I'm reading a book right now with a YA protagonist. Surprise, right? There's a passage in this book that makes me wonder something, and you can help.
I don't know why this is, but it seems to me that very few protagonists in YA novels read other YA novels when they choose to read. Offhand, I can think of only four titles where other popular YA novels besides The Outsiders are mentioned: Stop Pretending by Sonya Sones, Burned by Ellen Hopkins, Let it Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle, and The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams. When I notice protagonists of YA novels reading, they're almost always reading classics or obscure novels.* Of course, this is the author's right. They're the ones who know their main characters best. But ten years after the awarding of the first Printz, wouldn't it make sense that YA novels mention other YA novels?
I wonder about the name-dropping of books specifically because this doesn't seem to be a problem where music, movies, and television are concerned. Lots of books mention characters watching American Idol or Bring it On or listening to Beyonce. The pop culture reference is a much beloved (by authors and myself) part of the YA genre. If there's all this love for TV and music and movies, though, where do the books come in?
Part of me thinks that, consciously or not, authors might not want their "smart" protagonists reading YA because, well, YA isn't supposed to be something that stretches your brain, or sets you apart from your peers, or makes you weird. Maybe they think a "weird" or "smart" protagonist wouldn't be caught dead reading YA. Still, I'm not buying that. Any weird, smart protagonist would love M.T. Anderson, I think. A protagonist who wanted to be "different" might not read The Clique, sure, but I don't think it'd be unrealistic for him or her to read, say, Black Juice (I know the publication date on that is probably too recent for it to be referenced in any other YA novels; I'm just using it as an example of a cool, weird YA book). If the protagonist is a science fiction or fantasy fan, he or she always seems to be reading the likes of Heinlein or Bradbury. Again, there's absolutely nothing wrong with those authors, but why don't we hear about Tamora Pierce or Nancy Farmer or even Lloyd Alexander?
Maybe there's something to be said for waiting for these YA books to become classics, but what's the point of that? Books are a smaller part of the pop culture picture, but if authors writing teen protagonists are going to reference books, wouldn't it behoove them and their genre to acknowledge cool YA titles?
Now, about all the YA protagonists who listen to Nirvana and Pearl Jam... that's another entry altogether.
*I know that there are a few Neil Gaiman references in The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, but those references are to the Sandman series, which was published for adults.