Grades and Up: Young Adult Literature: From Romance to Realism

Curriculum Review, March 2011 | Go to article overview

Grades and Up: Young Adult Literature: From Romance to Realism


Contemporary young adult literature addresses complex issues like mental illness, AIDS, homosexuality, drug abuse and more. Michael Cart's much-updated new edition of Young Adult Literature: From Romance to Realism (American Library Association 2010) shows how the best of the genre can take on these difficult issues that young people have to deal with, but without resorting to sensationalism.

Michael Cart knows what he's talking about: not only is he a columnist and reviewer for the American Library Association's (ALA) Booklist magazine, he is also the author of 20 books and numerous articles. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle and Parents Magazine, among others. He is the former president of both the Young Adult Library Services Association and the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents.

Cart's book is very useful for school librarians and teachers who use novels in the classroom, as it offers a well-rounded look at YA literature from the past and present, and what specific novels have to offer the young adult demographic. The author includes a discussion of the Michael L. Printz award, a prize given each year to a book that exemplifies excellence in young adult literature.

"No matter how diverse and disparate they are, what all the winning titles have in common is richness of character, an attribute that, more than any other, separates literary from popular fiction, in which character often takes a backseat to plot," says Cart.

"This is not to say that the Printz Award books are thinly or awkwardly plotted or do not have compelling, reader-involving stories to tell. They do--all of them. But story in these books is always in service to character. And although the actions of the characters may often contain an element of ambiguity, they are never arbitrary or dictated by the needs of a formula or a plot device. It is because they feature such fully formed, beautifully realized, multidimensional characters that these books will endure, just as : the human spirit."

The 2011 award winner is Paolo Bacigalupi for his book Ship Breaker, which focuses on young people : in New Orleans in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina.

Challenges: Teaching YA Literature and Getting Parents on Board

Cart also includes quite a bit of information about frequently challenged, censored or banned books. According to The American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom, there were 3,376 reported challenges between the years of 2000 and 2008. This number is slightly deceiving, though, as the Office of intellectual Freedom estimates that 70-80 percent of book challenges go unreported. …

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