It’s I Read YA Week: that one week of the year where all readers, regardless of age, come together to celebrate their love of young adult literature. As a longtime YA fan, I’m always a little annoyed when I’m asked to defend my love of books aimed at “children.”
I was especially annoyed when Slate published an article by Ruth Graham last year called, “Yes, Adults Should be Embarrassed to Read Young Adult Books”. My thoughts on the whole scandal are pretty well documented, but needless to say, I had some issues with the idea that any sort of shame or embarrassment should be attached to a reading experience.
Though birthed out of the negative backlash towards young adult literature, I Read YA Week has become a positive celebration of all things YA. You can join the #IReadYA hashtag on Twitter, or change your profile pictures to an official I Read YA logo. There’s no huge event or corporate angle—this is simply a chance for readers to connect and share their favorite YA novels.
Of course, I understand that not everyone loves young adult books. But for those who are still skeptical, consider the fact that some of the most influential novels of all of time would probably be considered YA in our modern world. With the publishing industry creating more and more narrow definitions of genres, YA has become an umbrella term to encompass almost any coming-of-age story appropriate for younger readers. It helps that thanks to the success of John Green, Harry Potter, and Twilight, YA is extremely popular—and a bit of a cash cow. So here are three classics that would no doubt be sharing a shelf with Divergent if they’d been published today:
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Holden Caulfield has become synonymous with rebellious teen angst. His brooding jaunt through New York City captures emotions that almost all teens face: feelings of being an outsider, questions of identity, and struggling to create connections. Have no doubt: teenagers identify so strongly with this book because it is one of the best accounts of what it’s like to struggle through adolescence. It’s also considered one of the best novels ever written.
For a modern take on questions of identity, try It’s Kind of a Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini, about a New York teen who can’t take the pressure of his intensive high school and tries to kill himself. The book follows his experience in a mental institution, his interactions with the other patients, and his own struggles to confront his anxiety.
The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
Sure, she’s hiding from the Nazis, but she’s also stressing over kissing a boy. Anne captured us from the beginning with her charming and introspective writing, giving a relatable voice to an unspeakably horrific time in history. There’s a reason almost every teen reads this book at some point.
Think modern YA novels aren’t as emotionally hard-hitting? Try Between Shades of Grey, by Ruta Sepetys, a fictionalized account of a Lithuanian girl who ends up in a Siberian labor camp in the 1940s.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
Teen goes on a road trip to discover himself. That’s pretty much the plot of 50 percent of all YA novels. And, no, I’m not trying to reduce one of the most famous novels about racism and the South into something trivial, but you can’t deny that Huck Finn would make a great YA hero. Plus, remember the 90’s classic, Tom and Huck? He already is a teen heartthrob!
For a great YA road trip novel, check out Paper Towns, by John Green. Quentin spent an amazing night with his crush Margo, but then she disappears the next day. He embarks on an epic trip to go and find her—discovering himself along the way, of course.
How are you celebrating I Read YA Week? Let us know in the comments!