RAWing with YA literature at the college level

partI’m just about to teach Young Adult Literature (LIT 332) at a local university (although I teach it online) for the 3rd year.  Students are assigned to read these books, then write various papers, mostly compare and contrast.

Alexie, Sherman.  Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak.

boysDe La Pena, Matt.  Mexican White Boy.

Hinton, S.E. The Outsiders.

Hoose, Phillip. Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

Neri, Greg. Yummy : The Last Days of a Southside Shorty.

Woodson, Jacqueline.  Miracle’s Boys.

abcYang, Gene.  American Born Chinese.

At the end of the term, the last of  nine discussion questions they answer during the term is “What was your favorite book and why?  What was your least favorite book? What book best represents YA literature?”  I thought I’d say some of the responses about best book.


3319626950_d86eab3f78_largeWhat made The Outsiders such a great novel to read goes beyond the entertainment value. The book contains qualities that make it a valuable YA lit novel that is beneficial for teens. One of the key characteristics of the majority of YA literature, as mentioned in the week 2 lecture, is it “(lets) teens solve their own problems”. This book is a fantastic example of that quality. In the novel, there is very limited adult influence. The boys involved in the story team together to pull through their complex situation and realize the strength they have in love. Another theme of YA lit mentioned in that lecture is that stories will “go through the darkness in order to see the light”.  In The Outsiders, the characters must struggle through a great deal of issues before they realize the beauty of the life that’s in front of them.

hooseBest representation for young adult literature I would give to Claudette Colvin Twice Toward Justice. While all the books deal with problems and how the protagonist over comes them Claudette Colvin is the one that really drove the point home that anyone can solve or help solve the problem at hand. From our outside reading source from week two, Disturbing YA fiction the author discusses how a book written about true events in the Sudan sparks an outcry of empathy from her students. “Reading a story that has actually happened can help push the point home for the YA reader by eliciting a more emotional response and from the pictures in the book of Claudette, and things like her arrest records, to interviews with Claudette herself, I think that they did a great job if showing how a fifteen year old girl lit a fire in a community and really moved the cause forward. Reading how Claudette took on institutionalized racism I think can really help the YA reader realize that they have the strength to deal with the issues and hardships in their lives as well.

Yummy_jkt-compAs far as the “best” book to represent YA lit – this was tough to deliberate. I actually think the best right now is Yummy. We read a lot in this course about reluctant readers and urban learners, and how graphic novels are a satisfying way to bring those groups into literature. On top of that, the subject matter of Yummy is relevant and, for many, relatable, its prose is sophisticated yet easy to understand (and doesn’t sound artificial), and it shows its main character as an extremely complex figure with competing urges of childlike naiveté and violent aggression. I think the nuance found in Yummy satisfies readers of any demographic; there are elements we can all identify with, yet many are fortunate enough to not have to face the choices Yummy made. In chapter 4 of the textbook, in discussing “problem novels”, the author writes, “although we all know adults who blame others for whatever happens to them, most of us would agree that we want to help young people feel responsible for their own lives.” Yummy is about the consequences that can occur when a young person takes too much responsibility for their life (and the lives of others) too early because of hard circumstances. I wish the book was longer, but it is a great one to have in an urban (or any) classroom and to show to a struggling reader – as well as being rich enough to recommend to a voracious reader. I also like the line it straddles as it’s a fictionalized account of a true story – many kids only want to read nonfiction, and this is a good bridge piece.


Tspeakhe one book I am already recommending to my young nieces and nephews in the beautifully written Speak. It includes many of the aspects of YA lit outlined in lecture 2: It is told from the viewpoint of a teen, the parents are too involved with their own lives to notice that something is terribly wrong with their daughter, it is very fast-paced and entertaining to read in spite of its dark subject matter, and the main character Melinda goes through a traumatic experience but has a hopeful ending. According to the text, Speak ranked as number 60 on the Top 100 list of most banned or challenged books for 2000-2009, because apparently parents and/or educators don’t want to address the reality of sex and violence among teens. As Laurie Halse Anderson wrote, “Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance.” Since we learn in Lecture 14 that each of the books we read for this class have been censored in one way or another, I am looking forward to the day when, in my classroom, I can find the bravery needed to address this issue and get good books to great kids.

mexicanThe book I feel most represents young adolescent literature is Mexican Whiteboy. I love this story, and it is so well-written. I think this story is fantastic to represent adolescent literature, because it includes so many themes, coming of age events, and it introduces the impact multicultural ethnicity has on adolescents growing up in our society. This is not a new concept or idea, but it is new to have stories written about what it is like as a kid. One of our outside readings expressed the lack of “Culture/Ethnicity Represented. Examination of the characters in the books revealed that the majority of the books represented only one general cultural group, most frequently European American. Overall there was a relative lack of multicultural representations.” This is why I feel this story is so necessary today, it represents more of what adolescents encounter in terms of lack of r questioning ones identity.



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