Young Adult Fiction Grows Up

High up on my Top 10 unrealistic fears list is that whole “You’re stuck on a desert island and you can only bring one _____” idea. Usually it’s posed as a question in social situations, a way to get to know people you’ve recently met. Which is fine and dandy, just please don’t tell me I can only bring one book on this desert island excursion.

I love a good series. I’m the type of person who gets so entangled with a book’s characters that I want to know what their favorite colors are, where they like to hang out, what they do on weekends. I don’t want just a glimpse into the life of a character for 300 pages. I want to know what happens after, what happens later, what happens next.

When I was actually in the age group that Young Adult Fiction is intended for, 13-18 roughly, my 3 favorite authors were (are!) Meg Cabot, Ann Brashares, and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and their respective series of The Princess Diaries, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and The Alice Series. Published on a more-or-less yearly schedule, I would head to my local Barnes and Noble on the anticipated release date and carefully select the freshest copy of the latest novel from my YA author friends. I would go home, lock myself in my bedroom, and emerge 3-4 hours later, slightly hungover from my binge-reading session. I have a tendency to devour good books, and these were good books.

Sure, Meg Cabot and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor had other books and series in print at the time, and I would happily pick those up at the library to tide me over between additions. However, there was something special about these particularly 3 series- mostly that their heroines were roughly my same age, and due to the yearly publishing pace, we got to grow up together.

All good things must come to an end though, and there is nothing like the sadness of getting to the last page of the last book in a series. It’s a trend in the YA community to publish trilogies, something that has only increased in popularity. Usually though, the trilogy takes place over a shorter time period- one continuous year or so, and the feeling of finishing a trilogy is more akin to finishing one really, really long book. Finishing a series that has aged with you is like saying goodbye to your friends at the end of high school- your lives are going to change now, and you aren’t sure if you’ll be as close any more. Welcome to the real world and the harsh reality of what will now be sold to you as “Chick Lit”, most of which is junk. #SadButTrue.

Except… What if your favorite authors loved their readers just as much as their readers loved their characters? What if your favorite authors decided to tell you what happens after, what happens later, what happens next?

These 3 particular authors did just that for their series. It’s like a present I didn’t even know I wanted, but can’t imagine not having now that it’s here.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants: Ann Brashares

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is a series of 4 books that center on the friendship of 4 friends, Lena, Tibby, Carmen, and Bridget. They find a pair of magical pants at a thrift store that fit all of them despite their body type differences (the pants are magic, remember?) and they send them to each other along with letters as they spend their first summers away from each other. The series begins the summer before sophomore year of high school and book 4 ends the series with the summer before sophomore year of college. The fourth book was published in 2007, and while the series felt complete, is it ever complete when you’ve come to know characters well?

In 2011, Brashares published a 5th book- Sisterhood Everlasting that picks up 10 years later. Not to give any spoilers, but the basic premise of the book is incredibly sad, but also incredibly realistic. Throughout the first 4 books, Brashares dealt with how friendship grows and changes, and in this “bonus” book, she doesn’t shy away from that, instead choosing to lead her readers through the unthinkable-what if friendship doesn’t last forever? Can it be found again? It’s everything that Brashares’ original fans, now also adults, could hope for.

A new movie is in the works based on Sisterhood Everlasting and will star the original cast (friends in real life!). Hopefully because they aren’t trying to cram 4 books into 2 movies this time, it will be better than originals, released in 2005 and 2008.

The Alice Series: Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

The Agony of Alice was actually published in 1985, 4 years before I was born. Despite this, by the time it was given to me by my librarian friend when I was in 5th grade, it was still very relevant and exceedingly relatable. I inhaled the 10 or so following books already in print pretty quickly and set about waiting patiently each year for a new one…for the next 15 years. Yep. There are a whopping 25 books in the Alice series, plus 3 prequels written in the early 2000s. The story is really simple- Alice is a young girl living with her dad and older brother following the death of her mother from cancer. They move to a new house and a new school district right in time for Alice to start dreaded middle school. There’s no magic, no epic battles (unless you count middle school/high school, which I do!), and nothing particularly out of the ordinary, yet the books are so readable because you’re either going through something similar or have been there before, whether it’s being awkward at a party, going on your first date, etc. Strangely, these books are on most Top 20 banned book lists, right up there with Queen Judy Blume for their frank depictions of growing-up-as-a-teenage-girl. Some people call this “thematic elements”, but most young girls call it “life,” so we need a character like Alice to make it all ok. Naylor hinted for the last 2 or 3 book tours that the end was near- she is 82 now and deserves a break seeing as Alice is only 1 of her dozens of characters and series. I was worried to read the last book, with it’s promise of telling me the story of the rest of Alice’s life from age 18 to 60, but I was not disappointed. Did I wish each year could have been a stand-alone book? Of course, but that’s only proof of the incredible character Naylor made and her ability to connect to her readers.

Disney Channel made a TV Alice movie once. I only watched 5 minutes of it before realizing it was not really a good depiction of the story I loved. Oh well! The books are always better aren’t they?

The Princess Diaries: Meg Cabot

The idea to write this post actually came from the fact that I made a pilgrimage to Barnes and Noble yesterday (my first in a long time-did you know they barely sell books any more?) to pick up Royal Wedding, Cabot’s Princess Diaries now-the-heroine’s-a-grown-up book. I originally picked up the first 2 PD books way back in 2001 prior to the release of the feature film starring Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway. I like to read the book before seeing the movie, it’s just my style. Full disclosure: I love the movie, but I love the books more, and the 2 are absolutely nothing alike. They only seem to share a bare-bones basic outline, with Movie #2 coming out of nowhere (none of that was in a book, ever). There are 10 PD books, again each released steadily from 2001 to 2009. Meg Cabot also had the bright idea to write a number of companion books, which are short and adorable and are the reason I am so good at writing thank you notes (See Princess Lessons 2003). She even wrote a romance novel as Mia- in the PD books, Mia wants to be a writer and has a book published…and so the “actual” book was published concurrently with that PD book. Amazing marketing skills, that Meg Cabot. The 10th book, again, wraps things up nicely and seems final with Mia graduating high school and moving on to college to pursue that writing career. But there can always be more… I haven’t finished the new one yet, but having been convinced over the better part of a decade that Cabot can do no wrong, I trust that this new story will be a welcome addition to my collection.

 

Is there a book or series that you have always loved and wanted to know what happens next? Did your author write a “bonus” book that gave you some answers? Are you familiar with the above books? Want to have a total fan-girl chat about it with me? Leave a comment here or on Facebook!

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