I have an essay in this week’s issue of The New York Times Book Review on grownups who love to read children’s books. Yes, I include myself among them. Everything about this essay was a pleasure. First of all, what fun to write about something you love, and I’ll give anything to devote more brainspace to The Hunger Games, at least until I can get my hands on Mockingjay, the third installment in Suzanne’s Collins’ amazing dystopian trilogy. But it was also wonderful to get to talk to so many amazing authors, agents, and editors about why they love young adult literature too. Several of the people I talked to were friends, like the always inspiring Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and four other fantastic books. But others were people I didn’t know before but have long admired, like Amanda Foreman.
I truly had so much good material and got to learn so much about the wonderful kids’ books that people like that it was one of the hardest times I’ve had keeping a story to one page. One of the interesting discussions that didn’t make it into the final piece, but I’ll bring up here, is what makes a book YA to begin with?
Is “To Kill a Mockingbird” for children because it’s about children or has it somehow acquired its de facto designation by high school curricula arbiters nationwide? Should “Wuthering Heights,” with its abusive behavior and sordid breakdowns, be considered a child’s tale? My friend Jennifer Joel, an agent at ICM, insists that all true YA are coming-of-age novels. “Every good YA book is about what it’s like to become an adult. Whether it’s first love or first loss it feels like the whole world is at stake,” she explains. But then, young protagonists also exist in very grownup books. What do you think? What makes a book recommended reading for teenagers? And what are your favorite YA books?