Friday, May 31, 2013

What Are the Best Books for Teens?

What are the best books for teens and young adults?

This is the third most asked question by teenagers, behind "Who cares?" and "Seriously?" I have this on good authority from a guy who lives in his mom's basement and plays Pokemon professionally. I believe him. Seriously.

Actually, this is a common question from teens, and from mothers who wish to coerce their teen into a reading habit by introducing them to "the best book ever." Well, fear not, seekers of teen literary wisdom. This blog attempts to answer that question by introducing you to the best of the best teen books, from all categories. Some are older (but still awesome). Some are more recent (and also awesome). Some are so new that the paint on the cover has not yet dried (oh, and awesome).

This blog will also answer other questions relevant to teen literature, questions of great importance with answers of even greater wisdom. Or my lame opinions - one or the other. Either way, I will try to keep it entertaining. My credentials you ask? I'm an independent author of young adult novels with a reading habit of about twenty young adult books per year. Which puts me somewhere between clueless and "okay, maybe." As with all free thinkers, that is for you to decide.

Click the tabs below the blog title to see a list by genre, with summaries of each novel. See book reviews and other information in the blog list to your right, along with other good YA list sites and links to my novels.

Keep reading!

What's the Difference Between Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic Literature?

My favorite sci-fi sub-genre is post-apocalyptic science fiction, with dystopian literature coming in a respectable but distant second.


Because I'm fascinated by the behavior of people when the thin veneer of civilization is stripped away, and all hope is lost. What remains is a true glimpse of humanity at its worst and best, and the question "what makes us human" leaps to the forefront of existence.

For the past several years, dystopian literature has been hot, especially with young adults. Many readers remain confused about the subtle difference between dystopian literature and post-apocalyptic literature. Allow me to explain my interpretation of the difference.

A dystopia is a society where societal perfection or societal transcendence is obtained at the expense of something else. That "something else" could be a devalued class of people, the loss of a fundamental freedom, or the surrender of some aspect of human nature. Literary dystopias often arise through a slow process of societal change, or more abruptly as the result of some cataclysm. In either case, the dystopia represents society in a stable state, albeit a state most of us find appalling in some manner.

Post-apocalyptic literature, on the other hand, focuses on the instability during and/or following a cataclysmic event that shatters society both in form and headcount. During the story, whatever society exists is typically small, isolated, and highly threatened. Often there is little or no hope for any meaningful future. Although it is true that post-apocalyptic events can lead to the formation of dystopian societies, it is the immediately endangered nature of the society that interests me as a reader.

For example, I picked up Hunger Games in an airport years ago before it became a global phenomenon, because it is exactly the type of story that grabs my attention. Hunger Games is a dystopian story because it describes a stable but imperfect society that has sacrificed morality and most of the population for the comfort of a few. However, as a lover of post-apocalyptic stories, I wanted to know "how." How did this society emerge? What happened to create such a place? The story offers few clues, other than hints of a war.

I preferred the very poetic Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. The survivors of a zombie-plague apocalypse huddle together in a small community surrounded by a chain-link fence, unaware of other survivors. Pretty hopeless, right? Despite that hopelessness, a small band of teenagers venture into the unknown with a vague hope that there must be something better "out there."

So ... it may come as no surprise that I wrote a pair of post-apocalyptic novels. Write what you like; write what you know - right? My other stories are not of that sub-genre, but I suspect that I will revisit it later. My current PA novels are found at the link below.

I'll leave you with this. The best example, in my opinion, of an utterly hopeless situation where survivors soldier on is the short story "A Pail of Air" by Fritz Leiber. It's available free on-line by the original publisher, Baen books. If your tastes mirror mine, then do yourself a favor and read it at the link below.

(Note - there is a short Preface, but the story starts at the line "Pa had sent me out to get an extra pail of air." Good opening line!)