Sunday, August 16, 2009

Musing on YA

Over at The Book Smugglers, Ana and Thea have been holding a YA Appreciation Month (that has stretched out to something over a month I believe). Today is their equivalent of an open mike night on the subject, with anyone with a blog free to join in.

I’ve always seen myself as someone who enjoys YA fiction even if it’s not my primary reading area, so I joined up to J. Kaye’s 2009 YA Challenge back at the end of last year, thinking I would easily read 12 YA books in 2009. So I’ve been rather surprised to find that it’s been more of a struggle than I expected. Here it is, now the middle of August, and I’ve managed to read just 8 books that I felt I could class as YA. In the interests of full disclosure I should add here that I’ve been in a serious reading dry spell since May, due to long, boring, health-related issues, but it has still been a bigger challenge that I originally anticipated.

Some of it has been that books that in my youth would have been classed as YA are probably now considered children’s books. So I reread Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence earlier this year, but felt I couldn’t really include them on the list (all the same, they are fantastic books and still a great read for anyone, be they children, young adults or “official” adults). I also felt I was stretching it a bit to include Jeanne duPrau’s Books of Ember as they read as fairly young to me. I did include them on my list, but I’m still not sure if that was a correct judgement call.

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Ana and Thea’s YA month, but I have to admit (and I feel kind of embarrassed doing this) that a lot of current YA books intimidate me. Something like Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games, which is getting great reviews all over the place (as is its sequel, Catching Fire) scares me. It sounds like such a powerful, dig-at-your-soul kind of book that this boring old adult isn’t sure if she can face it. (The whole reading dry-spell, depression issues don’t help either, I admit.) I’ve been a wimp of late, and I’m sticking to books I don’t feel anxious about when I contemplate reading them.

YA books, on the whole, I think are more likely to invoke that kind of response – in me, at least. Everything often is intense when you’re a teen. Life is full of new (and old) issues to be faced; it’s a whole adventure waiting for you, ready to be lived with passion and power. This staid, middle aged woman with depression and a 20-year history of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome may have forgotten how to do that.

I am reminded of a quote from Madeleine L’Engle (another author I love; if you haven’t read her books, get thee to a library or bookstore and give them a read) that I’ve seen used often recently in relation to YA books:

"You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children."

I think this is very true. There is a depth and a challenge to be found in YA (and also children’s) books that has been sacrificed in many (but definitely not all) adult books for blood, guts, sex and/or gore, which are actually all pretty simple. So perhaps the conclusion to this bit of stream-of-consciousness reflection is that I should rise above the anxiety and read more YA anyway. I still need four more this year to meet my challenge goal after all.

I can’t finish on as wishy-washy a note as that. So here’s a little rave about my current favourite YA series – Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn Chronicles. I’ve reviewed the first three books in the series, Obernewtyn, The Farseekers and Ashling, and I’ve also read the fourth, The Keeping Place, although I didn’t feel up to reviewing it (even thought I loved it and rated it 9/10). Let me quote the beginning of my Obernewtyn review:

I have a memory of standing in a bookstore in my hometown and seeing Obernewtyn on the shelf. I don't know exactly how long ago it was, but I'm pretty sure it was when this was a standalone book and not the first of six as it is now. I can't imagine why I didn't take it home with me as it was just the sort of book I loved at the time. Now, having read it many years later, I can safely say that it's the sort of book I love now as well.

These are post-apocalyptic books where Carmody set a perfect balance (for me, anyway) between the characters taking charge of the world they now live in and discovering just what the great disaster was, how it happened and how to stop it happening again. I love both aspects of post-apocalyptic tales, so I love how this series neatly blends both. It also has telepathy and other mind-talents (another favourite of mine), talking beasts and well-realised, complicated characters. I really do recommend these books and if you start now, you should just about be ready for the last book when it comes out next year.


Angiegirl said...

I've been meaning to read the Obernewtyn books for years. I would like to before the next one comes out. I've literally heard nothing but good.

And I adore The Dark is Rising books. They are completely awesome and so very re-readable, as you said.

orannia said...

Great post Kerry! I'm ashamed to say I had forgetten all about Ana & Thea's open mike night! *hangs head*

I might have to look the Obernewtyn books up :)

Amy said...

Don't be intimidated by the Hunger Games! I think it's more of an engrossing read than a tear your soul out read. BUT, it's not a happy read.

Great thoughts on the subject of YA lit!

Kerry said...

Amy - thanks for the encouragement re The Hunger Games. I will keep it in mind, but probably won't go looking for it just now as reading remains a struggle (which is so unbelieveably frustrating!)