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Teen readers have it easy

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Posted: Friday, January 23, 2009 12:00 am

I've always been a big reader, and when I was a teen, it was not easy.

Not because people teased me, or because I had to sit through weeks of discussion about assigned books I'd finished reading the first day.

Because most books for teens that were written when I was a teen were, well, stupid.

Oh, don't get me wrong. There were a handful of truly fantastic books for young readers. There were the three books Anne McCaffrey wrote for teens set in her "Dragonriders of Pern" universe. There was "Ender's Game" (which was written for adults but featured children as the main characters), the series by Mildred Taylor that started with "Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry," Avi's "The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle," Ursula LeGuin's "Earthsea" novels and Lois Lowry's "The Giver." For a reader, though, those books ran out too quickly.

The majority of the books for teens when I was a kid were from series like "Sweet Valley High," "Fear Street" and "The New Nancy Drew Files." While these could be pretty entertaining and occasionally taught good life lessons, they held no surprises, and none of them really made you think about things like the cost of popularity or beauty, what it means to be human, how living in an occupied country could affect you. There were very few science fiction and fantasy novels that really spurred the imagination, either. The ones that stand out do so because they were so rare in a selection swimming with "Choose Your Own Adventure" novels.

In short, books like Meg Cabot's "Airhead" and her "Mediator" series, Scott Westerfield's "Uglies" and "So Yesterday," Justina Chen Headley's "Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies)," Rachel Wasserman's "Skinned," Laurie Halse Andersen's novels, Tamora Pierce's novels, Gail Carlson Levine's "Ever," John Marsden's "Tomorrow, When the War Began" ... these kinds of books were the exception back then.

Now they're the rule. The past few times I have hit Amazon or the bookstore, I have headed straight to the teen novels because they have such a wide selection of fantastic stories, without the overwrought drama that seems to plague most adult literature these days. I wish some of these books had been around when I was rereading the "Goosebumps" books for the third time.