by Jason Sansbury
If you haven’t been paying attention to pop culture, you may be missing one of the most significant trends happening in films (after superhero movies): Young Adult Fiction. Commonly called “YA,” these stories are all over the place and showing up more and more. Look at this list of recent (or soon to be released) films that come from this genre:
- Divergent (and its sequels Insurgent, Allegiant, and Four)
- The Hunger Games
- The Maze Runner
- The Giver
- The Fault in Our Stars
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower
- If I Stay…
- The Hobbit
And often, I have found this is a thing most youth are engaged in, either by choice or by school requirements, that we are youth workers are ignoring. So here are some things to pay attention to in regards to Young Adult literature.
Ask youth what they are reading and ask them to share it with you. I found out about the John Green book The Fault in Our Stars three years ago because during a retreat at which I was speaking, I sat at a table of freshmen girls and asked them what they were reading. Ask and see what is out there and circling around your youth and other youth.
Read. Read. And read some more. Once you have a list, read it. And pay attention. John Green’s movie adaptation success started with The Fault in Our Stars but now several more of his books are being adapted for the big screen, including the upcoming Paper Towns. Several of the above movies have sequels coming out, including the sequel to The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, the recently released Insurgent, which was a sequel to Divergent, and this fall’s final chapter in the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay Part Two. This link details even more that are forthcoming. Want to know if you can take your kids to see the movie when the books come out? Read ahead!
Engage youth on what they are reading in a non-judgmental way. In nearly every YA book I have read, there are things that have made me cringe a bit. But rather than focusing on the negatives of certain scenes, I chose to engage in larger themes. For instance, The Fault in Our Stars is ultimately a book about a desire to make a mark on the larger world. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the classic story about not fitting in and trying to find and believe you’ve found acceptance. Both of those larger themes are hugely important in ministry and can be embraced via those books without us endorsing some unhealthy specific scenes.
Consider becoming involved in a book club. Nearly every local library will have some sort of middle or high school book club and they may even welcome you to help facilitate and lead discussions. As a youth worker, we have skills that library staff may not have but want to use in reaching out to younger readers. If nothing else, be aware of their reading list and see if there are titles on it that may be worthwhile for discussing.
Or start a book club of your own. If a library is hesitant to have outside adults involved, you may need to create your own club. I doubt it will be your most well attended event for the year but for certain kids, it will be a huge success. Obviously, pick books you’ve read ahead of time. And allow them to have much of the leadership of the club. But it does open the doors for discussions you might not have otherwise. It is also a great group for people to invite their quieter, shy friends, too. Literature is a great equalizer. (This summer I think we are doing a book club for The Chronicles of Narnia series because it is an easy read and many of my youth haven’t read it!)
Pay attention to what books pop up in a given year. The Library Journal and other groups like them compile an annual list of what they consider the best YA books. (The list for 2014 can be found here.) I generally try to look through the list and see if a few are interesting to me and read them. (Added bonus, as I have learned what some of my youth like in books, after I have finished them, I pass them along!) Also, it is worth looking at the current list of frequently challenged and banned books of which the American Library Association keeps track. From this list, you can see what issues are becoming recurring concerns as adults try to shelter young people. And one of the best things we can do is teach our young people how to engage controversial issues through the lens of their faith; this is an excellent opportunity to teach and lead the way with youth and their parents.
If we want to speak to and engage in youth culture, we can’t simply stop at movies, music, and social media. We want to delve into all the things that are influencing our young people and Young Adult fiction is one of those!