Since I became a YA writer about eight years ago a lot of YA novels have influenced me. I didn’t know I was a YA writer, by the way. I didn’t even know what YA was. You could have told me it stood for Yahoos Anonymous and I would have believed you.
Actually, my first published YA novel, MY ROAD TRIP TO THE PRETTY GIRL CAPITAL OF THE WORLD, was written as an adult novel. Then a friend said, “I think this might be a YA novel.” I might have said, “A Yahoos Anonymous novel?” but instead I said, “What’s a YA novel?” She told me and I said I didn’t think so because I was ignorant and reluctant to have my book placed with books for teenagers. I thought teen fiction was less than adult fiction back then.
“I think so,” she said and told me I was being an idiot, which I was.
So in order to be less of an idiot, or to convince her that I was anyway, I read some YA novels. Wow. I read some more. You know what I discovered. Anyone who reads YA fiction knows. Some of the most innovative, powerful, sad, funny, wondrous fiction around is YA fiction.
So now I’m a YA writer and proud of it and here are just a few, a very few, novels that I’ve loved.
Elsewhere by Margaret Zevin—what a novel. I like novels that can make me laugh and make me cry (well they would make me cry if I was the kind of guy who cried over books and stuff like that which I AM NOT but if I was this book would). It’s about a girl who gets hit by a car and dies. That’s the beginning. Then she is taken on a ship to a brilliantly imagined afterworld and meets lots of people, including her grandmother and a famous musician who committed suicide, and comes to terms with her own death. And though that doesn’t sound funny there are many, many laugh-out-loud moments in this novel.
Feed by M.T. Anderson (I love the Octavian novels but this one is still my favorite Anderson book). This novel has the kind of broad scope of Farenheight 451. Besides being a good story, it’s full of social criticism and is a scathing indictment of our rampant consumerism. It’s scary and funny and really, really smart.
Repossessed by A.M. Jenkins. This novel also begins with death. (What is wrong with me?) This demon who prefers to be called a fallen angel is on the lam from hell. He takes over this boy right at the moment he dies because he wants to experience life, particularly sex. The voice in this novel is perfect. The novel explores issues of faith in an interesting and hilarious way.
Speak by Laurie Anderson. A novel about a girl who is traumatized and her struggle to overcome the terrible thing that has happened to her. It is subtle and powerful and impossible to put down.
There are so many great YA novels. What to put for number five? The Bartemous Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud—funny and who isn’t charmed by a witty demon? Godless by Pete Hautman? You will never look at water towers the same after reading this novel. David Almond’s Skellig? The list could go on and on. But I’ll leave it there. So many good novels to read and so little time, but that’s the kind of problem, and in my experience there aren’t a lot of problems like this, you want to have.