Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Latest in YA

YA is such an onomotopoetic acronym, isn't it? I picture 10 to 17 year olds (the target audience for Young Adult books) swinging into the library on vines to return these books, shouting "YA!" at the top of their lungs.

There have been some lively discussions online lately (a summary is available at Bookshelves of Doom) among publishers, librarians, and readers about what should be classified as YA literature and whether adults are embarrassed to browse in that section. I certainly have never been embarrassed to check out the YA section, ever since I found that Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game (a book that current college students pick overwhelmingly as "most influential") had moved from the SF section to the YA section. And if you want to read Scott Westerfeld, as anyone who likes books with interesting ideas in them should (the discussions note this), you have to go to the YA section.

I can't believe we missed the first day to buy Rick Riordan's newest Percy Jackson book, The Battle of the Labyrinth. I just went out and found it at a local bookstore this morning. If you don't yet own it or the three that precede it, get yourself to a real or virtual bookstore before the week is out!

I loved Edward Bloor's book Tangerine, and I liked Crusader a lot. He manages to integrate contemporary issues with good writing and plots more complicated than usual in YA fiction. So my expectations were high when I found his newest YA title, Story Time, at the library. Perhaps they were too high. I found the reading of the book tedious, even though the issues (standardized testing in schools is the main one) were worth exploring. I'd like to see someone do it better.

Clare B. Dunkle's brand-new The Sky Inside is one of the best post-apocalyptic YA novels I've read since How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. You get thoroughly involved in the present-day mysteries of how the characters live in their domed suburb before you begin to get any answers to why, and the big picture doesn't even begin to be revealed until p. 192. Finally the apocalyptic events are explained on p. 214, and this is the beginning of the explanation:

Close to a hundred years ago, our nation was slowly decaying. Handhelds and robots had just been invented, and that meant factories didn't need so many humans to work in them anymore. The armies didn't need them either, because war was changing, too. Killing people wasn't important. It was which factories and machines you could blow up, and the robots were getting better at doing that than the humans were. All these unneeded people were crowding up the cities--suburbs, you'd call them--eating food and getting sick and demanding medicine. They cost more to keep than they could earn, and they were fouling up the air and water, too. New people were being born every day.

I'm almost sure that this novel was not written in answer to Michael Moore's movie Sicko (the timing is too tight, for one thing). But it presents a very plausible future, and that makes it powerful. Also it has a satisfying ending. I think that's an important qualification for good YA post-apocalyptic novels; they shouldn't just peter out with the idea. They should resolve the crisis somehow. The author should have some vision for this unsatisfactory world.


harriet said...

AJ loves Percy Jackson so much that he won't let me read them to him. He's been devouring them on his own. I didn't realize the new one was out. I'll have to pick it up!

Jeanne said...

I should have mentioned that The Sky Inside has a convincing boy protagonist, something rare and precious to us mothers of boy readers!