Adult books for young adult readers are books that are written and marketed for adults but have an appeal to a teen audience. We often talk about what makes a teen book a ‘teen book’ the list of often cited characteristics includes: stories with young adult protagonists, subject matter and story lines that teens can relate to and stories about transition and outsiders. Young adult fiction often reflects the angst and challenges of youth and often incorporates edgy content. Adult books that appeal to young adult readers will have some if not all of these characteristics. YA stories can span all the genres of fiction and the same can be said for Adult books for teens.
Compiling lists of adult books that appeal to teen readers is important for many reasons. Margaret Alexander Edwards (Cater, 2002), a pioneer of young adult librarianship in Baltimore, Maryland, cited two important reasons for why she thought librarians should recommend adult books to teens. The first reason was that they bridged the gap between teen books and adult books. By selecting the right books Edwards thought she could foster as much enthusiasm in adult books as her students had in teen books. The second reason was that high school librarians may not select adult books, especially controversial titles, without the “tacit approval of the American Library Association” (2002). It should be noted here that Edwards started out as a librarian in the 1930’s. At that time the sophistication and sheer volume of young adult-centered fiction was not yet what it is today. However, Carter (2002) maintains that even today lists of adult books for teens are important for fostering enthusiasm in adult literature. I agree with this assessment. Carter (1997) also says that it is important for a youth librarian to know the differences between adult and young adult books and make appropriate suggestions when doing reader’s advisory. After all, young adult readers are reading adult books; young adult librarians should be prepared to suggest others they might enjoy. I think it is important to have a list of adult non-fiction books to recommend to teen readers as well. The number of non-fiction books written for young adults has been increasing however; most of the books used by high school students for curriculum based projects are aimed at an adult audience.
To highlight the importance of recognizing and recommending adult books for teens, the Alex Awards were created in 1998. The Alex Awards are presented to ten titles annually in both fiction and non-fiction categories. The Alex Awards are named after Margaret Alexander Edwards and are funded by the Margaret Alexander Edwards Trust. When she died in 1988 she left the trust to be used for an “experiment with ways to promote young adult reading” (Carter, 2002).
The titles are selected by the YALSA Adult Books for Young Adults Task Force based on a list of criteria. The Task Force in charge of selection decided there would be a greater variety with more balance between fiction and non-fiction and the various genres if there were ten winners (ALA, 2009). Titles must be published in the calendar year prior to the announcement, must come from a publisher’s adult list, selected from genres that have special appeal to young adults, are potentially appealing to teenagers and are well written and very readable. Works of joint authorship or editorship are eligible as are books published in other countries in English or in the United States in translation (ALA, 2009).
The 2009 winners of the Alex Awards are:
City of Thieves, by David Benioff
The Dragons of Babel, by Michael Swanwick,
Finding Nouf, by Zoë Ferraris
The Good Thief, by Hannah Tinti,
Just After Sunset: Stories, by Stephen King,
Mudbound, by Hillary Jordan
Over and Under, by Todd Tucker
The Oxford Project, by Stephen G. Bloom
Sharp Teeth, by Toby Barlow
Three Girls and Their Brother, by Theresa Rebeck
These books appeal to teens for a variety of reasons and they come from a variety of genres. Most of the fiction titles have a teenage protagonist. For example, City of Thieves is about two teenage boys, Finding Nouf is about a sixteen year old girl who is murdered and Over and Under is about two fourteen year old boys. These books also keep within the definitions of YA literature in the subject matter and story lines. These books are about friendship, misfits, adventure and success in the face of adversity. These titles also display the requisite edgy content. City of Thieves has cannibals, murderers, prostitutes, and assassins, Just After Sunset: Stories is a collection of vulgar stories and Sharp Teeth is a about drugs and gangs, sex… oh yeah, and vampires!
As you can see these books although written and marketed for adults have strong appeal for a young adult audience. As an interesting note, YALSA also has a list of books that are young adult books that could be adult: these include Dangerous Angels by Francesca Block, America: A Novel by ER Frank, and The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (YALSA, 2009).
Here are the different lists adult books with appeal to young adult readers that I found. Happy Hunting!
Booklist recommends adult books suitable for teen readers in every issue. Books are marked in three categories: YA (for general readers), YA/M (for mature YA readers), YA/L (for limited or special readers), or YA/C (indicates the book has special curriculum value) (Carter, 1997). Booklist also prints the annual Alex awards for National Library Week (YALSA, 2009). School Library Journal has a section called adult books for high school students, Resource Links, a Canadian journal, also has lists of adult books for young adult readers. Finally, Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) publishes 3 useful lists annually: Clueless? (Adult mysteries), The Best SF, Fantasy and Horror and The Best Adult Nonfiction For High School Libraries.
American Library Association (ALA) (2009). ALA | Alex Awards policies and procedures. Retrieved February 17, 2009 from http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsa/booklistsawards/alexawards/alexawardpolicie s.cfm
Cart, M. Young adult literature comes of age. In Pavonetti, L.M. (ed) Children’s literature remembered: Issues, trends and favorite books. Westport, Connecticut: Libraries Unlimited.
Carter, B. The Alex Awards: Introduction and list in: Edwards, M.A. (2002) The fair garden and the swarm of beasts: The library and the young adult. Chicago: American Library Association.
Carter, B. (1997). Adult books for young adults. The English Journal, 86(3). 63-67.
Engberg, G. Choosing adult romances for teens. Booklist 101(2). P 237.
Mackey, M. et al (2006). Adult Canadian Books for Strong Teenage Readers. Retrieved February 17, 2009 from http://www.ualberta.ca/~mmackey/adultbooklist.pdf
Mooney, B. (2002). Writing through the ages. Retrieved February 17, 2009 from http://www.belmooney.co.uk/journalism/writing_ages.html
Thompson, J. (2005). Crossover Books. Retrieved February 17, 2009 from http://ccb.lis.illinois.edu/Projects/yalit/jsthomps/home.htm
Wakenshaw, H. (n.d.) Crossover Books in American Book Centre (n.d.) American Book Centre. Retrieved February 17, 2009 from http://www.abc.nl/news/index.php?nldate=1&nlid=1
Young Adult Library Services Association (2006). YALSA 2006 President’s Program “How Adult is Young Adult: The Sequel”. Retrieved on February 17, 2009 from http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsaPresProgramyaasadulthandout.pdf