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All the Cool Kids Are Doing It: 3 Reasons to Read The Hunger Games & Other YA Lit

So you may have heard about that new Hunger Games movie or know a little something a boy named Harry, but honestly, why should you be reading young adult literature (YA Lit)? Isn’t it just for kids?

Actually, no, YA Lit is awesome because it can teach some great lessons that you will actually enjoy learning. YA authors are the best- kind, funny and insightful (I have about 15 great three minute interviews with the coolest of these authors on my VocabGal blog) and the books themselves are a much faster and more entertaining read than most business manuals.

1.You can learn how TO and how NOT TO lead. My friend, an AP Government teacher, refused to read Harry Potter for years until her high school seniors finally convinced her the books were about politics. After starting the series on audiobook (reader Jim Dale gives a truly spectacular performance that makes the books better than you could imagine), she would start volunteering to drive places so she could continue listening. Needless to say, the lessons we learn from the weak and powerful leaders throughout J.K. Rowlings’ novels can teach us a great deal about the importance of compassion, the need to listen and the necessity of making tough, ethical choices.

2. You can learn to be more compassionate towards your customers. I have to admit it, I’m not always sympathetic toward my students who seem to keep making poor choices. However, after reading Ellen Hopkins’ novel, Crank, I can totally see how ‘normal’ people end up doing drugs and not being able to stop. Her subsequent novels tackle tough subjects like abuse, neglect, and homelessness but are so powerful, realistic and compelling that you speed right through them! Plus, they are told in free verse poetry (it reads like prose), so despite the heft of over 400 pages, you can finish each book in a few hours. Essentially, we need to understand the plight of the customers we serve to better address their needs-YA Lit can give us that vicarious experience without leaving us too dejected to continue to make a difference.

Other great YA reads that inspire understanding:

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green–an insightful & upbeat novel about teens with cancer

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt-I can’t explain this one besides saying it was my favorite book of 2011-just read it!

Ghetto Cowboy, by G. Neri-fiction about the real-life cowboys & citizens on the urban streets of Philly (fun fact-my brother Steve & author “G” are friends because their wives are colleagues!)

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver-a typical mean girl has to relive the last day of her seemingly perfect life to gain some perspective

Scrawl by Mark Shulman- told from the bully’s perspective who has issues of his own

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher-my students’ favorite-a kid gets audio tapes from a girl who committed suicide two weeks before -and she explains on the tapes that he got them because he’s one of the 13 reasons she did it.

3. You can gain a new perspective on the government. The Hunger Games is the first in the huge new wave of dystopian YA lit. If you haven’t read it, you MUST grab a copy of Suzanne Collins bestseller (my dad just got his copy to take overseas!). The book has more suspense than any other book I’ve read, and the omnipotent “capital” is a mix of DC politics, LA fashion and NYC eccentricity all rolled into one. Essentially America is divided into 13 “districts,” and the way that each district contributes to and regards the capital’s rule is a fascinating study on how people react to government control. Overall, we can learn a lot about the positives and negatives of our own governmental systems through examining the imagined (yet realistic) extremes of what our government could become.

Other great dystopian YA Lit:

The Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth-you have to pick your faction-Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless or Erudite (my VocabGal heart just LOVES this series!)

The Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie -the government decides your occupation & your spouse choice

The Delirium Trilogy by Lauren Oliver -love is a disease you must be cured of and science is the only religion

The Giver by Lois Lowry (a classic I can’t help but include) – it seems like a perfect society, but…

Overall, I study the classics with my students, but we also study YA lit beause it is great writing that has much to tell us. To paraphrase YA author Andrea Cremer, “young adult literature isn’t a genre, it’s just a point of view.” I truly believe this as the YA authors I meet and interview for my Vocab Gal blog are smart writers whose books have great lessons to impart in enjoyable and poignant ways. Again, check out some of these great author interviews on my website, or read my more universal reasons why everyone loves YA lit on the other blog I write for-GirlsintheStacks.

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Jeffrey Levy

Thanks for this post. It also sums up how I feel about science fiction. People seem to dismiss these things as somehow not “serious,” but they’re actually very good. I’ve been on the fence about Hunger Games because the premise of millions watching kids engage in to-the-death battles really turned me off. But my wife and daughters love the books, and your post sealed the deal.

Another reason to read these books is because our kids do, so they give us a great opportunity to explore these themes with them.

Other great YA lit includes:

– Percy and the Olympians

– Maximum Ride

– Artemis Fowl

– The Spiderwick Chronicles

Shelly Nuessle

I also notice the obvious ommission of the Twilight books. Good for you!

The strength of the girls in many of the books you mention is in stark contrast to the weakness of Bella. My 16 year old physically blew up the Twilight books on the 4th of July three years ago. She felt used that they were being promoted as such good books.

You have given me some more ideas for her, alough she has ready MANY of your suggestions already.

Joe Flood

Some great suggestions here. YA seems a lot darker than when I was a kid! Another book I really enjoyed was The Golden Compass. It’s sort of an anti-Narnia book, where organized religion is the bad guy. It has lots of interesting ideas and strong female characters. But if you’re religious, you will hate it.

Sarah Ressler Wright

Thanks everyone!

Joe-The Golden Compass series is great -I like its message a great deal actually :). There is actually a (quite controversial) Washington Post article about the ‘darkness’ of YA Lit–I would like to consider it realism instead as my students (and kids always) have had to endure enormous hardships and getting to see themselves and their problems -and possible solutions-played out in novels gives them hope. Plus, YA Lit is overall redemptive and positive-which is why I like it. In my day, all the YA books were about romance, teen pregnancy or terminal diseases-none of which were painted realistically so glad we have moved beyond to actually great books!

Shelly-In terms of Twilight, I actually liked the books before they became popular–because I remember being that unsure of myself in high school & love that the hot/rich boy falls for someone like my HS self (nice vicarious romance with totally hot guy :)…however, I do worry about girls seeing Bella as the model of what to do–hopefully they learn about empowerment from her by the end of the series and recognize her earlier choices as foolish. So glad I could give you a few new titles; check out the blog I write for-Girls in the Stacks– for lots of great suggestions about new YA lit (written by 5 adult women, including myself so you’ll get some perspective:)

Jeff-our household is a huge Sci fi household-you actually reminded me that I could have gone on and on about Ender’s Game and lessons about bullying, leadership through challenges etc…it should have been on my list! Glad I could seal up your reading of the Hunger Games-it’s worth it! Excellent suggestions for more books!

Joe Flood

Sarah – I’ve written a couple of novels myself. And I have an old book that I wrote when I was in my 20s that’s set in high school. I wrote it as a literary novel but I think it would work as YA. How much swearing can you get away with in a YA novel? And can there be sex?

Dick Davies

I stumbled on Red Thunder by John Varley, and only after finishing found out it is a YA book. Great book, will really give you a different perspective on the reality and requirements for education.

Emily Clifton Stump

I completely agree. Some of the most relevant societal messages I receive from the universe are through YA novels. I read The Fault in Our Stars last month – what an emotionally wrought book! Other dystopian society books to check out include: The Declaration by Gemma Malley (population crowding causes the government to declare all non firstborn children to be “Surplus” and these are rounded up and sent off to concentration camp/boarding school facilities, where they are given minimal necessities for survival and taught to be “useful above all else” to the “society that allows you to exist when you are not wanted.”), What Really Happens to America by Albert Brooks (a satirical look at a potential future where the “olds” outnumber the younger generation after all illnesses are cured – and the war between the olds and the youngs is becoming inevitable – plus, Los Angeles falls off the coast of the U.S. and China saves America), and Unwind by Neil Schusterman (the government begins to allow unwanted teenagers to be eliminated via “unwinding” their organs from their bodies one part at a time, while the person is awake until their brain is unwound – a look at how one teenager manages to avoid this conclusion and another who is destined for it escapes it unwittingly).

Emily Clifton Stump

I disagree with Joe Flood’s comment that if you’re religious, you’ll hate The Golden Compass. I am a very devout Christian, but I’m also a scientist, and I was able to look past what some consider offensive to see that the author is presenting a world not unlike Narnia in that it mimics elements of the real (albeit less understood, quantum mechanical) world. There is a great companion to it which goes over the real science alluded to in the books, which helps place the novels in an educational context.