When kids hit their teen years, many quit reading, says David Levithan
'94, an editor at Scholastic Books. In February he launched Push, an edgy new imprint aimed specifically at them.
BAM Why do teens need their own books?
Levithan We've found that there's a huge drop-off in readership at about age thirteen. Kids start doing other activities. They go to movies. They watch TV. They do after-school activities. They prepare for the SATs. When it comes to books, there are the tried-and-true classics - The Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace - and then the kids who read jump immediately to adult books - Stephen King or the Oprah books. We are trying to create a new body of teen literature that speaks directly to teenagers.
BAM How are your books different?
Levithan We are using all first-time authors. With one exception, they are under twenty-nine. What makes these teen books is not the writing level but the subject matter.
BAM Will that subject matter make them controversial?
Levithan There could be some controversy, but these aren't the "problem novels" of the 1970s and 1980s. They're not one-note diatribes or after-school specials. They are about presenting not just an issue, but a situation, and approaching it from all angles.
BAM Can you give an example?
Levithan Kerosene [by Chris Wooding]. It would be simplistic enough to say, "Oh, it's about a kid who burns down buildings." But it's really about the unarticulated rage that a lot of teens, especially boys, feel, and the releases they seek for that rage. If people look at [Push] books thematically as opposed to judging them strictly by their content or the number of four-letter words, I don't think they would be controversial.
BAM What new books are you particularly excited about?
Levithan You Remind Me of You [by Eireann Carrigan] is the most striking. It's a poetry memoir about a high school student who was in and out of rehab places for eating disorders. She had this you-and-me-against-the-world boyfriend. When he tried to kill himself, she checked herself out of rehab to go to his hospital. By helping him recover, she sort of recovered herself.
BAM Are all of your books about kids with problems?
Levithan No, we have everything - fiction, nonfiction, comedy, drama. I Will Survive [by Kristen Kemp], is a total revenge comedy about a girl whose best friend sleeps with her boyfriend, whose mother is having an affair with her hated English teacher, whose male best friend is totally in love with her and she can't deal with it, so he takes up with her really bitchy drama-queen-beauty-queen little sister, all within the course of a day. With the help of a new skate-punk friend, she decides to get her revenge on them all. It is so not serious.
- Interview by Sara Heiberger '95