I'm reading Nick Hornby's last collection of book essays written for Believer magazine and I'm a little sad, as I would really love to know on a month-by-month basis just what books out there he's buying and reading. In the October 2007 essay in Shakespeare Wrote for Money, he wrote something that I'd like to share with y'all. After writing his own YA (young adult)/adult crossover book he started reading quite a few others and was taken aback by how strong, complex, deep, and stirring they were. He writes:
Kudos to Nick Hornby for correcting his reading oversights! I've never really understood how people who think of themselves as serious readers can disregard YA literature as being not important enough to spend time reading. They might admire children's picture books or reminisce about classic board books, but spend time reading a chapter book whose primary audience is tweens or teens? Not so much.
"I see now that dismissing YA books because you're not a young adult is a little bit like refusing to watch thrillers on the grounds that you're not a policeman or a dangerous criminal, and as a consequence, I've discovered a previously ignored room at the back of the bookstore that's filled with masterpieces I've never heard of...Weirdly, then, reading YA stuff now is a little like being a young adult way back then: Is this Vonnegut guy any good? What about Albert Camus? Anyone ever heard of him? The world suddenly seems a larger place."
Which is odd, considering that, dollars to doughnuts, there has to be at least one YA book in every reader's past that shaped him or her into the person s/he is today. Who would I be today, were it not for Madeleine L'Engle, Susan Cooper, Laura Ingalls Wilder, L. M. Montgomery, Mark Twain, C. S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, and the countless other authors whose works spoke to me, again and again, throughout my childhood and teen years?
As a matter of fact, of the 20 or so books with the most staying power I've read in the last year, four of them are YA books. On average I read the equivalent of about two books per week, and in the last year I've not read all that much YA fiction--maybe seven novels. But if 4 out of the best 20 books I've read in the last year were YA, and I only read seven YA books, that tells me that perhaps I should be reading a helluva lot more YA books than adult books if I want to read something really memorable.
Of those books, two of them I picked up at the urging of Rebecca Fabian, the children's buyer at the Odyssey: My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The third, Catching Fire, doesn't really count as my own pick since it's a sequel to The Hunger Games, but I'm proud to say that at least I chose If I Stay by Gayle Foreman on my own. Each book is extraordinary in its own way, but what they all have in common is an utterly compelling story that kept me from leaving my comfortable chair/bed/fill-in-blank-with-furniture-of-choice until I had devoured each one in its entirety.
So I leave you now with some quick blurbs for books that you would be well-advised to sample along with your "real" literature for adults. Like Nick Hornby, you may be surprised at the depth of the YA world. A good story is a good story, no matter who the audience is.
This YA/adult crossover introduces a disturbing future nation state that demands tribute from its conquered states in the form of 24 boys and girls who must fight to the death in the Hunger Games. The brutality of the Roman gladiators combines with the immediacy of reality TV in this novel packed equally with action and character development, where each teen’s struggle to survive is matched only by the struggle to maintain his or her humanity. Perfect for girls or boys, men or women, this book’s intensity will stay with you long after you finish the last page.
If I Stay by Gayle Forman is one of the best, most emotionally engaging, books I've read in a long while. When 17-year old Mia is the sole survivor of an accident in which her entire family is killed, her life hangs precariously in the balance. The narrative darts back and forth between her present comatose state and pivotal moments in her young life thus far while Mia herself must make an agonizing choice: to follow after her family or to stay, to stay behind in a life haunted by loss where nothing will ever be the same. Forman is a sensitive writer who evokes emotional response without being manipulative, taking a hard look at all manner of difficult choices.
I'm hoping that Rebecca will chime in here, either by editing this post or doing another one, on the other two books I mentioned--she's written great blurbs for both of them, and anybody who claims to prioritize reading in his or her life would do well to sample them.