There’s been a lot of hubbub on Twitter and in young adult blogging circles about Megan Cox Gurdon’s article on WSJ.com about the darkness in current young adult literature. This post ISN’T about Gurdon’s article, and it isn’t my response to it (if you’re looking to read more about the controversy, check out Leila’s extensive round-up of responses at bookshelves of doom). Suffice to say, I disagree strongly with most of the things Cox Gurdon said. Instead, this post IS about young adult literature that’s light, fun and appropriate for kids who aren’t ready for or interested in the darker stuff. I have parents and young teens in my library asking about that kind of book all the time, so I thought a list of my favorite might be helpful! (because contrary to what Cox Gurdon implies, there’s lots of “clean” YA out there!) I call this genre “gentle YA,” a term I borrowed from someone on the internet who’s cleverer than me. I forget who, exactly. These books don’t deal with sex, drugs, abuse, violence, or other heavy topics.
The Princess Diaries and sequels by Meg Cabot
This is a pretty well-known series (thanks, Anne Hathaway!), but it’s popular for a reason! It’s funny and cheerful, and it captures the awkward indignities of adolescence while indulging plenty of princess fantasies. Plus, it’s a long series – there are almost 20 books in it now – so it’s great for voracious young readers.
Heist Society and the Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter
Carter’s Gallagher girls series (four books out now, with a fifth coming in 2012) revolves around Cammie, a student at the prestigious and top-secret Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women. To the outside world, it’s a fancy private school, but the girls inside aren’t busy with regular high school activities; they’re spies-in-training. The series follows Cammie and her friends as they navigate two dangerous and volatile worlds: the world of international espionage and adolescence. It’s a light, occasionally over-the-top series, but Cammie’s voice, her relationships with her friends, and her struggle to figure out the mysterious opposite sex make it a hit with teenage girls.
Heist Society is Carter’s take on the world of art thieves, and it has the same wry sense of humor as the Gallagher girls. The teenage protagonist, Katerina Bishop, has sworn off theft and cons, abandoning the family business for a fancy (and quiet) prep school. But she’s only been there three months when she’s falsely blamed for an incident that left the headmaster’s car sitting on top of the school fountain. Soon her old friend (and accomplice) Hale reappears, bringing news that will force Kat back into the glamourous, dangerous world of art theft whether she wants to go back or not.
As Easy As Falling of the Face of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins
Finally, a book about a boy! Fifteen year-old Ryan is on his way to archeology camp when he steps off the train, trying to get a better cell signal. The train is supposed to be stopped for over 40 minutes, but when he turns his back, it leaves without him, and Ryan is stranded in the middle of nowhere with nothing but his cell phone (and still no signal). Will he make it home? His unexpected journey unites him with a cast of quirky characters and takes him all over the country by truck, plane, and boat. Two side stories follow Ryan’s injured grandfather and the family dogs as all of the characters try figure out the best way to get home.
Dairy Queen and sequels by Catherine Murdock
When fifteen year-old D.J.’s dad gets injured, D.J. has to take over many of the duties on her family’s dairy farm in Red Bend, Wisconsin. If that weren’t enough, she agrees to help train Brian, the quarterback from the rival high school’s football team. After all, with two brothers playing college football, she’s picked up quite a bit about the game – and it’s a great escape from a home life that’s more than a little uncomfortable. A funny, charming coming-of-age story with just a hint of romance.
Edit: a friend of mine, soon to be an awesome teen librarian, warns in the comments that the second book in this series isn’t as light as the first, although it is ultimately uplifting and deals with serious issues in a positive way. See her comments for more details.