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LIS 9364: YA Firsts

Today I'm going to be doing something a little different. See, part of the reason I have such a huge review backlog is I've been doing a lot of reading for school. I have a class on YA Materials in libraries (LIS 9364), and one on understanding graphic novels in library collections (9318). Both of them are fairly reading-heavy (YA consists of about 3-5 titles to read on any given week and GNs can be 3-8 volumes) and take up a lot of my time as of late. Instead of reviewing everything I've read for these classes individually, I think I'm going to review all the titles I was assigned on any given week. Each week has a sort of theme, so all the titles will go together nicely.

So, the first group of novels I had to read were novels that were considered YA Firsts. We had three titles to read that week: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and Hold Fast by Kevin Major. I was unable to get to the last title on the list because it wasn't available at my local library (and sorry, but I don't have the cash to throw away on books I may not even enjoy), but I was able to get to the first two, which was slightly unfortunate because they were actually re-reads. However, it had been quite a long time since I had read them, so it was still nice to revisit them and see how my opinions and reactions to them changed.


The Outsiders (1967)
Author: S.E. Hinton
Publisher: Speak
Genre: Contemporary / Realistic Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 180 (mass market paperback)
Series: Stand Alone

In Ponyboy's world there are two types of people. There are the Socs, the rich society kids who get away with anything. Then there are the greasers, like Ponyboy, who aren't so lucky. Ponyboy has a few things he can count on: his older brothers, his friends, and trouble with the Socs, whose idea of a good time is beating up greasers. At least he knows what to expect-until the night things go too far.

This novel was written when the author, S.E. Hinton, was still in high school. I think she began writing it when she was fifteen and finally made it to publication when she was around eighteen. While I know that adults are capable of writing from a teen perspective (they were teenagers once too after all), having this "insider" look from Hinton during her teen years really shows in her prose. I can only imagine what it was like for teenagers in the late 1960s opening this novel and reading something that must have felt so authentic -- it should be understood that before this book was published, the term "Young Adult" still didn't really exist, and most recommended reading lists for teens were actually comprised of adult titles -- this must've been a breath of fresh air.

In the vein of typical YA, this is a coming-of-age story, as Ponyboy grows up and learns a lot of Life Lessons. Ponyboy is interesting character to me because he lives in very harsh circumstances, but he still has an air of innocence to him. He's familiar with his friends being beaten up by Socs and he's aware that the social divide between Greasers and Socs is deeply rooted in classism, but he's still incredibly sweet despite living in these less-than ideal circumstances. What makes him especially likable is his ability to see most things objectively; he knows that his brothers friends are not the nicest people, and he knows that not all Socs are jerks, and watching him grow and further open his mind to the world around him keeps him real and makes his emotional journey all the more impactful (ie. his realization that Socs are human beings too who must live with their own sets of problems and prejudices -- that was powerful stuff.)

It's just a really great book that holds up so well to the test of time. I'm not at all surprised that this is a classic and I think it will remain so for a good long while.


The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
Author: J.D. Salinger
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Contemporary / Realistic Fiction
Pages: 224 (pocket paperback)
Series: Stand Alone

Story of Holden Caufield with his idiosyncrasies, penetrating insight, confusion, sensitivity and negativism. Holden, knowing he is to be expelled from school, decides to leave early. He spends three days in New York City and tells the story of what he did and suffered there.

Among my colleagues, this book had a much more mixed reaction (as opposed to The Outsiders which was generally positive.) Most couldn't relate to Holden's narrative voice, but I personally think this is okay. Holden's a miserable bastard and if you could relate to him, chances are you're pretty miserable too. I know a lot of teens (at least, in my experience) like this book because they idolize Holden's cynicism and feel like they're being weighed down by a world populated by "phonies", I think they also, whether consciously or not, also relate to the fear that paralyzes Holden: the fear of growing up; of being burdened with more and higher expectations; of being expected to know what to want to do with your life. Seriously, what teen has never experienced this before?

And what also makes this book so great, to me, is that it doesn't go about extrapolating these issues in a ho-hum, "issues" book kind of way. Whether you you appreciate the plot of the novel or not, it's hard to deny how good the writing is. Salinger clearly knew his craft and so many bits of this novel could be scrutinized and picked apart. Holden's voice is of especial interest to me -- his contradictions, his vernacular, his scattered, borderline ADD thought-patterns -- are expertly written and support so many of the themes running through the novel, but are still accessible to teens who may not want to pick it apart and dissect a la English Honours class. I'm surprised that this is still marketed exclusively as an adult title (at least, I've only ever seen it shelved in the "adult" sections of libraries and bookstores) when there is obviously so much potential teen appeal here. It's certainly not for everyone, but it's got a lot going on and demonstrates that YA Fiction can be elevated above the low-brow standards that (sadly) many still attribute to the demographic.



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 27th, 2013 12:35 pm (UTC)
Interesting. I've never given it much thought, but when I was growing up, Catcher in the Rye was shelved in Classics in the bookstore, not YA. Did Salinger write with the teen audience in mind?
Feb. 27th, 2013 02:20 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I've actually never seen Catcher in the Teen section ever either but the narrative really can/does speak to the teen experience (fear of growing up and all that.) And I don't *think* Salinger wrote with a teen audience in mind, but I'm not 100% sure.
Feb. 27th, 2013 10:24 pm (UTC)
I don't think he did either, but I was hoping you all might've discussed that in class. I read it my junior year of high school, but as an independent project, so I didn't get class discussion. I do remember liking it, though...
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


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