August2017 Booklist 57 www.booklistonline.com
and Full-Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison (1999), and
Gingerbread, by Rachel Cohn (2002). There were lots of others, but
those were the two most influential. As I read them, a light went
on. Rennison and Cohn didn’t take themselves too seriously.
They were playful. Georgia and Cyd, their protagonists, were
ridiculous and stylized and badly behaved. They were only earnest occasionally. They had problems—but not enormous ones.
Rather than offering solutions, Rennison and Cohn wrote what
I’d call interrogations—that is, explorations of sexuality, friendship, family, without answers.
And they messed around with slang, which I really adore them
for, creating highly amusing idiolects for their teenage characters.
Those Rennison and Cohn idiolects—though of course they
have roots in J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (1951), Anthony
Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (1962), and Alice Walker’s The
Color Purple (1982), among others—felt hugely fresh to me.
They made me see YA literature as a space for joy as well as pain;
as a space for validating the teenage voice by laying claim to a
specific mode of unconventional speech. By extension, it became
a space for moral grays and the articulation of complex feelings
and thoughts that couldn’t be spoken simply.
The point is that I suddenly saw YA for what it had been all
along. My own teenage reading had actually been more various
than my absorption of stereotypes about the genre led me to
believe. I had read My Darling, My Hamburger, a 1969 novel by
Paul Zindel about pregnancy and abortion that left me—as did
all Zindel’s books—with a deep sense of malaise, consequent to
having read something exquisitely honest. I had read Fifteen, by
Beverly Cleary, published in 1956, which was frothy and sweet
as a milkshake, a delightful comfort read. I had read most of
M. E. Kerr, Paula Danzinger, S. E. Hinton, Madeleine L’Engle,
Lois Duncan—and all those authors wrote with moral com-
plexity and many with a sense of play and joy (L’Engle and the
dolphins in A Ring of Endless Light, for example). They wrote
characters who behaved badly (some of Duncan’s were gloriously
compromised) and messed around with slang.
I just forgot that I read all that.
And yet, I didn’t forget. Not really.
The more current novels I mentioned earlier—those that have
their antecedents in problem novels—have most of these quali-
ties, too. A Step from Heaven follows Young Ju from a childhood
rendered almost in verse to a complicated near-adult perspective.
It’s the coolest transformation of voice I’ve seen in a novel. The
Fault in Our Stars is funny as hell and in fact does not solve the
problem of terminal cancer so much as sit with it, accepting it
and raging against it simultaneously. Monster is written partly as
a film script! And in some places is playful to the point of goofi-
ness in terms of typography. Tyrell creates an idiolect that lets
us see the protagonist as much more than just his problem of
homelessness, and Booth explores his moral grayness, leaving us
not so much with a message of hope as
with a validation of the complexity of
lived experience. I could go on about the
others, but there isn’t room.
Oh, I love you, YA literature. Let’s
E. Lockhart is the award-winning author of
Genuine Fraud, We Were Liars, The Disreputable
History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and more.
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