Summer reading: Good books for young adults

Young adult fiction may be dirtier than you think. According to a new study by Brigham Young University professor Sarah Coyne, teen novels contain an average of 38 instances of profanity. We’ll be talking more about this study at 11 a.m. tomorrow.

Coyne suggests using a rating system for YA books, similar to the system used to rate movies or video games. But until that’s implemented: What YA books do you recommend? Which popular books do you consider inappropriate for teens and young adults?

Leave your suggestions in the comments and we might mention them on air Wednesday.

-Alex DiPalma, assistant producer

  • Dick

    Could we agree on a definition of young adult. Also, what is “to much”. Teens are already exposed to profanity daily via media, and most likely in the school environment. I wonder if screening out profanity would strike teens as inauthentic/unrealistic. I generally oppose censoring any reading materials but would like to hear the views of others, especially if they are based on some type of valid research.

  • Stephanie
  • Chuck

    Markus Zusak: “I Am the Messenger,” “The Book Thief.” Sherman Alexie: “Reservation Blues.”

    My daughter is in 9th-grade Lang Arts; her class reads plenty of books that could be considered controversial (language, sexual situations, violence, etc.). When I see these books, I will often get in touch with the teacher to see how she or he will handle it. Censoring is a poor idea because it’s so subjective–what’s okay with one person could be another person’s worst nightmare. It all comes down to the teacher’s sensitivity, not only to the material but also to the kids in her class. I also like to read the books myself at the same time as my daughter. That helps me get a feel for what’s going on too.

    Reading profanity is not going to make a teen more prone to using it. Teens will hear more than 38 instances of bad language in one day–as much as the average YA novel. As long as our daughter follows our rules at home, we can’t control what goes on in the rest of her day.

  • Stephanie


    Good recommendations! Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Story of a Part Time Indian” is also a good YA book.

    Alexie weighed in on YA in the Wall Street Journal. Read his thoughts on violence in books here.

  • Chuck

    Stephanie: That article by Sherman Alexie is powerful! He expresses much better than I can what I was trying to say: that reading about awful situations is not going to corrupt a young adult, and in fact that seeing how the literary characters handle situations can be a tool for the young adults.

    “The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian” is a wonderful book, full of terrible feelings and behaviors. But if the main character didn’t get through those situations, then the ending wouldn’t have the same effect. As a parent, I would have no hesitation in letting my 9th grader read it. At the same time, I would like to be able to discuss it with her.

    It seems most often that it’s the adults who are worried about the effects of the “bad” books. It’s like the fear that many people have that speaking to a teen about suicide, for example, is going to cause that teen to commit suicide, as though the teen wouldn’t have already been thinking about it.

    This is a good topic, and I’m looking forward to listening to the on-air discussion.

  • Bea

    Adding to the applause for “Part-Time Indian.” We need to be able to read about our own situations and I agree with Alexie, kids who already see these challenges need to see how to get through them. And with humor!

  • Julia

    Great young adult time-travel fiction, ‘Mr. Was’ by Pete Hautman. Fabulous writing, totally engrossing. Also by Hautman, ‘Godless’ about a kid who starts his own religion. Really amazing reads. So creative, I love them just as much now as when I was in middle school. Also, “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card, which probably wouldn’t pass the BYU researcher’s obscenity rating although Card is a Mormon himself.

  • Perhaps we could consider the alleged ‘dirty’ content of YA books a reward to young people who actually bother to read?

    That said, I’d recommend A.S. King’s Everybody Sees The Ants and Blythe Woolston’s Catch & Release to anyone wanting a taste of what current YA is like.

  • Bea

    Along similar lines, instructive tales from youth handling real situations and growing into admirable adults: Jack Gantos’ “Hole In My Life.”

  • Wally

    Oh My Buddha!!

    Well, using “adult” language doesn’t make one an adult, any more than using a British accent makes one a member of the royal family.

    My mother always said that using profanity was the sign of a small vocabulary, and a small vocabulary is the sign of a small mind.

    And does anybody else really know what profanity is? That is to use God’s name in vain. To say/print the F-word, S-word, and other *-words is to use vulgarity.

    It’s interesting to note that certain NPR programs will bleep vulgarities but not profanities. So NPR has evidently decreed that God’s name isn’t worth ****.

  • Chuck

    Concur on “Ender’s Game” and its sequels. This is a grim tale of young children being put in extraordinary situations that are unacceptable, yet it has become a YA classic for good reason.

    Louis Sachar: “Holes,” “The Cardturner”

  • Robin

    I’ve been reading books with my niece (now 13) for about 3 years . . . we’ve recently finished “13 Reasons Why” (Jay Asher) and “Ash” (Melinda Lo). Though “13 Reasons” delves into suicide and “Ash” into GLBT YA fiction, they are both “clean” from a language sense and have great story. My neice simply loved both books and is doing her

    year end book report (a rural WI school). I don’t think either book would fare well in a rating system . . . it seems more important that we read AND discuss them together.

  • Ann

    Three comments: First, I wouldn’t trust a rating system, as someones PG is not my idea of PG…

    Second: Book recommendation, My son and I were both reading any and all books of the Artemis Fowl series (multi-millionaire boy genius who learns of the secret world of Fairies, gnomes and trolls – sounds quaint, but it’s certainly not).

    No swearing, but a great fantasy story enjoyed by both of us.

    Third, RE: swearing in YA books. You can’t always keep everything from yoru kids, but you can make sure that they know the truth. Like what the “swear words” mean and why my husband and I think that their common use makes a person sound, frankly, stupid. We had a great dinner conversation letting my kids know what exactly the various swear words mean (my kids didn’t know what some of them meant, when they found out, they were appalled and no longer use those words).

    Like the previous comments, I try to read the books my kids are reading so we can talk about it (Hunger Games, anyone? that requires some discussion, I think).

  • Ann

    Um, just wanted to clarify, it sounds like my kids swear – (‘no longer use the words”) but vulgar language is not permissible in our house! I”m sure they talk however they wish when parents are not around! 🙂

  • Chuck

    If parents are too busy to read along with their kids, how about finding a trusted friend/adviser who can tell parents what the book is like or about?

    I know it’s tricky, but context is important, and a simple rating or a count of vulgarities is not always the answer.

  • Rosemary

    Book ratings? I thought that is what Amazon reviews are for.

  • Stephanie Curtis

    The Marbury Lens was recommended by our guest, Andrew Karre.

  • Stephanie

    A listener recommended Battle Royale as superior to Hunger Games.

  • Liz

    I never asked my parents if I could read a certain book…. I read what my friends were reading. A book like Tweak may sound harmless to someone who does not know what ‘tweak’ means. So parents – do a little research and it is easy. Go online to or Amazon and read the Publishers Weekly review. After reading one paragraph of the ‘sample’ one would know the book is salacious.

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