Young Adult literature & why I love it

I’ve only recently come to realize this about myself. I adore fiction aimed at young adults. The realization dawned on me as I was inexplicably reading Anne of Green Gables for the first time recently and wondering why I was doing such a silly thing. I am getting close to the end, but I have a vague idea of the plot already, having seen a movie or some such at some point in my life. Details are hazy.

But it’s not the sort of thing that I ever thought to myself, “I MUST read this!” and couldn’t wait to get my mitts on a copy. By way of explanation of how I did get it in my mitts, I bought a Nook book that has 25 public-domain novels in it for a dollar or $0.99 or something. I bought it to read Tess of the D’Urbervilles after a very tantalizing crossword clue involving Angel. The book also contains books like Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Anne of Green Gables. So I thought I’d just give it a try.

I was not particularly taken with the writing style. Now that I’m further into it, the style fits the feel intended and it’s fine in that capacity. I find it a little annoying, but I think the target audience (9-year-old girls, primarily) would love it. It’s so fancy pants in just the right way for them. Fussy to me.

I can not put it down. Even though I am not completely absorbed in the book and the comings-and-goings of the characters, I am a little obsessed.

This seems to happen to me with young adult lit in general. I get a little obsessed. Not obsessed in the sense that I want to dress like the characters and model my life after them, but that I want to devour the literature, good or bad.

For better or worse, I love the Harry Potter books, perhaps for the very self-same reasons that Harold Bloom despises them. Fast reads, exciting plot, fantastic elements. Despite my better judgment and a pretty decent education, I have read – and own – all the Twilight books (I haven’t seen all the movies yet – so there is that). The writing is truly awful, the dialogue is painful to the point of having to close my eyes on occasion, and the thought of a very old man trapped in an adolescent’s body lusting after a teenage girl is absolutely revolting; yet, I can’t not read them (and re-read them, I’m sorry to say). I revel in the awfulness and I truly enjoy it. The main female character is a terrible role model – zero redeeming qualities; a desperate dependence on a dark and isolating male character; whiny; moody. As the joke goes, “how do you say ‘moronic’ in French?””Crepuscule.”

Creeping backwards in time, I used to read avidly all the Babysitter’s Club books, as well as all the Sweet Valley High books. These are the definition of disposable literature – cheap plots threaded together with chapters lifted wholesale out of previous editions to explain characters and situations in the baldest possible way. Loved it all.

Even younger, I read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. These were not terrible books terribly written, or wildly entertaining books well-enough written – these were a personal history that managed to speak incredibly evocatively to a young audience. Wilder became a school teacher, so her ability to speak to children well should come as no surprise, but it is a sweet gift to see how well she relates her past through her childish eyes, rather than as an adult reminiscing.

I still love children’s books; all those Enid Blighton books I had in hard cover (did they come in any other format?) are something I plaintively look for on my shelf from time to time. The cheap cardboard, the shiny paper, the mis-aligned and fuzzy letterforms, all wrapped up in that strange little smell. I never got into the Ramona Quimby-type books, since I came to America around the time I would have read them, but brought my own books from England. I look forward to trying to find such books, from both countries, for the twins as they grow.

Around the time I came to America, I also read a series of books that I don’t really see or hear much about, the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. I think I read them all. I also drew illustrations to go with many of them. I had time on my hands, I suppose. Looking back, I strongly suspect that they all followed the same form and weren’t terribly creative. Their magic lay in their feeding a child’s hope that animals have special lives and functional communities. Around this time, a classmate recommended Watership Down, but I still haven’t read it. But I bet I will.

I’m not such a big fan of some of the younger child books that are currently available, with their stolid characters who resolutely aim for adequate and nothing more. But there are plenty of others out there, some from my youth, some more contemporary, that will serve as an enthralling story. Not every books must teach a lesson, although it would be nice if (at least when they are quite small and trusting) the books the twins read help them to prize virtues such as patience and kindness, bravery and standing up for those who are smaller, and those other small-child virtues that children’s books used to be crafted around (albeit sometimes rather clumsily and, to an adult, transparently). And I’m sure I’ll be borrowing their books from time to time, just as I used to read with my mom (and sometimes still do, when I go over to visit). I love the simple plots and easily-resolved conflicts. I love the angst/absurd emotions so commonly portrayed in younger children. I love the faux drama. I just love it all.

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