As I lay in bed during the early hours of the morning, unable to sleep because of a really annoying stuffy nose, my mind somehow randomly wandered to this memory I have of this Young Adult literature class I took many moons ago during the first semester of my senior year of college. It was actually a library science class, one of the few 4th year classes that didn’t require a prerequisite, and one that actually sounded really interesting.
To be honest, at the time I was registering for classes, I really wanted to take the children’s lit class because a) that’s mostly what I was reading at the time, and b) I had no interest in young adult lit.
I know, I know. It sounds crazy now, right? Because, hello, young adult lit is pretty much MY LIFE now. But back in the year 2000?
Unfortunately, the children’s lit class was full, and I was stuck with YA. I was kind of bummed, especially when I found out the children’s lit class was going to be reading this new series about a boy named HARRY POTTER (which I hadn’t read yet at the time), but I figured the class was still probably going to be better than 95% of the rest of my classes that semester, so what the hell.
The class was mainly just reading YA books and writing about them – not from a literary point of view, but from a “how does this benefit the young adult” point of view. You know, like a librarian of sorts. At the beginning of the semester the professor handed out a list of YA books to choose from, which was helpful, because the only YA author I was really familiar with at the time was Judy Blume.
And here’s where I struggled. As a 21-year-old female in college, the last thing I wanted to read about was uber-depressing topics. That’s still not really my style today, but luckily I have a plethora of YA books to choose from. But back in 2000, it seemed that the only YA books out there were ones about drugs and rape and abuse and eating disorders and other such things that some teens tend to identify with.
That was not what I wanted to spend my semester reading about!
Another thing about the year 2000 was that the internet was still fairly new, and there was definitely no such thing as Goodreads to guide me on my way. It wasn’t exactly easy to look up all these books on the internet to see what they were about. So I would take the list to the library and find as many as I could so I could read the description on the inside cover. I decided I was safe with a) humorous YA, or b) sci-fi/fantasy. I wouldn’t even consider anything else.
This, of course, is BOTH.
Of course I couldn’t avoid it completely – there was some required reading in the class by certain authors. I don’t remember every single thing I had to read, but I do remember having to choose a Chris Crutcher book (don’t remember which one I chose), and I remember reading “The Chocolate War”, but I don’t remember what I thought of it. I think I ended up liking it better than I thought I would. But still. Depressing stuff.
No. Thank. You.
Some of the books I picked on my own was Joan Bauer’s “Squashed” because it was funny, Ellen Raskin’s “The Westing Game” because it was a mystery (which I LOVED, by the way), and Francesca Lia Block’s “Weetzie Bat” because I thought it was a fantasy but it turned out to be a HORRIBLY DEPRESSING book about drugs and I didn’t like it at all.
Read at your own risk.
We had to do two verbal book reports but make them more interesting than just telling the class about the plot of the book. I chose to do “The Shakespeare Stealer” by Gary Blackwood, in which I turned it into a Mission: Impossible plot (“your mission, should you choose to accept it”, and all that stuff), and “The Girl in the Box” by Ouida Sebestyen, in which I pretended to be the kidnapped girl reading her own letter.
Actually pretty terrifying.
At the end of the semester our big project was to write a sort of thesis paper on a young adult author. If I got that assignment today, I would be all over it. But 13 years ago? I HAD NO IDEA. I love Judy Blume now, but back then I had no interest in reading about all the deep stuff that she excels at writing about. Because a huge part of the project was actually reading a bunch of their books.
In the end I chose Robin McKinley, mainly because one of my roommates raved about her, and she was a fantasy writer. My only real experience in fantasy books was Cynthia Voigt’s “On Fortune’s Wheel”, which I read in high school and LOVED, so I figured this was a good way to go.
Luckily I ended up really enjoying my Robin McKinley project. I read “The Blue Sword”, “The Hero and the Crown”, “Spindle’s End”, and “Beauty”. I loved that she wrote fairy-tale retellings, something that not many authors were doing at the time (but are all over the place now!). I wrote a pretty kick-ass 15-page paper on her, one that my professor suggested I submit to a library journal (I didn’t because I had no idea how to do something like that, which I kind of regret), and was pretty thrilled with the A grade I received in the class.
Well since it’s such a pretty cover…
Which brings me back to the thoughts I was having this morning, and I how different that class would be today. In the late 90s-00s, young adult lit’s reading stats were probably the lowest they’d ever been. Yes, the Harry Potter books definitely kick-started a whole new generation of readers, but at that time those books were still considered to be children’s books and not necessarily intended for an older audience (of course that would all change in a very short amount of time). But YA books, while somewhat popular in the 1980s, were pretty much a dead thing in the late 90s.
Um…no pun intended?
But today? My God, the choices of what books to read would be ENDLESS!! Today YA lit is actually outselling adult fiction, and 55% of people who are buying YA lit are actually over the age of 18. It’s obvious that YA lit is HUGE today, and I have a feeling more people would be interested in the YA lit library class than it’s children’s counterpart.
So here’s the real question: If I were to take that class today, who would be the subject of my thesis paper? Would it be Meg Cabot, of whose books I probably own the most? Would it be Stephenie Meyer, who single-handedly changed the course of YA lit in the late 2000s? Or would it be Cassandra Clare, who at this moment is probably the hottest YA author out there?
Well, if I had to choose now, my author would be Shannon Hale, whose Books of Bayern made me love the historical fantasy genre, which drew me to such authors as Kristin Cashore, Leigh Bardugo, and Rae Carson. I have all of Shannon Hale’s books, and they’re actually the few that I would read again.
But of course that could easily change on a daily basis, depending on my mood. So actually, maybe it was a good thing that I took this class when I had few options. It probably made the whole thing easier!