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A teacher's opinions on YA literature and the state of public education in America.

YA in AP?

This post has been running laps around my brain since the end of March, when I was forwarded an email from an out-of-state friend which said, basically, that the use of any books labeled Young Adult would not be approved in that particular state because “dumbing down” the AP curriculum was not the way to raise test scores. I understand, and agree, that AP should be rigorous and should include diverse reading materials that challenge students, but I also know, from the remnants of my years of fighting to prove the worth of YA, that all over the United States schools have YA titles listed online as part of required or optional AP reading. I actually have copies of more than fifty schools–public and parochial–that have such works on college-bound and AP lists. Just in flipping through those copies, I found these YA titles on AP and pre-AP, lists alone:

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Blood Brothers by SA Harazin
Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson
Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah
Copper Sun by Sharon Draper
Deadline by Chris Crutcher
Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
Generation Dead by Daniel Waters
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Sweethearts by Sara Zarr
The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
Unwind by Neal Schusterman
Wake by Lisa McMann

This may seem like a lot, but of the lists I have, there are way more canonical or otherwise non-YA reads than strictly YA, and I think that is fine. But does an anti-YA generalization, as above, seem harsh, and just maybe elitist, to anyone but me?


  1. Anonymous says:

    I was in AP classes and always used Sparknotes bc the reading selections were so horrible. Wish there’d have been some of those books on my list. Maybe I would have enjoyed class more.

  2. It does seem elitist. I can understand the concern of “dumbing down.” What I don’t understand is the discouragement of reading anything at all.

    I tend to prefer books aimed at adults, and have done so since I first read Frank Herbert’s “Dune” at fourteen-years-old. That said, I got to love reading through books aimed at a younger audience (like Susan Cooper’s “Over Sea, Under Stone”).

    Whether it’s comics, graphic novels, YA or adult Literary Fiction, what matters is that they’re reading. What needs to be taught is a love of reading, and it is clear that YA instills that in many readers.

    I think a healthy mix of YA and adult reads are necessary. Being snobbish about the intellectual qualities of one over the other is pointless.

  3. Yes, it sounds elitist.

    Of course, back in the dim and misty past of my freshman year in high school, we read all adult novels (Red Badge of Courage, The Hobbit, The Crucible, Animal Farm, etc.). But honestly, back then YA did pretty much suck. Mostly it was adventure stories (My Side of the Mountain, Call It Courage) or S.E. Hinton (not bad books, but kind of dated even for my generation).

    But I have found myself falling in love with YA the last decade or so. There are so many great books out there now. In fact some really amazing authors are writing in the field. Personally, I love Discworld, but I think in many ways Terry Pratchett’s YA books are even better than his adult ones. (especially the Johnny series and the Tiffany Aching series)

    So perhaps the person is just misinformed about the current state of YA literature. Possibly, if they’d read some of the better work out there, they’d see it is worth including in even an AP course.

  4. I’m so glad to hear that other people feel this way. I, too, cut my teeth on adult books–Tolkien, Hemingway, Dickens, John Jakes–but I would have loved YA, too. Now that I’ve been introduced to it, I read it all the time. I don’t even separate what I’m reading into “YA” and “Adult” anymore. I just read what’s good, and what challenges me as a human and thinker.

    Who are these people who can say, without fear of reprisal, that YA is naught more than “dumbed down” Real Literature? It’s frightening to think leaders of this mind are spreading this elitism. Bottom line: AP should be challenging. So why put a limit on what can challenge student readers? I guarantee I could have students explicate a passage from a killer YA read and leave them as challenged by it as by anything else. Who says students can’t read high-interest literature in high intellectual gear?

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