Wednesday, July 7, 2010

YA Characters Reading YA Books

After reading and reviewing Wish I Might and complaining about characters in books who read up, I got to thinking about YA characters who are also YA readers.

Maybe I just notice this more because I'm a librarian and an avid reader, but I love when a character in a book is a big reader. But it annoys me when I read YA (or children's books) and the avid reader character talks about their love of reading but then only goes on to mention classics and the typical required reading at school. Why can't these YA characters who are also readers mention YA books?

I fight very hard for YA literature. I fight with Lexile reading levels all the time. I fight to have teens read what they want, no matter what it is and who cares if it's a classic literary novel. Who cares if it's below your reading level, if you enjoy it, read it. As someone who sees how amazing YA lit is, it can be very frustrating to come across a character in a book who is a teen and also a reader, but then only reads "high literature and high quality books"-you know, classics, New York Times bestselling adult fiction, and Oprah's book club picks. (gag!) It just seems so wrong to me to have a book written for YA and in the YA section, but the characters are "above" YA reading. It's like the YA genre can't support YA in it's own books and say "hey, you're a teen and you can read YA." Instead, it makes me think, "I'm reading this YA book, but really I should be reading more literary and high quality-this book is just fluff. I mean the teen readers in this book are reading such high literary novels that I've never even read!"

Mr. GreenBeanSexyMan pointed out that maybe it's a copyright thing and you can't mention certain books, so that's why classics are always mentioned. Or maybe authors don't want to or can't promote a book in their book that's not by their publisher. Or maybe they don't want to play favorites among authors. Or maybe classics are more generally recognized. Maybe if a current book is mentioned it could date the book (although there are many books that mention pop culture and technology that can easily date a book the same way). (If there are any authors out there who can chime in as to why it's always classics mentioned, please let me know!

Maybe I just read too much into it, but does this bother anyone else? Why does Bella only read classics? Why does Lennie in The Sky is Everywhere who says she's a "road reader" and reads while taking walks down her street only read Wuthering Heights? Why does Willa's Pix list in The Wedding Planner's Daughter series, which is targeted for ages 8-12 continuously feature classic authors way above tween level like Hemingway, Frost, and Dickens?

So can you think of any character in YA (or in a children's book) that is an avid reader or mentions reading and is reading something more contemporary and actually from YA fiction? There's When You Reach Me, which has a great character tie-in with A Wrinkle in Time, although some might say that's a classic. And there's Into the Wild Nerd Yonder which features avid reader (and audiobook reader even!) Jessie who reads Elsewhere, Life As We Knew It, Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging and a short story by Margo Lanagan. (And yes, author Julie Halpern is a librarian, so maybe that's why she featured more current books-she's passionate about YA lit from a librarian point of view as well as an author). My fabulous librarian friend Drea also mentioned that Tweetheart has a character who mentions a current YA novel-yay!

More from Twitter: Dash and Lily's Book of Dares mentions The Strand and Fat Hoochie Prom Queen, Terri Clark's Sleepless mentions several YA authors

Can you think of anything else? And I am overreacting to the character readers or does anyone else notice this too?

And FYI-I don't mind teens who read up and read adult books and read classics, etc. I just think it's odd that in the YA genre, there's not a lot of YA character readers who actually read YA fiction. You would think they would because obviously the person reading the book is reading YA, so why not the character too?

30 comments:

  1. I hadn't realized some of these books mentioned current YA lit, so I'm going to check out the stories I haven't read yet. Great post!

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  2. I can't think of any others either, but I do remember being excited when Jessie mentioned listening to Elsewhere in Into the Wild Nerd Yonder. It would be fun to see more of it...I will be on the lookout from now on! :-)

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  3. I've realized it and I've really been hoping to read someone mention them. In 13 To Life the girl reads Vampire books, but it mentions no names which kind of made me sad.

    Great Post! I've been wondering why all I read about inside a book is Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights, it would awesome to get book suggestions from inside a book.

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  4. (Lexile reading? Yeah, that stuff is AWFUL. I was forced to read Hunch Back of Notre Dame and Moby Dick and Pride and Prejudice in the 5th grade. That was all the library at school would let me check out. I think we used a different system, but still, it stunk. I would be bored now and I was definitely bored a lot of the time then.)
    Maybe authors are afraid to offend other authors? Like, they don't want to tie another person to their work, so it's easier to tie a classic since the author isn't around anymore?
    (Plus, it's odd how they think kids just read classics. Kids that purely read classics are kind of rare to find. I can think of one person I know that says that's all she'll read, but it's a total lie. She carries classics to school and then her books are home are purely vampires and werewolves. Book snobbery . . .)

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  5. Ha! I was thinking about this the other day.

    Though they're not the BOOKS, I did notice that in this week's episode of HUGE, one of the girls is reading THE HUNGER GAMES. And in the commercial for the upcoming (awful) movie version of BEEZUS AND RAMONA, Beezus is also curled up with THE HUNGER GAMES.

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  6. Speaking from a former educator stand point, it drives me up the wall that I'm often made to feel that the only good lit is classic. But, how on this blessed earth are my students ever going to be motivated to read if they're never truly interested in the book?! Half of the books that are in the curriculum are so boring, they practically put me to sleep, let alone a room full of students. I would love my students to see characters that are just like them and interested in YA books just as they are. I think it would really motivate them to read more. Show me more "Amelia Rules" or "Peaches"... those books are page turners.. or some thought provoking books like "Loser"?! These are the types of books students can be engaged in because it's a world they can relate to. You only get better at reading by actually reading, so why do we do so many things that take away from that?! Ok... I'm going to step off my soap box now.

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  7. This isn't something that's come up in my writing--I don't think any of my characters have been big readers so far, come to think of it!--but I think I would hesitate because of the issue you mentioned of dating my book. But I do try to be cautious of that in all elements of the story: music, technology, etc.

    Also, I remember that in A BAD BOY CAN BE GOOD FOR A GIRL, there is a lot of talk about Judy Blume's FOREVER. Which, isn't quite current since it was written in the 70s. But it isn't a classic in the high literature sense, so that's cool. :-)

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  8. I know I've read books with kids reading current YA, but I have no idea if I will be able to remember what books.

    My theory for not using current books and using classics:
    1, classics means a certain type of smart different than a reader of YA lit, and its being used for that shorthand.
    2, issue of staying topical. The way that current movies, songs, tv shows are avoided so that they don't date the book. A classic is always a classic; reading, say, Hunger Games may unintentionally set a story in the past for a future reader.

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  9. It annoys me that YA doesn't feature teens reading YA books, too.

    But I do understand that it may date books, though some YA books like The Hunger Games are ever going to do out of date.

    It seems odd to me that these classics that made these chaarcters huge readers are the books that I had to read in school and nearly put me off reading.

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  10. Wow, fantastic post! I am one of those that picks over what characters are reading as well and I'm always finding myself saying "there's NO WAY she was reading that at 11!" Or the like.

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  11. I thought the same thing when reading the Wedding Planner's Daughter books!

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  12. My teen is very fixated on whether something is "old" (not good). If a book seems at all dated to him, down it goes. He will allow old things that are "famous", hence a mention of a classic is OK. Not sure that this is true of all kids or that it would be a motivation for YA authors tho.

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  13. Although I do mention several classics in my novel, Salvaged, there is also a scene in the book where the YA's discuss the Twilight series.

    I was writing the book from a particular time frame and there was no way teenagers of that time (now!) wouldn't be discussing one of the most popular series of their lifetime. Some in my book liked it, some in the book didn't. I even went as so far to include a mention of the movie in the sequel (not out yet) - just for laughs.

    Great post and a very interesting observation that I'd never even paid attention to but now will!

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  14. Fabulous point! Contemplating a change in my manuscript!

    I think part of the problems is by mentioning a specific popular YA book it can "date" your manuscript and authors are told to try to avoid things that do that.

    Think about it, if a character in a book is reading babysitters club and a teenager now read that they would probably either 1) have no clue what they're talking about or 2) roll their eyes at how "old" the book is and feel like it doesn't connect to them.

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  15. I was thinking (same as Liz B and some others) that authors avoid mentioning those books, because it might date their own books. They don't want to throw in contemporary books, since they want theirs to be contemporary for a while. Unless it is historical fiction intentionally, they don't want kids to think the book is so "old." Just my thoughts.

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  16. Well, right now I am reading One Season of Sunshine by Julia London, which is not a YA book, but one of her characters is twelve/thirteen and it mentions Twilight, as well as The Jonas Brothers and Lady Gaga. London obviously doesn't worry about dating her books (:

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  17. Sooomething I've read fairly recently mentioned the character reading FEED by MT Anderson, only now I can't think which book it was. I feel like something I read fairly recently also mentioned a Jordan Sonnenblick title, but now I can't remember that one either....

    I am obviously no help. It gives me a little thrill when YA characters are reading YA books. :D

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  18. Great post. I've thought about that, too. I came to the same conclusions as your husband, but at the same time, it would be great to see more YA characters reading YA books. It's almost as if YA is snubbing its own category by keeping the vast majority of its characters reading only classics and "high" lit. Hopefully the list of books that have bucked this tendency will start to grow.

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  19. Probably because the average reader wouldn't know the book title unless it's a classic.

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  20. Whenever a character mentions a book, I write down the title. I might want to read it one day. In Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie he mentions quite a few books that his English class is reading and they are "good" (read, not boring) classics. As a librarian, I want to see characters mentioning things teens might have read. It will help the teen feel connected and they will also pick up other books then. Maybe publishers shouldn't think so much about "dating" books, maybe they should think of what the readers want. If a teen likes a book, he or she will pass it on to other teens. This gets the author read, which, I think, is the point. Also, it might get that author some future readers! If teens like an author's writing, they are more than likely to read more by the author.

    It drives me BATTY when teachers dismiss YA literature and only assign classics. They are clearly not for engaging students in reading but instead are concerned about teaching their curriculum. I say this as a former classroom teacher and now as a teacher-librarian. This is not all teachers, I know, and maybe they just need some more up-to-date classes on how to integrate YA into the curriculum alongside "good" (not boring) classics.

    OK, I'm off to read Wild Nerd Yonder, cuz Jess and I have read the same books!!

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  21. I have one contemporary fantasy novel, unsold, and the main character is reading classics in it... And yeah, it's absolutely because I don't want to date the story. I tend to only mention pop culture in a book if it's been around for 20 years, because I feel like if it's still known 20 years later, it has some staying power. It would also feel weird to mention a current YA book because I know so many YA authors...it feels weird to stick a friend's book in your book! Like nepotism of some kind!

    Still, it's a good point. Maybe I'll try to go for more quirky selections, at least, among the classics.

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  22. I know I've seen YA characters read YA books, although I can't think of which at the moment, but it did inspire me to have the character in my book reading Ellen Hopkins, so I know other authors do it. I agree it's a good idea -- it also makes sense dramatically.

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  23. I love literature, YA or otherwise. Even though I'm a huge promoter of YA titles on my site YABookShelf.com, I must admit that I don't see YA protagonists reading classics as a problem at all. Most of the time that I've experienced it, the themes of these books are used to help further the plot and the symbolism. Perhaps they could use a YA title instead, but if there is something else that works with the vision of the metaphors, allusions, etc, then I don't see the point in using a book that might be less relevant.

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  24. I totally agree. But the thing is, if the character mentions a regular YA novel, it is likely unheard of. Therefore I think the author wants to be out a popular title, usually a classic, that everyone knows of.

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  25. Got one!

    Tweet Heart by Elizabeth Rudnick -- the book set on Twitter -- has a teen debating what to read. She writes:

    "#whattoread? something old -- twelfth night? something new -- half life of planets? something borrowed? Emma?"

    Half life of planets mentioned! When I saw this, I had to rush back and share.

    But considering how the book is going to date itself as it is all done on Twitter....it makes sense.

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  26. Liz B. mentioned character short-hand as one reason, but higher than usual intelligence isn't the only thing "classic" books can communicate. Even without having read the books, there are archetypes associated with them that don't exist as universally for YA books. Like:

    Wuthering Heights = hopeless romantic
    Jane Eyre = hopeless romantic who's also maybe feisty and feminist and self-reliant
    Catcher in the Rye = REBEL!

    Etc., etc. So, I imagine that's another layer of the choice. As a reader familiar with current YA, I might be able to figure things out about a character based on the fact that she reads John Green books-- but many people would not be able to do the same, because they wouldn't have a cotton-picking idea who John Green was, or what kind of person reads his books. Charles Dickens, on the other hand, people would recognize.

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  27. Oh my gosh, I totally could have written this post. And in fact, I found this site by googling "YA novel where the main character loves Wuthering Heights" because I just read a book where the main character loved Wuthering Heights and as soon as it came up in the novel, my eyes rolled so far back into my head they got stuck. I honestly think this whole classics thing has become trite and cliche'd. Seriously. Particularly Wuthering Heights. Writers may not want to date their novels, but it's a cop-out to have your romantic main character sitting down with Cathy and Heathcliff. It's become no different than using a stock character, in my opinion.

    Plus I hated Wuthering Heights when I had to read it in high school. The same with Jane Eyre. And Jude the Obscure made me want to rip my eyeballs out. I really think this whole classics thing is turning off so many young adult readers, and what a shame because there's SO MANY awesome YA novels out there. Sure, there are some teens who love Wuthering Heights and the type of romance therein, but so many more identify with and remember and love novels like Speak and The Giver.

    Okay, rant over, other than to say again that in an effort to make a book "timeless," the author is sacrificing originality and relying on cliche'. Even if readers haven't heard of the contemporary novel your character loves, they may be inspired to go check it out. If I like a main character and that character loves a book I've never heard of--if that character is well-written then I am often inspired to find that other novel as well.

    John Green pulled it off in Looking for Alaska with Alaska's obsession with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. While Marquez is known, I doubt most teens have heard of The General in His Labyrinth, published in 1989, and Alaska works beautifully with that as a reference point. The book is not dated at all, yet Green manages to do it without a classic everyone has heard of. There's nothing wrong with introducing readers to a novel they've never heard of. You can't underestimate the YA audience as far as being able to get things.

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  28. Oh my gosh, I totally could have written this post. And in fact, I found this site by googling "YA novel where the main character loves Wuthering Heights" because I just read a book where the main character loved Wuthering Heights and as soon as it came up in the novel, my eyes rolled so far back into my head they got stuck. I honestly think this whole classics thing has become trite and cliche'd. Seriously. Particularly Wuthering Heights. Writers may not want to date their novels, but it's a cop-out to have your romantic main character sitting down with Cathy and Heathcliff. It's become no different than using a stock character, in my opinion.

    Plus I hated Wuthering Heights when I had to read it in high school. The same with Jane Eyre. And Jude the Obscure made me want to rip my eyeballs out. I really think this whole classics thing is turning off so many young adult readers, and what a shame because there's SO MANY awesome YA novels out there. Sure, there are some teens who love Wuthering Heights and the type of romance therein, but so many more identify with and remember and love novels like Speak and The Giver.

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  29. Sorry for the repeated comment--I got an error that it was too long so I'm breaking it up. Thanks for reviewing it :).

    Okay, rant over, other than to say again that in an effort to make a book "timeless," the author is sacrificing originality and relying on cliche'. Even if readers haven't heard of the contemporary novel your character loves, they may be inspired to go check it out. If I like a main character and that character loves a book I've never heard of--if that character is well-written then the reader may very well be inspired to read that other novel as well.

    John Green pulled it off in Looking for Alaska with Alaska's obsession with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. While Marquez is known, I doubt most teens have heard of The General in His Labyrinth, published in 1989, and Alaska works beautifully with that as a reference point. The book is not dated at all, yet Green manages to do it without a classic everyone has heard of. There's nothing wrong with introducing readers to a novel they've never heard of. You can't underestimate the YA audience as far as being able to get things.

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  30. Shelby-

    Thanks for your comment! I agree (obviously!) You're right about Looking for Alaska pulling it off beautifully-I don't feel that book is dated at all. It does feel like too many book characters are reading Wuthering Heights or Pride and Prejudice and like you, when I come across that as their favorite book, I roll my eyes!

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