Friday, April 2, 2010

Life is stranger than Young Adult fiction

I have been on holidays for a few days and have had the opportunity to read a selection of young adult titles from our secondary library collection.

I really love reading YA fiction - it is raw, meaty, and the characters are so tender and real for the most part. I love teenagers, so I love reading about them and the decisions the characters make and how these decisions change them for better or for worse.

I make it a practice to read from our library selection just so when a student comes in looking for something I can say - "I read this, it was about...., and maybe you would like to give it a go". It only takes one reader to cause a stampede. This what happened with the Louise Rennison, Robert Muchamore, Andy McNab and James Patterson titles. All of which are now in hot demand that we have multiple copies of each and still a reserve list. All from a simple recommedation from me.

I particularly like Australian YA fiction. My favourite Australian authors are Maureen McCarthy, David McRobbie, Scott Monk, Glynn Parry and now Kirsty Eager. All of these authors write about relationships and identity issues, some of my favourite things. And, they hit the issues hard, with no apologies for possibly offending anyone. They deal with the issues in a real and sensitive way. and give me some food for thought after I have finished.

I recently had a discussion with a mum about YA content - she was asking why the Genre had so many big issues like premartial sex and pregnancy, drug abuse, relationship issues with parents, lovers and friends, identity crisis, suicide, bullying, divorce, depression, death, as it made her uncomfortable allowing her children to read it. I mentioned that these issues are based on real life and research has found that teens who read about the heavy issues either have the knowledge to avoid the problems (like drug abuse) or are able to lean on what they have read to help them through a crisis.

An article featured in New Scientist in the 25 June 2008 edition p.42-44, "The Science of Fiction" by Keith Oatley where research was described and developed based on the hypothesis that 'If people's skills as pilots improve when they spend time in a flight simulator, so people's social skills should improve when they spend time reading fiction.'

The article is an interesting read and is worth following up, the conclusion is that "fiction can be likened to a simulation that runs on the software of our minds. And it is a particularly useful simulation because negotiating the social world effectively is extremely tricky, requiring us to weigh up myriad interacting instances of cause and effect. Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life."

Which is why the YA genre needs to be raw, meaty and true to life - because life is like that and the young people who read the stories have the advantage of being able to weigh up the myriad of interacting instances in the fiction - so if they have to confront it in real life, they may be better prepared to deal with it.

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