It wasn’t always this way. It used to be that when you were a teenager, after you’d read your way through CHARLOTTE’S WEB and BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA and you were ready for books that weren’t sold in the kids section of the bookstore, you headed right for your favorite part of the “grown-up” section. Romance, science fiction, mystery, horror…there were whole new worlds waiting for you on those shelves, worlds rich with full-on terror or steamy love scenes or apocalyptic disaster needing to be escaped. Books you sometimes had to hide from your mom. I still remember being so thrillingly terrified of Stephen King’s SALEM’S LOT that I couldn’t sleep in the same room with the book, for which I was told that fear was what I got for reading books that were too old for me.
My, how times have changed. These days it’s the adults who are heading for the teen section of the bookstore like bees to honey, and for good reason. While there are (of course) still countless mesmerizing books to be found on the adult shelves (who could put down Michael Crichton’s MICRO, even for a second?), the books being written for young adults these days are captivating a whole lot of twenty to ninety-somethings right along with the teenagers. From the ravaged dystopian world of DIVERGENT to the heartwrenching love story of DELIRIUM, the heads you see buried in teen fiction these days have as many gray hairs as they do pink streaks. When I brought home an early reading copy of THE POWER OF SIX by the mysterious Pittacus Lore, it provoked a literal tug of war between my teenage daughter and my husband. (She won, but he hovered over her relentlessly until she finished it and handed it over!)
So what’s going on here? The answer, plain and simple, is some spectacular writing. Complex. Rich. Uncensored. Daring. Provocative. Much like teenagers themselves, the authors behind teen books are pushing the envelope on stories and characters and deeply imagined worlds that stretch from love stories set in blasted dystopian landscapes, to techno-thrillers where the fate of the world lies in teenage hands, to achingly realistic dramas that zap you right back to being sixteen and both utterly terrified and stubbornly fearless all at the same time. Authors like Melissa Marr, Lauren Oliver, Veronica Roth and Sara Shepherd don’t write for teenagers. They just write. They pour it out on the page without holding back, and the fact that their main characters are adolescents is just one element of their can’t put ‘em down stories. A great book is a great book…and the teen section is packed with them - it just took us older folks a little more time to figure that out. But now that we have, there’s finally something that parents and their teenage kids can agree on.
Now if only we could all figure out a peaceful way to discuss what is and isn’t a reasonable curfew, we’d be all set!