Is Octavian Nothing evidence of a new age in YA lit?

M.T. Anderson’s The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party, which won the 2006 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (presented by the National Book Foundation) last November, is one of the latest books helping to revive the young adult literature genre. After seeming to peak in the 1970s and early ’80s, then stumbling through much of the 1990s with unchallenging and formulaic easy-reading novels that featured teen characters in stereotypical situations, YA literature has been rebounding for the past two or three years. The rebound is being seen both in popularity and in quality.

The adventures of teen wizard Harry Potter are widely credited with increasing the genre’s popularity by focusing attention on YA books and authors over the past decade. But J.K. Rowling’s works did not satisfy the needs or tastes of every reader—the volumes were long and complicated, they had unrealistic settings and plotlines, and the basic subject matter was specifically targeted. Many critics add that the series actually outgrew its original audience of YA readers over the years, anyway. Still, Rowling’s series did usher in a renewed interest in writing quality material and developing intricate and intriquing story lines, scenes, and characters—all attributes that drew the attention of YA readers—and that fact is seldom argued.

As evidence, note that many books on both the adult and children’s New York Times Best Sellers lists are written for, about, or involving young adults and that the American Library Association’s Michael L. Printz Award now takes notice of books for young adults just as the Caldecott and Newbery awards have for other younger readers over the years.

Reporter Cecelia Goodnow, with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer posted this recent article that spotlights additional evidence. She also uncovered and compiled some interesting trends in “teen literature” and this list of best reads for 2007.