2014 columns, Young Adult literature

Alex Award: introducing teen readers to adult books

by Danielle Binks , January 28, 20144 Comments


It continually amazes me that there are people out there (let’s call them literary snobs) who absolutely refuse to read young adult (YA) books. Now, I often say that I’m not a big fan of memoirs and biographies – but that’s me disliking a specific genre. People who point-blank refuse to read anything with a whiff of teen appeal are dismissing an entire readership – not just a single niche genre, but every book in a vast and wonderful literary world. That absolutely boggles the mind – especially because children and young adults don’t have nearly the same qualms and prejudices against adult books.

In fact, there is even a book award dedicated to introducing younger readers to adult books that unintentionally appeal to their readership. The Young Adult Library Services Association’s (YALSA) Alex Award is an American Library Association award that began in 1998 and shortlists ‘ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.’

Danielle Dreger-Babbitt is Chair of the 2014 Alex Award Committee, and she’s proud of what the award offers the YA landscape; ‘[The shortlisted books] help bridge the reading-gap from teen to adult. Because the award is for adult books with teen appeal we are able to expose teens to books they might never have encountered. It also gives teens an easy transition from reading teen to adult books as they exit adolescence. I think books like the 2012 Alex Award winners Ready Player One and Robopocalypse or 2013 winner Pure give teens something to look forward to after they have graduated from Ender’s Game or Hunger Games.’

To be clear, there is no ‘cut-off’ or ‘expiry’ date for reading children’s and YA. But the Alex Award acknowledges that teen readers don’t much care about labels like ‘children’s’ and ‘young adult’ – they simply gravitate towards good books. As Dreger-Babbitt says, ‘School and public librarians also use our award lists as a collection development tool or as a way to broaden their reader’s advisory to help put the perfect book in the hand of a teen.’

And sometimes a change in marketing dictates how readers find such books – take Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. It was initially marketed as general fiction in Australia, but prior to the much-anticipated movie release, it spent 55 weeks on the New York Times Young Adult Bestsellers list.

‘I think we often don’t think of teen readers as being sophisticated and underestimate their reading ability and interest,’ says Dreger-Babbitt, ‘but the success of the Alex Awards proves that theory wrong.’

The Alex Awards are a great resource for teen readers transitioning to adult books (though this doesn’t mean that children’s and YA can’t be ‘hard literature’ too – and the number of adults reading YA suggests there is no ‘cut-off’ age).

Below is a list of ten Australian adult books that would make an excellent Aussie Alex Award shortlist:

Now if we only had a reverse-Alex Award, for young adult books with adult appeal… although, on second thought, that would be all the books!

Danielle Binks is a Melbourne-based blogger, editor and aspiring writer of young adult fiction. 

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  • Emily

    I’ll have to check these books out! As a YA myself, not to mention YA book blogger and YA writer, I gravitate towards books in that genre. I LOVED The Book Thief, and I saw The Rosie Project while I was in Dymocks in Sydney. This seems like a really cool award!

    • Danielle

      It is a very cool award, and I do see lots of Alex-nominated books migrate over to the YA readership without people even realising they were first marketed as “adult” or “general fiction”.

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