Today’s wonderful guest post is by Stephanie Wilkes, a YA librarian with a passion for teens, good books, pizza, video games and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Stephanie Wilkes is the Young Adult Coordinator at Ouachita Parish Public Library in Louisiana. I love Stephanie’s recounting of her book club, and her idea about reaching the parents of teen readers. You can find Stephanie on Twitter at @stephaniewilkes
Last night I met with my Adult Book Club. Now, as a young adult librarian, when it is my turn to select our monthly book, I ALWAYS pick a YA book…to get them out of their comfort zone. Over the years, we’ve read The Hunger Games, Shiver, and Bloody Jack. This month, I chose Hate List by Jennifer Brown. I never anticipated that the discussion would be as beautiful as it was, but when everyone left the room and I was alone in my office, I had tears in my eyes. For the first time, I had connected with adults about the truth in young adult fiction.
One of the first responses I received when asking if they liked the book was that they didn’t understand why the books were so dark and they were concerned that it glamorized certain behaviors with teens. After this summer’s debate with Meghan Cox Gurdon and the outpouring of YA writers to support these types of materials, we had a serious discussion about the history of young adult literature and where we are today. Obviously, sharing my passion about young adult books is something I do on a daily basis, but I even surprised myself about how knowledgeable I felt when discussing ‘problem’ novels.
As we discussed the book, one of the attendees mentioned that she read the book with her daughter, as the book was on her daughter’s required reading for her high school over the summer. She mentioned that she and her daughter were able to sit down and discuss some of themes in the book together and how enjoyable it was to talk to her daughter, refreshing to hear her voice an opinion of her own, and how it brought the two closer together. Why did it bring them closer together? Not because of the discussion of school violence but because of the discussion of the relationship between Valerie, the main character, and her boyfriend Nick. She stated that she sat and talked about destructive behavior in relationships and about how it can be hard for girls AND guys to see that the decisions they are making have a domino effect on others. I was floored. Every discussion I have with teens about this book is about the shooting…we never discuss Valerie and Nick’s relationship.
Which brings me to my musing and my new idea… After much thought, I have decided that while doing the daily duties of a young adult librarian brings teens closer to books, maybe I should change focus for a short time and target the PARENTS. This seems crazy but after talking to several parents, they’ve actually loved the idea of having a book club for them in which they read YA books, either with or without their kids. Some of them wanted to discuss how sexy Edward was in Twilight and how some of them, and I unfortunately quote, ‘found Edward and Bella’s honeymoon scene more erotic than a Harlequin novel’, and they wanted to have this discussion with other adults so that they wouldn’t feel so creepy. Some of them want to read more books like Hate List and discuss serious topics in an open forum way with their kids.
As young adult librarians, we focus so much on teens that I think we may have missed an opportunity promoting to parents that would do several key things: 1) facilitate discussion amongst teens and adults; 2) allow adults to indulge and learn more about young adult fiction; and 3) open the door for adults to embrace this new generation and to understand their dilemmas. One of my adults argued that she didn’t think that things were as bad now as they were in the 1960s when she was a teenager and was immediately reprimanded by another adult who said that it was always bad, but they just chose to forget.
It’s time to remind the adults what it is like and to teach them how to talk and relate to teenagers. I think that only then can we begin to unite together and (sappy I know…) make this world a beautiful place.