Keeping It Real: The Grittiness of Contemporary YA

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THE SHORES OF young adult literature feel the impact of many waves, especially when it comes to fiction. Even a casual observer of the ever-shifting YA scene can probably identify several of the more recent swells, including sci-fi, zombies, vampires, werewolves, wand-wielding witches and wizards, and dystopian futures displaying differing shades of darkness and hope. So, with all of these otherworldly genres garnering massive attention, what is the current state of realistic YA fiction?

Realism is still the bedrock of YA literature. Many writers in the field believe that there can be no greater goal than accurately portraying the lives of young adults and their relationships in society. I first fell in love with realism riding that raft with Huck and Jim in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the only book in high school I think I actually read. Years later, Steinbeck kept me glued to the page with his realistic and earthy dialogue in The Grapes of Wrath. For the six years I taught teens on New York City’s Rikers Island (the world’s biggest jail), I was often reminded of the cops who watched over Steinbeck’s migrant camps and dusty state borders. I’d share those scenes with the teen inmates I taught. Despite the plains of 1930s Oklahoma being a universe away, they almost always found a connection to their own lives. Read more

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