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Reading Rainbow: What Are Young Adults Reading Today?

From Harry Potter to The Clique and Twilight to The Hunger Games, young adult fiction seems to consistently produce new hit book series. Many publishing and library insiders suggest that never before has YA lit been so well established and diverse. But are all of these books appropriate for teens?

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teen fiction young adult literature YA appropriate

Banned YA Classics

Since the publication of The Catcher in the Rye in 1951, parents and youth advocates across the U.S. have voiced concerns about the age-appropriateness of literature marketed to young adults. J.D. Salinger's portrait of disaffected youth has been banned in many American schools and libraries, labeled 'obscene' for its inclusion of profanity, underage drinking and premarital sex. Supporters of the book, though, lauded its willingness to truthfully explore the teenage psyche in a way that readers could authentically identify with.

A number of groundbreaking YA titles followed in the 1960s and 1970s that were also meant to depict teens' lives in realistic terms. S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders addressed gang violence in a raw way and Judy Blume's Forever broached the topic of teenage sexuality in controversial terms. Both of these books were also banned in libraries and schools throughout the country.

teen fiction young adult literature YA appropriate

Contemporary Teen Reads

The impulse on the part of parents and other adults to protect young people from inappropriate content has not diminished. And while opinions of what's 'appropriate' for teens can vary significantly, most people agree that the sophistication of today's YA lit far surpasses that of past decades. Some go further, openly criticizing what they view as dark themes in teen literature that promote doom and gloom perspectives about the world.

Indeed, some of the most popular YA series of today do present challenging topics and ideas. In Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy, teens in an unsettled dystopian future must fight to the death in an arena before a live national audience. Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy serves as a retelling of John Milton's Paradise Lost, an epic tale of hell. And some cultural critics have found fault with The Twilight Saga for its frank language concerning sexual desire.

teen fiction young adult literature YA appropriate

Promoting (Appropriate) Reading

Advocates for young adult fiction often talk about the development of more nuanced teen literature in very positive terms. Many argue that titles featuring real-world issues resonate more strongly with young adults and help to cultivate a love of reading. Further, proponents suggest that providing teens with books featuring complex perspectives help them to understand that we don't live in a simplistic, black and white world. Rather, we're often faced with challenges that demand thoughtfulness and courage - qualities young protagonists in YA literature often exhibit.

As with many questions relating to young people and their consumption of culture, no hard and fast guidelines for what's right or wrong exist. Youth advocates suggest that parents and caregivers talk with teens about their reading choices. They also suggest adults at home consult with librarians and educators about trends in YA lit to better understand young peoples' reading habits.

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