Saturday, January 28, 2012

Are young adult books too adult?

This is a conversation that my friend Laura and I have had many times.  We are both in agreement that young adult books are sometimes purposefully adult or dark, focusing on topics like drugs, alcohol, and sex.

I was reminded of this conversation when I read this article in The Indy Star this week.  The article interviews two authors, one of whom is Ellen Hopkins, the author of several books including Crank and Glass that my students regularly list among their favorite books.  I have read Crank, which is about a girl dealing with drug addiction.  While the writing is really interesting (she writes in a style that is somewhere between poetry and prose), the topic is not to my liking, especially for young adults.

I know that there are many people who probably don't think about this topic much, but it is something I encounter every time I make a book recommendation to one of my students or choose a book for one of my classes.  I tend to stay away from suggesting book that are about topics that the students already know about or deal with.  What good is it for me to suggest the same book to them that another student would?

Instead, I try to challenge my students by guiding them to books that I think they'll be interested in, but that might not be something they would read on their own.  The students will, more often than not, rise to the occasion when faced with a challenging book.  While they usually require help understanding some of what is happening in the book, I've really enjoyed watching my students read and enjoy books such as The Catcher in the Rye, Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseThe Kite Runner, and Things Fall Apart.  I think once a student has made it through a book they thought they might not enjoy or they might not understand it is that much easier for them to approach a similar book.

This semester I'm going to introduce two new books to my students: Rooftops of Tehran and The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.  I absolutely loved reading both books and I'm excited to see how the students do with them.  (Sorry to be posting so much about my students lately.  They've obviously been on my mind...)

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