Review: Literature for Today’s Young Adults (8th Edition)

Normally, I wouldn’t bother reviewing a textbook like Literature for Young Adults. I purchase or rent textbooks for a class, and it irks me if the class doesn’t use it, but otherwise I simply read from it to follow along with the material I’m learning in lecture. I suppose if the book aims to give “a comprehensive, reader-friendly introduction to young adult literature framed within a literary, historical, and social context,” this volume does it’s job. But throughout my reading I felt like there was something lacking, like I could have just as easily skipped its many chapters on specific subgenres and done just as well.

Its lists of YAL books in each subgenre (from fantasy to nonfiction to mysteries) do offer some good alternative reads in the English classroom. But the lists are the best part of these chapters. So often, the meat of the text merely discusses certain stories or authors that could be used, without addressing any ways of teaching these texts. There are a few exceptions to this (for example, a thought-provoking section within the Contemporary Realistic Fiction chapter on what “realism” is in a novel), but I felt like most of the subgenre sections could have been reduced to definitions of each genre and a list of books.

The chapters that did not explore differnt subgenres were much more useful. The chapter explaining the history of YAL was thorough but accessible, and taught me some surprising facts about the creation of the popular young adult book genre we know today. It’s treatment of the censorship debate leaned more in favor of allowing students to read sometimes objectionable books, but it offered many ways for teachers to combat the issue of censorship in the classroom. The technology chapter was a bit antiquated, but I also read the chapter from the 9th edition, which fixes the problems from the 8th edition. If the entire book had focused more on these types of subjects, I feel like I could have gotten much more out of reading it.

The prose was a least easy to read, and most often it was engaging. However, there were a few moments where the authors’ treatment of some subjects made my blood boil. Two of the moments I remember are found in the 6th chapter on “Adventure, Sports, Mysteries, and the Supernatural.” In describing Chris Lynch’s Inexcusable, the textbook reads “[Keir is] also apparently deaf. When he starts to rape Gigi, she says no, but he refuses to admit that he hears anyting that will stop him. Nobody says no to a football icon. So he rapes her….” The first line here is so sarcastic it makes me sick; while the authors do mention twice that this is indeed rape, they don’t treat the rape with any sort of respect to the trauma of the victim. Though their humor and sarcasm was welcome in other sections of the textbook, it should have been absent when discussing this sensitive of a subject.

The second moment in this chapter that was highly irritating is found in its section of “supernatural” fiction. After the authors give a brief synopsis of Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalyze, they proceed to say that the Publisher’s Weekly described this book as “‘campy,’ more like Buffy the Vampire Slayer than like [Stephenie] Meyer’s dignified romance [the Twilight series].” Umm… excuse me? Dignified romance? I beg to differ–I’ve read a vast array of successful essays that argue that Edward Cullen borders on pathological and that the portrayal of Edward’s and Bella’s relationship normalizes psychological abuse to an audience of vulnerable young women. On the other hand, Buffy already has a large body of scholarly literature (known as Buffy Studies) that investigates the show’s deeper points. has also said that, had it not been for Buffy, their large wiki on tropes and archetypes would not exist. Sure, the show might be describe as “campy,” but it is also self-aware and plays with its use of stereotypes and tropes in a way that exercises and pleases the intellectual mind. These two supernatural works was an awful comparison, and the authors need to do their Buffy Studies homework.

Overall, this textbook was just “okay.” I might keep it just for the lists of young adult novels it has, but I will probably have better luck just consulting Goodreads lists that are continously updated. There are some good points in this book, but the authors do not play them up and waste precious paper to write about the obvious. I would not recommend this book for use, instead opting for a collection of articles or a more sophisticated book on the subject that treats delicate topics with dignity and respect.


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