I think it is a mistake to assume young adults won't notice that a book is preachy just because they are young. I think it is a mistake to award books for being didactic without thinking first if they are enjoyable. In that regard, the National Book Award people made some interesting choices as finalists for what they call the "Young People's Literature" category. Let me just say that to me, the majority of the books chosen for the finalist list were clearly chosen by adults because of what could be learned, not because of how good they were.
Luckily, a few escaped and made it into my first category, the definitely read list.
Dark Water by Laura McNeal was the hardest book on the list to find, but I finally found it from a library in Annapolis, Maryland. At first, I was worried this was another didactic book with a plot thinly veiling a lesson to young people about migrant workers, but it soon shifted into a beautifully love story between a young girl who lives on an avocado farm outside San Diego but doesn't speak Spanish (really?) and an illegal worker who can't speak. The ending is fearless, and I think young girls in particular would be drawn in by this story.
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi was a surprisingly enjoyable read. I had read The Windup Girl earlier in the year but enjoyed this one much more. It is about kids who live in a post-disaster future America with prevalent hurricanes and the only way to really make a living is to salvage materials from the ships that regularly wreck on the shore. It is gritty and I really enjoyed it.
The next category are the books that are good, kind of, but read rather preachy for my tastes. Boys and girls, let's open our books to page....
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine covers a lot of Very Important Issues - school shootings, dealing with death and loss, Autism Spectrum, etc. The main character, Caitlin, is learning how to make friends while she tries to find closure for her brother's death. I thought it was heartfelt, and I think it might make kids want to try to be more accepting of people who are different than them. But should we have to make them through fictional characters? See, that's the whole issue I have. Apparently enough people believed so, because this book won in the category.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia chronicles the crazy summer of three sisters who are sent to Oakland to live with their mother shortly after the death of MLK Jr. She turns out to be involved with the Black Panthers, and the girls learn about the movement and explore California. It is more than a little unbelievable, and packages up the time period a little too perfectly, but the oldest daughter is an interesting independent female, which is nice for young people. At least, from an adult's perspective it is.
The last book, I just didn't like.
Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers is a hopeless story about a boy in jail who will probably never escape the system. If I was supposed to get more out of it, I'd love to hear a counterargument. The author is known for working in the juvenile system, but I did not find him to be inspiring at all. Maybe reality isn't. At least it wasn't preachy.