Saturday, March 19, 2011

Review: Young Adult Literature: From Romance to Realism by Michael Cart

Michael Cart’s latest work chronicles the development of young adult literature from its recognition in the 1960s to its present boom in the 21st century. Expanding upon his 1996 edition, Cart includes new discussions about poetry, nonfiction, graphic novels, audiobooks and the role of young adult literature in a multimedia age. Cart showcases various breakthrough texts and awards in the category revealing his role as an expert in and contributor to young adult literature.   

In “That Was Then,” the first of two sections, Cart and investigates how cultural shifts influenced YA lit in the 1960s-1990s. Realism emerged in issue-oriented/problem novels like Robert Cormer’s The Chocolate War.  But many were plagued by formulaic plots and imitation in the late 70s. Cart perceives “the problem novel is to YA what soap operas are to good dramas” (32). Eventually, readers rejected the problem novel and to some extent realistic fiction.

Providing escape, romance dominated most of the 80s and one can sense Cart’s dismay as problem novel sales plummeted  in the early 90s.  Cart blames sensational TV (like Jerry Springer) for reality’s unpopular status in literature. In part two, “This Is Now,” Cart explores the rise of new genres and formats in the 21st century. He delves into the Harry Potter phenomenon and consequent appeal of crossover novels.

Clearly Cart prefers darker, edgier literary titles, which he believes reflect reality. Whether this is true or not, his zeal for young adult literature is impossible to escape. Pointing out YA lit awards, such as the Printz Award which he helped create, Cart continuously reveals how libraries help shape and are shaped by young adult literature. Cart leaves the reader pondering creative formats which champion realism such as nonfiction graphic novels and photoessays. The text provides a comprehensive history of young adult literature and is an insightful and often humorous text. It is likely to interest MLIS students, current practitioners interested in improving readers’ advisory skills to young adults or those doing literary studies.  If you’re looking to understand how YA literature is created today there’s no better way than to study its history in From Romance to Realism.

Publisher: ALA, 2020     Pages: 242
Rating: 4.5 Stars     Source: U of Iowa Libraries


  1. I haven't read this book yet, but I've heard Michael speak several times. He's at our state school librarian conference every year. I love hearing him talk about books - he's passionate and knowledgeable and I very often take his recommendations.

  2. Thanks for the review - this is definitely one I want to read!

  3. Annette, What a great opportunity to hear Cart speak. I'm jealous. =)

    Super - It was well worth the read. I have so many titles on my TBR list now! I enjoyed reading about the emergence of "teenagers" and the rise of literature in recognition of this group of people.

  4. Does the book have any "must-have" lists or reviews of his favorite books?

  5. Ah! Would love to read this book. I'm new to the YA genre and tend to dislike many of the ones that other bloggers love! So I bet this book will tell me where all the epic ones are!

  6. Anne - There aren't any lists. For the most part he only highlights books that played a role in the development of YA lit, not necessarily his favorites. However, he does gush now and then about certain titles/authors. You could use the book for reference. So, if you were looking for a YA poetry book, look up poetry in the index and it will take you to a section about the genre along with several notable titles.

    Cart writes "Carte Blanche" and book reviews for Booklist. They're worth checking out. will let you see some articles/reviews but not many if you're not a member. My library has a subscription so I can read them online.

    Lazy Girl - Cart helped found the Printz Award for YA so he tends to favor literary titles. So, if you're not into paranormal romance, which is all the rage right now, I bet you'll like many of the titles he mentions.