For me, Young Adult maybe the most important literary category; while picture books introduce us to words, introduce us to morals, its not until YA that we really start to understand how powerful words are and what you can do with them. And what we read in that formative, angst-filled, and confusing time period can shape how we view the world.
The Sight by David Clement-Davies, is probably the first book I put my hands on after I ventured bravely from the children's section at my local library. I couldn't have been 10 yet. It was a shock to my system, this fantasy world where wolves waged a war of good versus evil, nurture and nature. Where an evil she-wolf wants to enslave her species to create an army to overthrow man...and the wolf pack that will fight for freedom. I just enjoyed the ride, but I came away with an understanding that being good was key, having faith in something greater than self was important too. I understood the importance of family, friends and love. I was too young to analyze, what I now know to be themes: underlying messages in the story. I absorbed them even if I couldn't name them.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, was set in my hands by a middle school teacher who noticed me. "The main character reminds me of you," she said. The main character was Melinda Sordino; she didn't have friends and she refused to speak even when spoken to... I was quiet, I had trouble fitting in, and I struggled to hide from those who would make life harder. But this wasn't just the story of someone who didn't fit, someone who struggled with loneliness and depression, and couldn't always speak up... This was the story of a sexual assault victim. 9 times out of 10, fantasy uses good and evil as plot devices; this was my first look at how contemporary young adult fiction could be used to teach kids about a serious real life problem. I was aware of the birds and the bees; it hadn't occurred to me that someone might put their hands on you without permission. Suddenly I was seeing an ugly part of life: a victim blamed, left afraid, struggling to name what happened, and ultimately fighting to find her voice.
YA is a powerful thing; an author has the ability to help form a still developing mind. A book built for entertainment can still broadcast a message, whether the author intended it to or not... Which is why I beg authors to think deep about their words. To quote Spider-Man: With great power, comes great responsibility.
Do you have a favorite/influential YA novel from your past?