrying about an editorial stamp of approval.

  72. I’m surprised no one has mentioned Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses books yet. Gutwrenching examination of racism.

    The YA section is really the only part of a bookstore where I am still likely to up books by authors I’ve never heard of. Because there is so much great writing there now and so little marketing for most of it that the probability of finding great unknown writers is still strong.

    …having said which, some of my favourite books that might be classified as YA are from back before the genre existed. Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, for example. Or Joan Aiken’s short stories.

  73. The only time I feel weird being in the YA section is at my local library. They have recently made their YA section more of a “hang out” spot for teens and there is a sign stating that the area is only for kids under the age of 18. So I am allowed to go and get the books I want but I can’t sit in the chairs and read the books because it would be creepy. I think it is a good rule though because I remember before there would always be a lot of adult men back there which was kind of creepier.

  74. (Sorry to post anonymously – I can’t find my password, and it doesn’t seem to want to reset for me. Grrrrrrrrrr…..)

    Cory, I love your tip-of-the-iceberg list of good YA – and the oceanic tide of reccs that it inspired!

    But CHANGELING did not spring full-blown from Central Park: you should add “Delia Sherman” as the author.

    – Ellen Kushner

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