Young adult fiction

young adult


“How did you spend your weekend?” Apollonia asked. “Gambling? Moping?”

“Mostly moping,” I said. “Also reading young-adult fiction.”

She roared with laughter. She, of all people, knows what I mean. Apollonia is the world’s most tragically obsessed Twihard, and would happily pluck a leftover egg-salad sandwich out of the garbage and eat it, if there were any chance it had been gnawed on by Robert Pattinson. It goes without saying that she knows the Stephenie Meyer books by heart, the way Islamic clerics know the Koran.

Naturally all of us read the Harry Potter books, though they were “too young for us.” Why? Because they were well-told stories, and entertaining, and full of conflict on every level. They ask questions like: why is my family (and Professor Snape, for that matter) so mean to me? Why won’t Hermione and Ron realize they love one another? Why is Lord Voldemort trying to kill me? Also, the novels funny and colorful and full of incident. (There are some dull patches – the middle third of “Deathly Hallows,” in which Ron and Harry and Hermione wander around in the wilderness and snipe at each other, was pretty deathly itself – but overall these books move pretty briskly. And who doesn’t like a six-hundred page book that moves along briskly?)

Also, some years ago, I discovered Diane Duane’s “So You Want to Be A Wizard” series, which is serious fun. Who doesn’t want to be a teenage wizard? You get to save the planet, and sometimes the entire galaxy, over and over again. You get to meet interesting people like the Archangel Michael and Satan. And Diane Duane can really write; she’s light-years ahead of Meyer, and I think she writes more fluently than Rowling. Naturally you really ought to read the books in order, but I didn’t, and I don’t think I missed out too much. I especially like “A Wizard Abroad,” in which a New York girl (and secret wizard) is sent off to Ireland to visit relatives, and ends up discovering an entire world of Celtic folklore, helps to reenact the Battle of Moytura, and (incidentally) saves the world one more time. (Diane Duane also maintains a great Tumblr in which she interacts with readers and fans – I don’t know how she finds the time – and is very obviously a funny and generous person. This makes me like her writing even more.)

And if you still find yourself with time on your hands, try Rick Riordan’s Greek-mythology series – the five novels of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” and the three novels of “Heroes of Olympus” he’s published for far. (The fourth, “The House of Hades,” is due out around the time that this blog is to be published; the series is set to conclude a year from now.) These are reimaginings of Greek and Roman myths, set in modern America; they’re goofier than the “Wizard” books, and the humor can be juvenile, but the stories are gripping (let’s face it, Greek mythology is good source material), and there are some nice touches. (If you saw the first movie based on the series, “The Lightning Thief,” rest assured that the books are much better.)

I could go on. Do Tove Jansson’s Moomin books count as Young Adult? Parts of them skew a little young (even for me!), but I love them anyway.

J. R. R. Tolkien said it best, in his essay “On Fairy-Stories”:

In describing a fairy-story which they think adults might possibly read for their own entertainment, reviewers frequently indulge in such waggeries as: “this book is for children from the ages of six to sixty.” But I have never yet seen the puff of a new motor-model that began thus: “this toy will amuse infants from seventeen to seventy”; though that to my mind would be much more appropriate. Is there any essential connexion between children and fairy-stories? Is there any call for comment, if an adult reads them for himself? . . .

 


For the first day of summer: a young-adult reading list

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Summer is all about recreational reading, but everyone’s idea of light reading is different.  Some like John Grisham, or Patricia Cornwell, or Stephen King.  I like young-adult stuff.

 

 

For me, “young adult” is any chapter book not directed to an adult readership.  Some are perfectly appropriate for bright eight-year-olds, and some aren’t. 

 

 

Young-adult literature is unassuming, and it gets right to the point without dithering.  There’s very little padding in most young-adult books.  Sometimes the authors pander – they lay it on too thick, or they get the atmosphere wrong – but there’s some pretty good stuff out there, both old and new.

 

 

Let’s acknowledge J. K. Rowling right at the top of the list.  I hope she figures out a way to continue her story.  What about Harry and Ginny’s kids? 

 

 

Still have your set of Narnia books?   I’ve purchased them and gotten rid of them twice over.  I like the characters and the storytelling, but C. S. Lewis’s drippy Christian moralizing makes me feel sticky after a while.  I can’t even touch “The Last Battle” anymore, although Neil Gaiman has written a wonderful short story about the flip side of that story.

 

 

(Lewis, for all his faults, was a pretty good writer.  If you haven’t read the space novels – “Out of the Silent Planet,” “Perelandra,” and (especially, and weirdest of all) “That Hideous Strength” – do it.  Great stuff.  Nasty stuff here and there, too.  If you don’t wince a couple of times while reading these, you’re not reading very carefully.)

 

 

If you like surreal whimsy – and who doesn’t? – try Tove Jansson’s Moomin books.  My favorite is “Moominland Midwinter”: the Moomin family is hibernating, but the little Moomin boy wakes up and discovers that, during the winter months, their house is completely taken over by all kinds of peculiar creatures.  It has the creepy stillness of a deep Scandinavian winter, and it’s lots of fun: perfect ice-cold reading for a hot New England day.

 

 

P. L.Travers wrote “Mary Poppins,” and “Mary Poppins Opens the Door,” and “Mary Poppins in the Park.” Her original Mary Poppins is not Julie Andrews: she’s ferocious, and truly scary sometimes – the cobra in the London zoo calls her “cousin”! – and Jane and Michael worship her.

 

 

Thornton Wilder wasn’t really a young-adult writer, but some of his novels – especially “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” – fit perfectly in this category. I read it in high school, and was moved to tears, and I still quote it endlessly. If you haven’t read it, read it immediately.

 

 

And finally, here’s a writer who’s still among the living: Rick Riordan.  The Percy Jackson books were a Greek-mythology knockoff of Harry Potter, but Riordan can really tell a story too.  He left the Percy Jackson story to tell a sort of parallel story involving Egyptian mythology instead, but it doesn’t quite have the energy of the Percy Jackson books. He seems to have realized this, however, and has gone back to Percy, with a side twist through the Roman version of the Greek myths; he’s written two of these, and they’re both wonderful, and I’m looking forward to number three.

 

 

There’s your summer reading assignment, kids.

 

 

And it’s fun.

 

 

So get reading!

 


 

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