Know Your YA History: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Written by Grant Goodman, 4/8/2015

Dark YA starts with William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the tale of a plane full of boys that crash-lands on an island. The only adult (the pilot) is killed on impact and the kids are left to fend for themselves. What follows is a tale of adolescents torn between holding onto order and letting themselves become wild beasts.

If you enjoyed The Hunger Games for its starkly brutal critique of what war does to children, then you’ll find yourself swept away by Lord of the Flies.

The boys make early attempts at sticking together. They try to establish rules and they try to look out for the youngest kids of the bunch. But the longer they are there, the more they give in to their darker urges. Their clans split and they find themselves in a power struggle with one another.

Packs of boys become hunters and they are overtaken by bloodlust. They paint their faces for the hunt and in doing so, they change into catastrophically evil versions of themselves. The peaceful kids are trampled on (figuratively) or outright murdered (literally).

Like many popular YA stories, (catching) fire plays an important recurring role. First, fire is a way of signaling for rescue. Throughout the novel, though, the fire goes out or it burns too low, which is a fantastic symbol for the boys losing their connection to the rest of human society. At the very end, fire is turned into a destructive force, meant to force one of the boys out of hiding and into the waiting ambush of those who wish to kill him.

While Lord of the Flies isn’t necessarily classified as YA, it’s a novel about young adults and their tendencies and urges. When it was first published, it pushed the boundaries of violence and despair and decades later it remains as a milestone moment for books about young adults.

Veronica Roth’s Next Novel Series

According to the New York Times, Veronica Roth’s next book series will see its first release in 2017!

She reveals that the story will be in

 “‘the vein of ‘Star Wars’ and will tell of a boy’s ‘unlikely alliance’ with an enemy.”

I know that many of you are pumped for the upcoming movie release of Insurgent and now you have even more to be excited about!

Here’s the full article.

Report: YA in the UK, France

Written by Grant Goodman, 3/2/2015

Today I was wondering what the YA sales charts for Amazon look like in other countries.

I found the best seller page for teen Science Fiction and Fantasy on the Amazon US site, the Amazon UK site and the French site, too.

Let’s check out how they differ.

First, the US site:

028 image 1 US

It appears that people are really interested in finding out more about this mermaid’s sister. It’s a title I’m not familiar with…and, actually, I don’t recognize two, three, or four. Looks like I have some catching up to do.

My guess is that with the Insurgent movie only three weeks away, those books will all find their way into the top five.

Let’s look at what’s happening in the UK:

028 image 2 UK

It seems that in his native land, Harry Potter is still the king of YA literature. And it seems that they also have taken a shine to the mermaid and her sister. The Hunger Games is selling well and James Dashner has his Maze Runner finale in the top six. The UK site, however, also mixes in children’s books, which is why book number five seems very much out of place.

Finally, to France:

028 image 3 france

Suzanne Collins is dominating the charts, no question about it. In fifth place is Alain Grousset, a French sci-fi author with a novel about a boy who lives on a tower that is one hundred floors high. In sixth is Christian Grenier, whose book is about two warring clans: one that believes in screens while the other believes in reading and writing. (I hope both of these will make their way to American shelves!)

VIDEO: A Brief History of Young Adult Literature

EpicReads has posted this excellent video examining the roots of Young Adult (YA) literature and the influential titles that have popped up over the years.

The Outsiders by SE Hinton gets a special mention that it rightfully deserves: that book is just as meaningful to teens today as it was when it first came out.

Science-Fiction, Fantasy, and You

Written by Grant Goodman, 2/16/2015

Time travel. Rocket ships. Wizards. Dystopias.

You will meet many people in your life who look down on “those kinds of stories.” They are the serious types. They believe in their serious literature.

We can let them believe in that.

They can have their stories about sad people in sad cities. Because, honestly, we read those books, too. Every now and again, we need a palate cleanser, a waystone that lets us step back into our own world.

The deep truth is this: we like other worlds. We like worlds that don’t already exist.

Besides, the biggest milestones of human storytelling tend to be about magic and dystopias.

The Odyssey is full of witches and sea monsters and Cyclops. Beowulf fought a dragon. Shakespeare filled his plays with ghosts and wizards and prophecy. Mary Shelley brought the dead back to life. Jules Verne sent humanity to explore the moon long before John F. Kennedy was born.

Reading fantasy and science-fiction connects us to the roots of the world. The desires to explore and to escape and to imagine are built into us.

That’s why we need Suzanne Collins to send us into the arena. That’s why we need Darren Shan to show us the hidden world of vampires. That’s why Ray Bradbury once wrote, “I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”

So go ahead and dive into sci-fi and fantasy.

But don’t be afraid to dip your toes into realistic fiction, either. There’s excellence to be found there, too.

Lemony Snickett on Writing a Novel

Some of you out there are currently wading through National Novel Writing Month. One of my absolute favorite parts of this month is that the NaNoWriMo crew gets authors to write pep talks.

A few years ago, they had some guy named John Green. They’ve had pieces from Neil Gaiman, Brandon Sanderson, and Veronica Roth.

The best one I’ve ever read, however, came from Lemony Snicket. It’s full of biting snark and surprisingly touching wisdom about what books can mean to us.

Even if you’re not in the midst of attempting to write 50,000 words this month, I think you’ll find it inspirational.

Check it out by clicking here.

The Hero’s Journey (Monomyth) in YA

The Hero’s Journey (Monomyth) in YA

Written by Grant Goodman, 11/4/2014

The Hero’s Journey (also called Monomyth) is a story pattern that appears again and again in literature and film. You can find it featured prominently in The Odyssey, The Princess Bride, and The Lion King, just to name a few.

While there are many “official” steps, here are the basics of what you need to know:

  1. The hero is forced to leave home to seek out adventure/a new life.
  2. Our hero meets a mentor or receives supernatural aid.
  3. There are several small challenges the hero must conquer.
  4. The hero experiences death and rebirth (not always literally, though).
  5. The power/skills necessary to succeed are finally mastered by the hero.
  6. The key obstacle is overcome or defeated, leaving the hero free to live without fear.

Here’s an example for you, which is a spoilerific romp through a certain wizard story you may have heard of, called HARRY POTTER.

Harry is whisked away to Hogwarts, where he must learn to cope with being a celebrity and the pressures of wizard school. He finds himself mentored by a series of wizards: Hagrid, Dumbledore, Sirius. In book after book, Harry must confront the growing threat of an ever more powerful Lord Voldemort, until eventually he faces the fully revived wizard. Harry experiences death at the hands of Voldemort, though he comes back to life. Harry, having overcome death and becoming the master of the Elder Wand, is able to end Voldemort’s uprising. He has removed the world’s greatest threat and is therefore able to go on living his life.

There are several other prominent titles that follow this model. Suzanne Collins’ GREGOR THE OVERLANDER, Ursula Le Guin’s A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, and Christopher Paolini’s INHERITANCE CYCLE are a few more that come to mind.

The next time you’re making your way through a YA adventure novel, there’s a good chance you’re following one of the most widely used story patterns in human history.

Sci-Fi YA and the Changing Tide

Sci-Fi YA and the Changing Tide

Written by Grant Goodman, 10/28/2014

For the entirety of my teens, science-fiction was a term you simply didn’t say. It was social suicide. You were better off saying you were into picture books than sci-fi novels. Those were tough times.

For the record, I said it anyway. I found my tribe eventually and we had plenty of great times discussing ENDER’S GAME and DUNE.

But now, due to the rising trends of YA fiction, sci-fi is getting a new spin. As more teens dive into sci-fi novels like DIVERGENT or Marissa Meyer’s LUNAR CHRONICLES series, they grow up with a strong love of sci-fi.

What’s the appeal, then?

I’ve asked my students and the answers they provide tend to be along these lines:

1) They don’t know what their own futures are going to be like, so they like reading about other futures.

2) They love new technology. (Fairly obvious, right?)

3) They are beginning to understand politics and the fact that these dystopian settings are based on the idea of government gone wrong.

Science-fiction provides them with a strong “what if?” that is sometimes only one step away from the world they inhabit. Sometimes it casts them into deep space, sometimes they get to step sideways into an alternate version of Earth.

No matter what, it makes me incredibly happy to see so many sci-fi titles making it in the mainstream. I’ve always felt that science-fiction shows us that no matter how far we travel (distance or time), we can never escape human nature.

These tales force us to look at who we are and how we treat each other—and the more people who are reading them, the better.