Many cultures believe the New Year signifies a new beginning–the one time each year one can start over and make things better. In America, that often includes fad diets, gym memberships, and vows to lose those extra pounds packed on as a result of eating too many Christmas cookies. I admit to making those same vows to myself over the years, and I did embark upon a new exercise fad this year, myself. However, my New Year’s goal was different this year than those in years past. Rather that burdening myself with the pressure of unattainable goals, I promised myself I would try my best to be content with what I have, rather than spending countless hours wishing my life away. Being the goal-oriented, extremely driven person I am, this has proven difficult. Much to my surprise, however, I’m getting there.

How, you may ask, am I accomplishing this foreign feeling of contentment? Well, believe it or not, it’s my job (in addition to some spiritual improvements I’m trying to make). And not even a full-time job. A single class. Three little, itty-bitty hours each week.

In September, I landed my first adjunct teaching gig at King College, a private liberal arts college in Bristol, Tennessee. During the fall, I taught a couple of sections of Composition, and as scary as that sounds to the thousands of grammar-dissing haters out there, I absolutely loved it–right down to reading their ten-page research papers. But as wonderful as the fall semester was, the New Year brought with it an unexpected blessing. This spring, I am teaching Adolescent Literature. That means I spend my time teaching aspiring middle and high school teachers the virtues of using Young Adult literature in their own classrooms. So…not only do I get to lead discussions on my favorite YA authors and books, but I also get to challenge these students to consider why these books matter so much to teens. Since my own goals include publishing in the YA market, this is a subject close to my heart. (If this post were a movie, I would have glistening eyes and a faraway expression. Soft music–hopeful, yet empowering–would be playing in the background. Think Independence Day or Braveheart.)

So…on my students’ reading list this semester? Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, a book I love so much, I don’t know where to begin. Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, one that leaves me laughing and crying in equal measure every time I read it. Joyce McDonald’s Swallowing Stones, a story that stays with me for days after reading it. And Walter Dean Myers’ Monster, a story that never fails to rip out my heart and then send it speeding forward with worry. All of these stories deal with real issues teens–and adults, for that matter–can relate to and learn from. As Laurie Halse Anderson says, “Books save lives.” Simple, to the point, and accurate. I couldn’t agree more.

So far, my students are already learning from Melinda Sordino, and I can’t wait for them to meet all my other favorite characters. While I certainly can’t take all the credit for the love affairs my students are developing with YA literature, I’ve found a unique happiness in having the opportunity to make the introductions. The way I see it, this year is off to a pretty good start.