Thursday, September 26, 2013

Past & Present Southern Voices of YA Literature

In November, I will be on a panel at the ALAN Conference called, "Past and Present Southern Voices of YA Literature." Other panel members are Alan Gratz, Beth Revis, and Myra McEntire. The panel will be moderated by Professor Joan Kaywell from the University of South Florida.

Dr. Kaywell says that the first Southern author of YA Literature is Sue Ellen Bridgers. As part of my conference prep, I just read Sue Ellen's book ALL TOGETHER NOW, published by Knopf in 1979. I enjoyed this book very much. Its many honors include: The Christopher Award, Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book, National Book Award Finalist, ALA Best Books for Young Adults, and an ALA Notable Book.

Reading ALL TOGETHER NOW caused me to reflect on how YA Literature has changed. The book is written in third person, and the grownups don't take a backseat. Twelve-year-old Casey Flanagan goes to stay with her grandparents for the summer because her dad is a pilot in the Korean War. There is a subplot that deals with the romance and wedding of a fifty-year-old couple. Ms. Bridgers even writes a chapter devoted to their ill-fated honeymoon with nary a teenager in sight.

I really came to care about all of the characters in the book, the grownups, as well as Casey herself. My one conundrum is classifying this novel as YA. I can't think of a recently published YA book in which the grownups play more than a nominal part. After reading ALL TOGETHER NOW, I'm not sure that's a good thing. Maybe we're underestimating teens by not providing a more realistic portrayal of family life. What do you think?

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