What ARE They Reading? A Discussion on Young Adult Fiction

I have had the distinct pleasure to attend several publishers’ Speed Dating Luncheons, a staple in any book-industry conference wherein representatives of each publishing house spend a few minutes table-side talking up the next season’s hot new releases to booksellers from around the country, and then move on to the next table to repeat the process. (I will spare you the details of the complimentary boxed lunches.)   This exercise is invaluable to booksellers because we simply can’t read every new release published, yet we need to be able to hand-sell the books when then arrive in our stores. We need to be able to say to a grandmother looking to inspire her not-so-enthusiastic-reader of a tween-grandchild that we have JUST the book for them! So when the publishers’ reps spend their allotted 5 minutes at our tables, booksellers like myself feverishly jot down catch phrases and brief descriptions on each title to remember and share later on.

Paranormal romance. Dystopian universe. Epic fantasy adventure. Popular-girl melodrama. That about sums up what our young adults are reading these days. I get it, teenagers think they are invincible and believe they can save the world, so they are naturally drawn to such epic battles between dystopian countercultures. But, really? Why not just turn on the TV? Most, if not all of these types of books are either based on or soon become a movie or television program. Where is the story? Where are the books that mold a generation, that inspire our kids to become better human beings? Where are the authors that write about raw truth?… these were the disgusted musings fluttering through my head, both as a parent and as a bookseller, when up walks the Dutton rep who says, “a literary sob-fest.”

John Green and The Fault in Our Stars (hardcover, January 2012) changed my opinion on Young Adult fiction. It is, in fact a literary sob-fest, so brilliantly written and relevant to today’s society. It truly has become an instant classic and I was encouraged to see it appear on a few local schools’ required Summer Reading Lists. The Fault in Our Stars is about Hazel and Augustus, two “cancer kids” who meet at support group and fall in love. That’s the spine of the book; the rest is a smartly crafted story filled with life and love and disappointment and acceptance of the shortcomings of others.

“An electric portrait of young people who learn to live life with one foot in the grave. Filled with staccato bursts of humor and tragedy, The Fault in Our Stars takes a spin on universal themes--Will I be loved? Will I be remembered? Will I leave a mark on this world?--by dramatically raising the stakes for the characters who are asking.”

--Jodi Picoult, author of My Sister’s Keeper and Sing You Home

John Green is the New York Times bestselling author of Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, and The Fault in Our Stars. He is also the coauthor, with David Levithan, of Will Grayson, Will Grayson. He was 2006 recipient of the Michael L. Printz Award, a 2009 Edgar Award winner, and has twice been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Green’s books have been published in more than a dozen languages.