What exactly is Young Adult literature? It’s exactly what you need to curl up with on a cold November evening! More generally, the term is often applied to books about and intended for teens and pre-teens, but within that broad definition is an entire world to explore. Young Adult works are often fast-paced page-turners, or just as often works that explore what it means to grow up. Don’t be afraid of these books if you’re over 18- some excellent authors work in the field, and some of the greatest innovation in the science fiction and fantasy genres occurs within these parameters. Whether you’re a teen with lots of unwanted free time or an adult with a youthful heart, here are some Young Adult books that you can sink into like a warm blanket.
One of the best and most creative authors working in Science Fiction & Fantasy today is Seanan McGuire, and her Wayward Children series starting with Every Heart a Doorway offers some answers to an oft-neglected question- what happens to children when they return from a magical adventure? Students at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children once found doors into strange worlds, and once back home, all they want to do is find those doors again. Some of them do. Some of them don’t. And one of them is so desperate to get back to her special world that they will do anything it takes to return, even turn against the rest of the school. Each installment of this series brings a plethora of astonishing new worlds and the children who found their ways into them. These books will forever change how you think about classic fantasy tropes, and get you wondering just what your own personal door to another world would be like.
The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle is sometimes funny, sometimes sad, and constantly threaded through with a melancholy nostalgia that will stay with you long after you’ve finished the book. When all the other unicorns have vanished, the last one remaining sets off to find them, accompanied by a bumbling wizard and a golden-hearted thief. The truth about where the other unicorns have gone is a troubling one, and it will cost a heavy price to free them. The Last Unicorn is the kind of book you can read once and then think about for the rest of your life, no matter what age you encounter it at.
Madeline L’Engle’s classic A Wrinkle in Time is one of the most beloved books to ever travel between dimensions. Meg Murry, her brother Charles Wallace, and her classmate Calivin O’Keefe are all thrown through time and space thanks to a scientific project of Meg’s father’s and the meddling of otherworldly beings. Through wormholes, universes that exist in less than three dimensions, encounters with benevolent alien beasts, and battles against evil brainlike entities, they discover strange truths about existence and their own unexpected strength through flaws. This book changed the entire world of science fiction with its exploration of what alternate realities might be like, and is one of the premier examples that shows how smart and creative Young Adult books can be.
You may have seen the Miyazaki movie, but have you read Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle? It’s a much wittier and more self-aware story, about a young woman cursed to become a crone and the vain wizard whose life she barges into. Sophie and Howl Pendragon (also known as Howell Jenkins, a working class soccer fan) deal with spells and demons as a matter of course each day, conquer insurmountable problems, and might just be falling in love if they don’t drive each other crazy first. Jones was one of the great queens of British fantasy, and this is her masterwork. Take it in alongside the movie and see what different approaches can do to the same set of characters; Miyazaki used them to explore the horrors of war, while Jones used them to reinvent classic fantasy tropes and throw all expectations out the window.
Finally, for an example of just how vague the distinction between Adult and Young Adult can be, look to Kelly Link’s collection of short stories, Pretty Monsters. Link is one of my favorite authors to ever play with magical realism, and this is my favorite of her works, a collection of all her stories with teenage protagonists. There’s an underground cult tv show with a devoted fanbase willing to save the lives of its characters. There’s a miserable boys’ summer camp haunted by a flesh and blood campfire story monster. There’s an entire village protected inside a handbag lost in a sea of thrift stores and flea markets. There’s all that and more in Pretty Monsters, works of wonder and terror that are impossible to describe- unless, of course, you happen to be a writer like Kelly Link!
Take a whole stack of these books with you when you take shelter against the winter. They’ll keep your heart warm and your brain curious, whether you’re a young adult or just remember having been one long ago.
By: Mira G.