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mahy-memoryI’m at home today reading and re-reading books the Magazine loved this year, in preparation for our final Fanfare meeting next week where we will determine that these, yes these, are the very best books of 2015.

And without giving anything away I want to comment (again!) on just how different the young adult literature of today is from that published when I was a YA and children’s librarian in the 1980s. The biggest difference, of course is that it is intended for high-schoolers, where in the 80s YA mostly meant twelve-year-olds. I remember the first “14 and up” designation I saw on a book, Margaret Mahy’s mysterious and alluring The Catalogue of the Universe, published in 1986. YA librarians of that era bought mainly adult books for their high-school patrons, a generous invitation to the world of adult reading. (Check out YALSA’s annual Alex Awards list of great adult books for young people.)

Margaret Mahy was a wonderful and consistent exception to just about everything, and her YA novels of that era–CatalogueThe ChangeoverThe TrickstersMemory–were not just for older teens but were for more adept and sophisticated readers than YA publishing until then assumed it spoke to. But while I worry that YA today sometimes gets ahead of itself, reaching toward an adult audience with only a glance at sixteen-year-olds and forget it, middle-school, the writing itself has gotten far more interesting: complex, challenging, and simply nervier all around. Back in the 70s and 80s, YA authors took plenty of risks in subject matter even while the writing itself remained mostly conventional. But that’s certainly not what I’m seeing in what I’m reading today. Granted, the half-dozen books I have to get through before Monday are themselves already separated from the herd, and granted that you can still find plenty of formula in YA publishing (it’s a different formula from the 80s, but still), but at this minute I am feeling very proud of all you YA writers and editors and publishers. As Tim says, carry on!

Back to my reading. And congratulations to one of this era’s great YA writers, Neal Shusterman, for winning the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature last night for Challenger Deep.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. My most hands-on time as a children’s and y.a. librarian was also in the 70’s and 80’s but my experience of y.a. literature and our y.a. collection was really different. Such titles as Goldengrove, Ash Road, After the First Death, Red Shift didn’t seem aimed at twelve year olds. My efforts to get them into the hands of sixteen year olds were not uniformly successful (!) but it sure felt like a period of innovation, both in subject and in form.

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