Book review: Young adult books offer valuable insight for adults

Last month, Time Magazine columnist Joel Stein wrote a column about why adults should not read young adult literature. The article is written after months of walking into coffee shops and seeing adults glued to their copy of “The Hunger Games,” years of listening to adults support “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob,” and a decade of adults referencing “muggles” and “quidditch.”

Stein’s contention is that young adult literature does not contain the depth, or the advanced level of writing adults should be reading. If an adult reads a young adult book, he or she is automatically forfeiting his or her ability to learn and grow from the piece of literature, and should therefore be ashamed and hide in the corner.

“I’m sure all those books are well-written,” Stein wrote. “So is ‘Horton Hatches the Egg.’ But Horton doesn’t have the depth of language and character as literature written for people who have stopped physically growing.”

Well, Mr. Stein, there are many people who would fervently argue against such statements.

If Stein’s belief is that all “literature” is well-written and contains highly developed characters and plots, has he read some of the romance novels out there?

Young adult literature is one of the few mediums that allow adults a peephole into the tumultuous lives of teenagers.

Chris Crutcher, local young adult author, recently spoke in an English class at Whitworth about the worth of young adult literature. He said he believes that young adult literature illustrates how teenagers struggle with finding their autonomy and growing up.

“[It helps adults] understand what [students] are going through,” Crutcher said. “They’re coming of age, but they aren’t there yet.”

Along with struggling with identity issues, young adult literature can talk about hard-hitting issues like abandonment, sex, drug use and abuse.

Caitlin Pawlowski, a junior elementary education major, believes reading young adult literature gives her an insight into some of the different struggles her future students might have growing up.

“I think it’s really important for me to understand the struggle,” Pawlowski said.

As for Stein’s theory that characters are underdeveloped, one might argue that Katniss from “The Hunger Games” is just as much a heroine as any “adult” heroine.

“Talk about empowerment,” Crutcher said. “She scares me to death.”

Some recently released young adult books that have received a great deal of enthusiasm and praise are “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green, “Why We Broke Up” by Daniel Handler, and “Girl Meets Boy: Because There are Two Sides to Every Story” edited by Kelly Milner Halls.

“The Fault in Our Stars” follows Hazel, a terminal cancer-stricken teenager who meets a boy in her support group for kids with cancer. Hazel tackles life issues with a blunt humorous approach that leaves readers wondering if they should be crying or laughing.

“John Green writes incredible, honest truths about the secret, weird hearts of human beings,” wrote author E. Lockhart. “He makes me laugh and gasp at the beauty of a sentence or the twist of a tale. He is one of the best writers alive and I am seething with envy of his talent.”

In “Why We Broke Up,” the main character, Min, returns a box of things to her first love and details in a letter, item by item, the reason why they broke up.

The book is highly relatable to adults and teenagers alike. Who does not remember their first love and the heartache that followed?

“It’s easy to predict how Handler’s story will conclude from the book’s few pages,” wrote Susan Carpenter from The Los Angeles Times. “It’s more difficult to take such an everyday tragedy with a predictable ending and elevate it to an end point of enduring, emotionally effective art.”

“Girl Meets Boy” is a collection of short stories edited by Spokane author Kelly Milner Halls. Each story is told from the girl’s perspective and the boy’s perspective by some of today’s top young adult authors.

“The stories are thus surprising and varied, avoiding any sort of formulaic treatment of relationship dynamics and giving full weight to the complexities of what can happen when a girl meets a boy,” wrote the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Unlike what Stein adamantly believes, each one of these books take on issues both teenagers and adults can relate to and learn from. Death, sexuality, love, helplessness and heartbreak fill these pages making each one of them more than just a frivolous, young adult book.

  Story by Nerissa Kresge Staff Writer

Graphic art by Maria Ladd

Contact Nerissa Kresge at