I read a lot of “books for teens” when I was in middle and junior high school. I had lots of questions about being a teenager and about the world around me. I didn’t know many older kids, certainly not well enough to ask difficult questions, and there was no way I was taking my questions to any adults – too embarrassing! I read books like “To Take a Dare” (Paul Zindel) and “Go Ask Alice” (Beatrice Sparks) and almost everything by Paula Danziger and Judy Blume (but not the ‘teen romances’ – I never could get into them), trying to figure out this Being a Teenager thing. I don’t know how much those books helped me figure out how to be a teenager, but I do know I read about a lot of things that I decided I didn’t need to live through firsthand. Reading about them was plenty enough.
I read almost everything by Madeline L’Engle and CS Lewis, and several books by John Christopher. I don’t read much SciFi these days though. I read some rather heavy stuff, too, like “My Side of the Mountain” (Jean Craighead George), “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit” (Jean Kerr) and “The Endless Steppe” (Esther Hautzig). Sometime during my early teen years, my mom found an abridged copy of The Arabian Nights, which we read both as a family and each of us on our own. I was also re-reading the entire Laura Ingalls Wilder series, and had started reading more adult works, like Ken Follett and James Clavell, and a lot of ‘true crime’ books.
As an adult, I’ve read a number of YA books like “The Golden Compass” (Philip Pullman), “Mockingbird” (Kathryn Erskine) and “Time Stops for No Mouse” (Michael Hoeye). I can’t say that I’ve read any Harry Potter or Percy Jackson books – I just can’t bring myself to fall in line when something is *that* ridiculously popular – though I have seen some of the Harry Potter movies and the first Percy Jackson movie, mostly because I watched them with someone who was a big fan of the books. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the Philip Pullman “Compass” series – they’re on my queue, but a ways down at the moment.
Reading YA books is definitely not taking a break from reading adult works. “Young Adult” does not equal “fluff”. Some YA is fluff, sure, but then so is a great deal of adult writing. The themes are definitely as heavy or light as adult works. Well-written YA works are well-written literature, just as well-written adult works are.
I was a middle schooler and high schooler as YA saw a rise in “teen issues” as themes. The generation that followed me saw more manga and graphic novels – including classical literature in graphic novel form. The generation that followed them, they’re the group that came up with the first electronic books, reading them on desktops and on the early hand-held devices. For more about the history of YA literature, you might check out this Wikipedia entry..
What did you read in middle and high school?