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Trends in Teen Reading for 2013

An Interview With YALSA President Jack Martin

By

YALSA President Jack Martin

YALSA President Jack Martin

American Library Association

Every year for the past few years, Children's Books Guide Elizabeth Kennedy has been interviewing the president of the Young Adult Library Services Association (part of the American Library Association) about trends in teen reading for the coming year. This year, since Young Adult Books is now a separate site, the honour of interviewing current YALSA President Jack Martin fell to me.

My questions are in bold type below, and Martin's answers are in regular type. Resources related to each question are included as links and enclosed in square brackets. If you want to know about the trends from the past year, see Elizabeth's interview from 2012.

1. What are some of the ongoing trends for young adult books? Is the vampire craze finally dying down? What's next?

It seems like dystopian romances are still on the rise as well as alternate histories and even retellings of fairy tales. The vampire craze will probably never really die down, but we probably won't see the level of hype that we've seen in the past few years. Manga is also still huge with teens everywhere.

[Further reading: Dark Fantasy Books For Teens Who Love Twilight | Urban Fantasy Books for Teens]

2. YA as a category spans many genres. Are there any that are becoming more popular recently? Any that appear to be declining in popularity?

Again, dystopian and supernatural romances are still pretty big. Angels were a passing fancy. Zombies are still pretty popular.

[Further reading: Dystopian Books for Teens | Steampunk Books for Teens]

3. A recent topic on book blogs and in the news has been the fact that many adults are reading YA, and not just parents reading along with their kids, but people who just like the books. I know that within the fantasy genre, where I've spent most of my time, readers were simply fantasy fans and would check both the adult and teen sections for their favorite authors, but it seems to be a new phenomenon in other genres. Do you think this increase in (or increased awareness of) adult readers has had any effect on what YA gets written, published, or promoted?

I definitely think that publishers are marketing YA titles to adults more regularly in the past few years. One of the first examples of this was the paperback version of John Green's Paper Towns, which had a very adult cover of a thumbtack on a map. In terms of deciding what gets published or not, I'm sure publishers are always on the lookout for a NY Times Bestseller, so if they come across a manuscript that's good and can cross over readerships then I'm sure that influences what gets published.

4. YA covers a fairly large range of ages. Are there any differences between what teens on the younger end of the spectrum have been reading versus those on the older end?

It's hard to tell, because a reader's age in years is different from their mental age. You might come across some 15-year-olds who are reading at a 5th-6th grade level or an 11-year-old who's reading titles published for the adult market. That said, there are definitely titles that are geared towards the younger end of YA and middle school, such as the Vladimir Tod series.

5. It looks like YA fiction is one area that is flourishing in publishing. Does this mean teens are reading more?

It's really a chicken or the egg question. I think there's lots more awareness of the teen publishing market because of the blockbuster titles that have come out in the past. So one can probably assume that those titles have reached more teens because of the buzz. That said, I think we also have to look at what we mean when we use the term "read," because it has a much broader reach than just titles that are published for teens. Teens are reading every day -- whether it's for school, for pleasure or online -- and lots of it happens outside of the realm of the publishing world. Teens are microblogging, reading fanfiction online, reading the news . . . you name it.

6. Many of my readers are parents. Do you have any suggestions for them when choosing books to give their teens? Or for getting them to read in the first place?

Ask your teens what they're interested in, and go from there. Maybe it's sports, romance, supernatural or mysteries. Or ask your teen what was the last good book they read. Or speak to your teen librarian in your school or public library. They'll have some great recommendations.

[Further reading: Books for Reluctant Teen Readers]

7. There's a perception that it's harder to get teen boys to read than teen girls. Does this fit with your experience?

Not really. Teen librarians are trained to reach all sorts of audiences, and our reading recommendation tactics -- if done correctly -- can and should hit all audiences. I've convinced middle school boys to read the girliest romances and high school girls to read sports nonfiction. It's really about breaking our own perceptions and assumptions about what we think boys and girls like to read.

[Further reading: Summer Reading List for Teen Boys | Summer Reading List for Teen Girls]

8. There also seems to be the idea floating around that boys read different kinds of books than girls, that there are distinct "boy's books" and "girl's books." This seems to be reflected in the way many books are marketed, but does it have any basis in how teens actually read?

Again, it's all about the approach. Different readers have different interests, and to make assumptions about what a reader is interested in because of their sex is a mistake. That said, the teen publishing world (and I'd be curious to see the actual figures) puts out huge numbers of titles geared towards a female readership. I've been at publishing previews where the books written with female protagonists outweighs books with boy protagonist 9 out of 10 times. Ditto for books with characters of color or written by characters of color. So the publishing market has definitely fallen into a rut, and they're missing out on drawing new readers.

[Further reading: 5 Favorite Books for Teen Boys | 10 Popular Books for Teen Boys | Modern Fairy Tales for Teen Girls]

9. Just as many adults read YA, many teens read adult books. What are some good resources for suitable adult books for teens (or books to avoid, for that matter)?

YALSA’s ALEX Award Winners are awesome pics from the adult market for teens. There are 10 different winners every year. You can find those lists at www.ala.org/yalsa.

[Further reading: Adult Books for Teens]

10. Voracious readers often read above their recommended reading level, so plenty of middle grade readers are tackling YA books, too. Do you have any suggestions for choosing YA for younger readers?

Again, it's about knowing what your reader is interested in and what level they're reading at. I often give new readers a stack of 5-10 reading recommendations and tell them to have a seat. Read through the flaps and first pages of text. They can check out the ones they like the best, and leave the others behind. Giving them plenty of choices is the most important step.

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