I’m over the age of 40. There, I said it. I’m okay with being middle-aged; I really am. At this stage of my life, there are all kinds of things I get to do that I didn’t at the ripe old age of 20 or 30. For instance, now I get to wear two kinds of glasses at the same time—one for reading a restaurant menu, and the other for seeing people across the table. My social circle is ever widening to include all kinds of doctor and medical practitioner friends; sometimes I see several of them in a single week. These days, I can watch the Billboard Music Awards and rest comfortably in the fact that, with the exception of the Michael Jackson hologram, I’m older than every performer that takes the stage. And, now that I’m 40-something, I also get to enjoy young adult books.
Sure, I could have read and enjoyed YA books before I hit this age milestone. But I didn’t. Except for a YA classic here and there, from the time I was 18 until very recently I didn’t once open the covers of a book that claimed to be for teens, preteens, or young adults. I’m sure there were valid reasons for this, though I never thought them through. Mainly, I was too busy acting like a grown-up. And acting like a grown-up meant reading grown-up books.
Once I hit 40, though, I could finally let my guard down. There’s no doubt—despite occasional wishes to the contrary—that I am officially a grown-up. And, armed with that sense of security, I can savor a few of the younger things in life. Nowadays, I read YA books regularly. I prefer variety in my reading, so I enjoy alternating a more mature, introspective novel like Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending with a page-turning thriller from the Twilight series. YA fiction also keeps me in tune with pop culture. Just look at the movie theater marquees these days; they’re covered up with YA novels turned films, from The Fault in Our Stars to Divergent. But, mostly, I like the way books for young people make me feel young, too. When I’m reading about a teen character’s social anxiety or emotional angst or romantic trials, I feel as if I were right back there myself, walking the halls of high school. Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday to you, too? On a deeper level, YA fiction is dealing with perhaps the toughest stage of personhood. It’s a time when we undergo the most major transition, trying to navigate our way from the comforts of childhood to the challenges of being an adult. And that makes for intriguing reading.
Knowing myself, I couldn’t have truly enjoyed young adult literature as an adult until now. I needed to be a little more mature to be able to admit I’m not so mature after all.
For those of you who are already YA fans, and for those willing to give it another try, take a look at some of my recent favorites from this ever-popular genre. Also feel free to visit my 2013 post sharing a Flowchart for YA Lit Readers.
I came across this title on an Internet list of new authors that deserve a try, and I’m glad I did. It put me in mind of that 1988 movie Heathers (I told you I was over 40!), because it so ingeniously combines comedy with murder and mayhem. It’s not a completely believable tale, because it’s not supposed to be. It made me laugh out loud several times, and I couldn’t help but imagine certain scenes on the big screen.
This was my book club’s selection last month, and it was a smooth, thought-provoking read about a teenage girl who finds a kindred spirit in a woman decades her elder. I don’t think Kline’s novel is officially classified as YA fiction, but I’d put it there because I think teenagers would identify and sympathize with the orphan heroine and her search for herself.
This will be a blast from the past for many of you, as it was for me. When I saw it on my son’s required list for seventh grade, I decided it was time for a reread. And it turned out to be so much better from an adult perspective. The spiritual battle between good and evil is one we fight almost every day, though not in the same literal, physical way. I found myself seeing things through the eyes of the book’s parents, as well as its main character, Meg.
Again, this may or may not be on the YA shelf at the bookstore, but it certainly straddles the fence between fiction for teens and adults. The 14-year-old girl at its center is learning about grief for the first time, after losing an uncle that she not only loved but shared her true self with. His death sends her on a quest to understand more about his mysterious illness and the male friend he left behind. This is a moving, emotional coming-of-age story—and one that grown-ups will find realistic and touching.
You might have seen the movie by now, if you haven’t already read the book. The Book Thief, a novel that’s been around since 2007, is the sort of character-driven drama that great films are based on. A Holocaust story tailor-made for bookish types, this novel focuses on a foster girl living in Nazi Germany—with a Jewish man hidden in the basement. As she befriends him, she also learns that books and writing can be powerful means of survival.
I’ve only delved into the first few chapters of this novel, my book club’s latest selection. Whether or not it turns out to be a great novel, the premise is pretty gripping. A collector of vintage photographs, author Ransom Riggs has used some of his most peculiar photo finds to create a strange story about a group of strange children. This novel occupied the number-one spot on the New York Times best-seller list for more than a year. And it already has a sequel, Hollow City, for those that didn’t want the first one to end.
[This post is, in part, a response to today's Armchair BEA Conference's topic on the Young Adult genre. It's been a great week virtually hanging out with my fellow book bloggers.]