Why Young Adult Books Matter

Thursday, August 12, 2010

kid, books, bookshelf (flickr: Ozyman)

The books we read as adolescents can have a huge influence on our lives. We talk about the ones that matter to us and the evolution of the young adult novel over the years with Essence senior editor Patrik Henry Bass and S.E. Hinton, legendary author of such young adult classics as "The Outsiders," "Tex," and "Rumble Fish."

And we're asking you, What was the first book that changed your life? What book do you remember most from your youth? Let us know.


SE Hinton

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer


Patrik Henry Bass

Comments [23]

Sandra Teague Chaudoin from LaGrange, Georgia

Although I was always reading something --remember those blue and orange biographies with silouettes?--I had never read a book of any length until I was in junior high school. Then my eighth-grade English teacher, Sarah McGowan, told me to go in the "closet library" and find a thick book. I searched and searched until I found one with a boy and a fawn on the cover. THE YEARLING changed the type of book I read forever!! I loved that story and laughed and cried! I realized that characterization is so important to any book; Jody and Flag and Fodderwing were real to me. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings made me realize that great books have wonderful characters.

Aug. 13 2010 05:43 PM
Kathleen O'Quinn Jacobs from Georgia

My 10th grade Geometry teacher (Mr. Lofton) recommended FLATLAND by Edwin A. Abbott to me. It was so much fun and does a great job describing a society based on a strict caste system.

Aug. 13 2010 10:09 AM
Ella from Portland, ME

The Little House on the Prairie series (Laura Ingalls Wilder) was a favorite of mine. Every Christmas I would get a new book in the series and couldn't wait to read it! These early books have led to my life long love of reading historical novels or nonfiction, bringing different historical periods to life.

Aug. 13 2010 08:29 AM
Jayne from Canton, MI

I have read voraciously my whole life. The books I recall loving as a young teen were "Mrs. Mike" by Nancy and Benedict Freedman, and "A Separate Peace" by John Knowles. I don't know if either of them are even classed as youth fiction.
The wonderful book I re-read last week IS youth fiction; it's called The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. It's outstanding.
And the first book to change the way I looked at the world was Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand; I read it at 19.

Aug. 12 2010 10:39 PM
jena from South Carolina

I'm going way back, but all of the Dr. Suess books changed my life. They gave me a lifelong appreciation of playfulness with words. I quote "I will not eat it Sam I Am!", whenever I am resisting change in my life. My favorite aunt and uncle read those books to me, and when they laughed themselves silly reading them, I realized we were on to something.

Aug. 12 2010 09:37 PM
Miriam from New Jersey

When I was a sophomore in high school, we were assigned "Billy Budd" by Herman Melville. I raced through it, didn't think much of it. Then I went to see the movie with Peter Ustinov, Terence Stamp and Robert Ryan and was blown away. I went home and re-read Billy Budd and was even more blown away. That year in the same class we read the abridged version of Moby Dick. By then I was hooked and decided to read the unabridged version which I loved. I've read the complete Moby Dick at least 3 times--and I actually like the parts about whaling (although I sympathize with the whales). I became a life-long Melville fan. I find Melville's writing powerful and his creation of a long-past world fascinating.

Aug. 12 2010 01:20 PM
Karen from Norfolk, MS

I read Black Like Me and became a lifelong liberal.

Aug. 12 2010 10:53 AM
Linda Pardo from New Jersey

Growing up gay in the 70's I'd have to say Rita Mae Browns "Rubyfruit Jungle" changed my life..

Aug. 12 2010 10:28 AM
Walter Sallenger from Florence SC

"A Wrinkle In Time" by L'Engle was an awakening for me, a bridge into adult lit. It led directly to my love of the sci-fi section at the library. "Wrinkle" is noteworthy for being an early example of a strong female protagonist, but it works for all readers. A later L'ngle book, "Other Side of the Sun" is worth a look from grown up fans.

Aug. 12 2010 10:18 AM
Jonah from Martha's Vineyard

The Painted Bird was handed to me by a friend of my mothers when I was about to turn 12. The circumstance was that my father had left the country with half the family and we were hiding in central Maine, mom fearing that we too would be taken away. The story allowed me to see that my circumstance was not as bad as it could be, no one was trying to kill us all... it was a way to globalize the experience.
One of the things I think are remarkable about this book is it's murky origin. The Jerzy Kosiński work was exceptionally explicit, erotic and violent, everything was thrown into question, no doubt too much for a child to handle, however in crisis family torn across continents and in hiding it was somehow comforting. I don't think my mother knew what her friend had given me. It may be that her friend had no idea either, but at the same time it gave me a certain kind of strength during a difficult time.

Aug. 12 2010 10:11 AM
Mike C from Miami

The Sea Wolf

The Richest Man in Babylon

Both are required reading in my home. All 4 of my children loved The Sea Wolf and learned from Babylon

For just pure fun Treasure Island of course!

Aug. 12 2010 09:52 AM
Tim from Aiken SC

Disclosure by Michael Crichton. Read this classic while in middle school and was blown away at the behind the door power struggles of the preverbial office.

Aug. 12 2010 09:48 AM
Susan from Boston

I first read John Steinbeck's East of Eden when I was 17 years old. When Samuel Hamilton dies, I actually went into mourning and couldn't return to the book for about a week. I was so devastated. What a great book...and Grapes of Wrath was spectacular as well...

Aug. 12 2010 09:47 AM
Kim from Long Beach, NY

I was always a voracious reader but nothing changed my life more than reading "Romeo & Juliet" in ninth grade. I remember vividly how the light/dark imagery felt magical when I read it. Now I teach "Romeo & Juliet" to gifted sixth graders at Scholars' Academy in Far Rockaway. Who knew that particular moment would have such a profound effect in my life?

Aug. 12 2010 09:45 AM
Tamara from Brooklyn, NY

the classic of all time!!!! has not been mentioned on the air yet.....it's still one of my all time favorites, and it just celebrated it's 50th anniversary: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee. I'm in my fifties, I first read this book as my own choice, before it was ever assigned to me at school, and loved it....I got loset in the little town in the south and in Scout's life....and swept away by the trial. I've re read it many times, and every time I read it, I discover another perspective, wrinkle and detail not noticed before. It's a book for all ages.

Aug. 12 2010 09:45 AM

The book that most affected me as a teenager was "The Autobiography of Malcolm X." My upbringing had been sheltered and privileged; this book opened my eyes.


Aug. 12 2010 09:44 AM
chinitafuriosa from Pittsburgh

I read Pride & Prejudice and A Tale of Two Cities as a 15 year old- and I couldn't put either of them down.
I also read Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts which I loved and read over and over.

Aug. 12 2010 09:42 AM

George Owell's 1984. Helped me learn early that Big Brother is always watching.

Aug. 12 2010 09:41 AM

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engel

Aug. 12 2010 09:36 AM
rbutcher from elmira ny

Jack London by far the most influential writer in my life. Mans struggle within himself,nature, and humankind.

Aug. 12 2010 09:27 AM
Paul Ramirez from Yonkers, NY

As a teenager, I had always read well. However I did not enjoy reading until I entered the Science Fiction genre. My first notable book was "The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury" It brought me into a world of imagination and wonder that I have never forgotten. In my 2nd career, I have become a Social Studies teacher and now assign a summer reading list that includes old classics such as "All Quiet on the Western Front" and "the Jungle" and new favorites such as "Riot" by Walter Dean Meyer and "Number the Stars" by Lois Lowery. Historical fiction allows my students to enter a world that has long past in a manner that class lecture and History texts cannot provide.

Aug. 12 2010 07:12 AM
Justine from Manhattan

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes inspired me. Johnny, a silversmith apprentice during American Revolution, was living in diminished circumstances but was stalwart and persevered. I felt encouraged by his dignity and spirit. The writing thoroughly engaged me and I think helped cultivate my love of history.

Aug. 12 2010 07:03 AM
Cathy George from Yantai, China

The first book that really affected me was "The Witch of Blackbird Pond". I found a copy 30 years later in a yard sale and read it again. It was just as moving as the first time I read it.

Aug. 11 2010 08:36 PM

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