The Brave New World of Young Adult Books

Enid Blyton–>Carolyn Keene–>Agatha Christie/P.G. Wodehouse–>Ayn Rand –>Sidney Sheldon. 

Show me a person who’s followed that reading trajectory, and I’ll show you a middle-class, English-educated, child-of-the-seventies Indian. 

I moved straight from children’s books to adult fiction.  Young Adult books–works specifically written for readers between twelve and eighteen–were absent from my literary world. I did read ‘cross-over’ authors like Gerald Durrell and James Herriot and Tolkien, but the only books I recall being blurbed as suitable for teens are the miserable Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series. 

When I was around twelve, I began on my parents’ book collection. My mother judged the suitability of a  book solely by the extent of its sexual content; I was allowed, for instance, to read Aldous Huxley and Leon Uris, but not Philip Roth. (The floodgates opened when I read Rage of Angels at fourteen.)

I discovered Young Adult literature when I was in college, with Anne of Green Gables. I loved Anne Shirley (and still do), but sometimes, reading Lucy Maud was like sucking on an Everlasting Gobstopper of pure maple syrup. Where were characters who spent their summer vacations gazing at the bathroom mirror and feeling misunderstood? Teens who wondered about periods and puberty rather than the purple glories of a sunrise? The mean girls who made Lord of the Flies look like Noddy’s adventures with his Toyland pals? 

I’ve since realized there’s a planet of YA literature out there, dealing with real-life issues, written by authors who never underestimate or patronize their young readers. The knowledge of course comes too late for me; how I wish I’d known about these books when I was thirteen, instead of spending my time dreaming about George Michael and our future daughter Ayn…   Some of the best YA novels I’ve read over the past fifteen years include Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole series, Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, and Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea.  

For a great list of YA ‘coming-of-age’ titles, check out Colleen Mondor’s YA blog  Chasing Ray.  Her comprehensive list is divided into helpful categories such as “Mysteries/Thrillers That Include Characters Coming-of-Age” and “Books GLBT YAs Will Identify With Strongly”. The list includes old faves like Little Women and modern classics such as His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, and most important: excludes excrescences like the Sweet Valley High series. Also featured in the list are some multi-cultural works such as Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier. 

I can’t, alas, think of names to add to the list of South Asian YA authors.  I’ve read Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy, Bapsi Sidhwa’s An American Brat and Ardeshir Vakil’s Beach Boy, all of which deal with coming-of-age themes,  but none of them were written specifically for a YA audience. If you have suggestions for South Asian YA-themed authors/books, do write in!


13 thoughts on “The Brave New World of Young Adult Books

  1. Pingback: DesiPundit » Archives » With a serving of angst, please

  2. I just saw a copy of The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen (Mitali Perkins) at a used bookstore. I flipped through it and almost bought it, but then thought that it would probably be better to leave it there for a teen or preteen to find.

  3. Sqrlnt: Thanks for the tip!

    Sulz: I like The Outsiders very much too. One of the first novels to write realistically about teens.

    Blue: That’s one I haven’t read–the title really turned me off. Perhaps I’ll give it a shot after all…

  4. Pingback: Pretty Blue Salwar

  5. Niranjana,

    came to your site through “Pretty Blue Salwar”. Nice…I now have a new way to spend my 5-mins-away-from-work times 🙂

    I am a child of 70s India as well, but was fortunate enough to have a friend in school whose family had lived in the US for some years before returning to India – they had a huge collection of books, and many American ones…I discovered Judy Blume and some other authors (Can’t remember) though her. There were several books featuring kids going off to summer camps, that probably fit into the tween category as well. Also, in the late 70s/early 80s, there used to be libraries called “State Educational Libraries” in some states in India, from which teachers were allowed to borrow books. These libraries had some kind of tie-up with American libraries, so would regularly get huge shipments of American books – my mother was a teacher, so I found many books through this library. Lastly, my school in India had an American librarian who had lived in India for many years, but she still had connections to the US – she would order books from the US for the library – it was through her that I discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder and Lucy Maud Montgomery!

    I second Mitali Perkins – I really liked the Sunita Sen book, and think it makes sense for Indian-origin kids growing up in the West. Mitali Perkins has another YA book, Monsoon Summer, which I also enjoyed. Her latest, Rickshaw Girl, I haven’t read yet. Also recommend Uma Krishnaswami – she has written one, or maybe two books that are YA – she also has several Childrens’ books that my kids (ages 7 and 5) enjoy.

    Sorry this comment is post-length now, so I’ll stop!



  6. M: thanks for stopping by!

    I don’t remember coming across State Educational Libraries–it sounds like a really good resource, and one I could certainly have used. I remember reading an awful lot of abridged classics back in the mid-eighties. Wuthering Heights sanitized for eleven-year-olds–horrible (in every sense)!

    And I’ll definitely check out Mitali Perkins now; thanks for the recommendation.

  7. Hi!

    Wanted to let you know that my first novel, WHAT I MEANT… is coming out 3 days after Harry Potter (!), on July 24, 2007, through Random House. It’s a humorous YA novel about a 15 year old girl with an Indian dad and an American mom. My own daughters are part Indian, and they, too, are always looking for books about kids like themselves, which is why I write them.

    I’m just finishing up its sequel, WHAT I SAID… which comes out in summer 2008. More info is on

    Also, I just met author Patricia MacCormick this past weekend, who wrote the book SOLD. It’s YA, but far from comic. It’s about girls being sold into slavery in Calcutta.
    You might want to check that one out too.


    Marie Lamba

  8. Marie: Good luck with the novel’s release–that is a really exciting event! I look forward to reading (and perhaps reviewing) your book. And thanks for letting me know about SOLD– that sounds like something I should definitely check out.

  9. Was searching for mystery books on your site and came across this post – I used to have a paperback which was a book in which Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys came together to solve a mystery – I remember how excited everyone was when I told them I had that book, and Ned hugs Nancy, in that, guess everyone wanted to read that part! 😀

    I just remembered the Bobbsey Twins as well, and just Googled them to find out the first book came out in 1904 and last in 1979 – I had a couple of those books as well – but remember v little about them.

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