Thursday, July 16, 2015

Unmask! Everyday Heroes

Every week, I receive a copy of the New York Times’ bestseller list for Young Adult literature; I review it mostly to be sure we have the listed books in our collection. As I was skimming the July 12, 2015 edition, I noticed several unusual items:

  1. Four of the top ten books are novels by John Green: Paper Towns (1); Looking for Alaska (3); The Fault in our Stars (6); and An Abundance of Katherines (8).  Perhaps that shouldn’t surprise me, as Green is an excellent author and the first two titles have been made into movies . . . but still, four out of ten?  I think Green might be living every author’s dream. Even more remarkable, for YA literature, is the fact that each of these is a stand-alone novel; none belong to a series.
  2. In fact, only one of the top ten books is part of a series: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs (5).  The sequel is Hollow City.
  3. Miss Peregrine’s Home, along with The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (4), are the only two novels in the top-ten list that contain elements of the fantastic. Miss Peregrine’s Home is a thriller/ghost story, and The Book Thief is told from the perspective of Death himself. Still, both books contain plenty of reality, and realistic fiction populates the rest of this week’s list: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jessie Andrews (2); We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (7); Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (9) and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (10), as well as all four of the Green novels already mentioned.  Although dystopia still fills the NYT best-selling series list, none of the most popular novels are dystopias.
  4. Finally, with the exception of the Andrews, Riggs, Lockhart, and Rowell novels, the top-ten bestseller list is relatively old.  The other six YA titles on the list have copyright dates ranging from 2005 to 2008. . . ancient, in terms of YA literature.


All of these are interesting facts, but what can we infer from them? That teens like to read books that are going to be made into movies? That many adults are reading teen realistic fiction, and driving up sales? That today’s teens have suddenly developed an interest in reading books that were published when they were still in kindergarten? That John Green now owns the New York Times?

Perhaps all these statements are true; who knows? What is certain is that dystopian fiction is less popular than it was a year ago, and realistic fiction more popular, and that teens (and probably adults) are gravitating toward novels with real-life problems and real-life heroes, no matter the publication date.

Therefore, in celebration of our Unmask! teen summer reading program, here are some more recent YA novels about realistic, everyday heroes:


Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen: Younger sister Sydney has always been overshadowed by her big brother, Peyton.  When Peyton is imprisoned for a drunk-driving accident, their mother seems to forget about Sydney even more. Sydney shrinks into herself and her reality-TV programs, until a school transfer causes her to meet Layla. As Sydney and Layla become friends, Layla’s support helps Sydney take steps toward healing and a new beginning.

The Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver: In this story of two sisters, each dealing with their own turmoil following a terrible accident, Oliver weaves together mystery and family tension. Nick leaves her parents’ home to move in with her older sister, Dara, hoping to mend the divide between them. But when a little girl goes missing in their town, and Nick thinks Dara disappears in a similar incident, she discovers secrets about her sister that threaten to unravel their bond even more.

If You’re Reading This by Trent Reedy: Ever since Mike Wilson’s father was killed in Afghanistan when Mike was eight, he’s tried not to give his mother any problems, taking on extra responsibility and doing what she asks. All he wants is to play football, but she won’t allow it.  Mysteriously, Mike begins receiving letters from his dad – letters that were written long ago.  Inspired by the letters, Mike forges his mother’s signature and joins the team. In joining the team, Mike experiences both the love of the game and the guilt that comes from living a double life. Bullying, hazing, and a budding relationship with a Muslim girl complicate Mike’s decision even further. Can his father’s letters help him sort it all out?  

Biggie by Derek Sullivan: Henry Abbott is an obese 17-year-old who suffers from the dual pressure of being bullied about his weight and being pressured to succeed by his locally-famous father. Henry has little ambition, and even less self-esteem . . . until a fluke perfect game in gym class makes him believe that he may have the potential to, like his father, excel at baseball. His friends begin to help him on his quest to get healthy, but along the way discover that Henry’s weight isn’t the only thing keeping him down.  Language and some mature content make this a choice for older readers.


By all means, read some of the Young Adult bestsellers listed above; they are wonderful novels. But if all those are checked out of the library, delve into a newer, less well-known story of realistic, everyday heroes; you won’t be disappointed.

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