Friday, August 24, 2007

Teen geniuses and teen lit

The other night I happened to catch part of the Jeopardy! Teen Tournament on TV. I like to think I'm smart, so I kept it on and quizzed myself. Imagine my delight when the last category proved to be about books! And then imagine my sadness . . . the three teen geniuses could answer questions about 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 without blinking an eye, but the rest of the questions, which were about teen literature, elicited three blank stares. They didn't know who Princess Mia is! They hadn't read The Book Thief! There is something seriously wrong with that!

Okay, I'm clearly biased in favor of young adult literature - I happen to think it's one of greatest things on the planet. However, I pretty much skipped over the teen section when I was younger - I glanced in, read a lot of Fear Street and a little bit of Lurlene McDaniel, then went on my merry way to the adult section. As a result, I missed out on a lot of great literature - not just stories, but literature. Teen fiction isn't just fluff for the limited attention span of IMers everywhere - when you skip over the teen section, you miss out on great books like The Giver, a distopia story to rival Brave New World in its frightening vision of a possible future. You miss The Book Thief and its amazing, unique viewpoint on the Holocaust - one of the best "literary" books I've ever read. You miss An Abundance of Katherines, a story about a disillusioned teen prodigy in which you practically have to be a prodigy yourself to not miss most of the jokes. Of course there's some garbage out there on the shelves, but that's true in just about every genre, and many of the young adult books I've read have had more original plots, more believable characters, and more life in them than most of what I ever read for a class assignment. I'm not advocating ignoring the classics by any means, but it makes me sad to think there are teens who could really appreciate these phenomenal books that teen authors labor over, but who pass over the entire genre in favor of the adult books. My advice? Read in the teen section while you're a teen. Find some stories and characters you can relate to, find challenging material on the teen shelves, because I guarantee you that it's there. And hey, it just might come in handy when all of you smartypants are face to face with Alex Trebek!

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