Visiting bookworm tackles the big topics in teen lit

The Teen Room at the West Tisbury library. —Photo Courtesy of Amy Hoff

Bookseller and educator Sara Hines of Falmouth will offer two talks at the West Tisbury library this month, focusing on her area of expertise, teen literature. The talks are intended for teens, parents, educators, and others who are curious about what current young adult (YA) literature has to offer.

Teen literature is enjoying a second golden age, according to a recent article on The genre established itself in the 1970s, with authors such as Judy Blume and Robert Cormier penning books targeted to the 12- to 18-year-old demographic. While those early teen books dealt with issues of adolescence through realistic stories with contemporary settings, millennial young adult fiction tends toward science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, and action/adventure. In many cases, it deals with what might be considered more adult themes.

The first library talk will focus on this trend. On Thursday, March 17, Ms. Hines will present “Into the Dark: Thrillers, Taboos, and other Edgy Topics in Teen Literature.” The second talk will deal with another recent YA trend. It is titled “Worth the Trip: LGBTQIA [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex and Asexual] Characters in Books for Teens.”

Ms. Hines is very familiar with the current themes in YA fiction. She is co-owner of Falmouth’s Eight Cousins bookstore, and holds a master’s degree in children’s literature and a Ph.D. in English and book history. She specializes in children’s and young adult books, and has offered her expertise through presentations at a number of off-Island institutions. The two upcoming talks will mark her first professional outing to the Vineyard.

“We saw the trends in dystopian fiction a few years ago,” Ms. Hines said. “That interest in the world collapsing. A lot of YA looks at what could happen if we mess up our society to an extreme. That fear has waned a little bit. Now we’re seeing a lot of violence against teens. I tend not to interpret that as negative. There’s always a bigger context.”

“It’s not new,” Ms. Hines added. “It’s an ongoing exploration. I will talk about fairy tales, which is one of my specialities. I’ll contextualize the trend in a number of ways and look at what it means for kids to read about these topics.”

West Tisbury library’s programs director and young adult librarian Amy Hoff explained why she thinks the talks will be of interest to adults. “Parents are kind of confused,” Ms. Hoff said. “They need a little more information about why kids are reading this kind of edgy literature. The books are a good launching pad for parents to have a conversation with their kids about what they’re reading.”

Ms. Hines views YA lit in a similar way: “I definitely see the parents as my primary audience, but I hope that teens will also find it interesting. It offers bridges between teens and adults,” she said. “I really see YA as a great opportunity to elicit conversation and dialogue between teens and parents. I think the parents should be reading YA literature. It gives voice to internal things that teens may not be able to talk about. It’s a safe space for dialogue.”

In her second talk on March 24, Ms. Hines will discuss the role of LGBTQIA characters in current teen fiction. “It’s not so much about the coming-out book anymore, not just about identity,” Ms. Hines said. She explains that today’s writers often include gay characters, not as an examination of their unique issues, but simply to provide a range of characters. “There’s a trend toward diversity in publishing,” she said.

“I think that everybody wants to identify with a character when they’re reading,” Ms. Hoff said. “That is a part of the YA genre now.”

“People are pushing boundaries in YA,” Ms. Hines said. “I think it’s a really exciting genre. There’s a lot of experimentation because it’s not so rigid. There are social issues, and themes of individuality and teens’ role in society.”

The upcoming talks are part of a grant-funded initiative to add more teen and tween programming to the library’s agenda. In April, Ms. Hoff plans to launch a dual teen/adult book club. Both groups will be given the same YA book to read, but the discussions will be held separately.

“Into the Dark: Thrillers, Taboos, and other Edgy Topics in Teen Literature,” Thursday, March 17, 5 to 6 pm. “Worth the Trip: LGBTQIA Characters in Books for Teens,” Thursday, March 24, 5 to 6 pm. Both talks will be held at the West Tisbury library, and are free and open to all. For more information, call 508-693-3366 or visit