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Facts and Fluff and Ferocious: YA Non-Fiction

I've been thinking about YA non-fic for a while now, pondering the lack of exposure these titles get in the blogosphere and wondering what makes a non-fiction title Young Adult. For some books, the audience is clearly teen. For others, the story seems to follow the same coming-of-age "character" arcs so important in YA fiction. Perhaps the quicker pace and shorter length of these books have something to do with the categorizing, too.

I also considered if, when I did venture into the seedy underworld of what-is-not-so-much-made-up, I would find anything other than Chicken Soup For the Teenage Soul and What Color is Your Rainbow . . . For the Teenage Soul, or some such. Oh, I figured there would also be enough How To Blue Eyeshadow by the editors of That Teen Magazine and Your Teen Body (which parents of teens should read, too) and Biography of That Awesome Athlete Who Hasn't Cheated on His, uh, Drug Tests, to fill a few shelves, too.

And there were loads of those books.

But there were others and some of them surprised me. In good ways. In roll my eyes kinds of ways, too. Teen cookbooks? Not so much. By that age budding chefs have probably graduated the no-stove, no-sharp-knives, ask-a-parent-for-help cookbooks aimed at tykes and can manage any cookbook written for adults.

But teen memoirs? Autobiographies of teens living through civil war? Those types of books impressed me with their richness. Other non-fiction titles had content that could have been written for any age group, but because the target audience is teens, the information is presented in a way that can only be called more fun.

Why do teens get all the fun?!?

Here are three non-fiction titles I have recently read that have stuck with me. I'd love to get more suggestions, too! Have you read a great YA non-fic lately? Leave me the title in the comments so I can check it out.

LOST BOY, LOST GIRL: ESCAPING CIVIL WAR IN SUDAN by John Bul Dau and Martha Arual Akech (National Geographic Books, 2010): I knew the moment I read the title I HAD. TO. READ. THIS. STORY. I recall the news coverage of the Lost Boys of Sudan a number of years ago when the Sudanese civil war raged and wanted to get closer to the stories John and Martha share about their time in the war, escaping the war, seeking peace, losing hope and finding it again. The story itself is gut-wrenching and beautifully told, with a lilting pace befitting the traditional storytelling culture John and Martha come from. This pace and the coming-of-age that occurs while John and Martha are walking, walking, starving, starving, hoping, hoping are what make this book YA. The tension, fear and triumph I felt as I read is what makes the book universal.

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED KIDS: ALL ACCESS (Time, Inc., 2010): I will freely admit to being something of a sports nut. Can't help but love the sports, so I was excited to get a copy of this book. Don't think this is a book for the under-ten set just because it's Sports Illustrated Kids; I completely lost myself in the interesting facts, full-color-, full-page pictorial spreads and little tidbits about athletes and stadiums and locker rooms. The books covers sports from snowboarding to baseball to hockey; info about the insides of baseballs and
how to switch a hockey rink to a basketball court in about 24 hours; and lets me see the size of Shawn Johnson's hand, the inside of Grant Hill's fridge and the stockpile of candy bars in the New York Mets' clubhouse. A fascinating read for sports fans of all ages (even if they think they're gearing it toward teens) and would make a great gift for the sports fan on your holiday list.


I CAN'T KEEP MY OWN SECRETS: SIX WORD MEMOIRS BY TEENS FAMOUS AND OBSCURE, edited by Smith Magazine (HarperTeen, 2009): Can you even imagine a teen giving that title as their six-word life memoir? I can. And isn't it awesome?! You can breeze through this little book with a smattering of text on each page in 30 minutes or less, or you can linger over the stark, heart-breaking, funny and/or poignant six-word memoirs for several hours. Either way, you will likely be left thinking about these slices of life long after you put the book down, as I have. It feels like I'd be revealing too much of the dark and light places of the authors in this book if I quoted any of the memoirs here, but I can say I was struck by the wealth of experiences of the teen contributors, by the contradictory memoirs (often on the same page), and by the introspection and brilliance on display in a collection of life-thoughts just over a handful of words each. Ultimately, I am inspired by the lives in this book. Which is pretty typical when it comes to teens.
Kristin Halbrook

Kristin Halbrook is the author of the critically-acclaimed young adult novels Nobody But Us (HarperTeen, 2013) and Every Last Promise (HarperTeen, 2015). She likes many things.

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6 comments:

  1. Nonfiction YA is hard to find. I'm reading one right now called IraqiGirl and plan to read I Am Nujood, Aged 10 and Divorced soon. I wish that there were more nonfiction to add to my classroom shelves. Surely there are exceptional teens across the world whose stories are more heroic than Bella Swan's?

    Hopefully, more and more nonfiction will be published as teens seek information about other cultures and ways of life. Thanks for bringing up this topic and for promoting the books that you included in your post. I love postsecret!

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  2. So interesting! I may have to expand my YA horizons a little.

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  3. I Am Nujod, Aged 10 and Divorced Soon is such a compelling title! Thanks for the recommendation, Mrs. DeRaps!

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  4. Great post! I like non-fiction, but I guess I never really thought about the lack of YA before...I think I'll do some digging at the library the next time I'm there and see what they have.

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  5. Kristin,

    This is Alyssa from SMITH Magazine--Thanks for mentioning our Six Word Memoir book by teens! Great post, too. I'm trying to think back to my teenage years and I don't think I read a single teen memoir. It's interesting to think about.

    Keep writing!

    Best,
    Alyssa
    SMITH intern

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  6. I read a lot of non-fiction (and fiction too!) of the adult variety, and lots of YA fiction. For some reason, I didn't even realize YA non-fic was even a genre. I'm going to check some of these out!

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Item Reviewed: Facts and Fluff and Ferocious: YA Non-Fiction Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kristin Halbrook