YA or the Highway: A tribute to Young Adult Fiction

Anyone perusing my bookshelf may wonder for a moment if perhaps I am twelve years old, instead of twice that. I couldn’t blame them. Excluding the Maraget Atwoods and Barbara Gowdys I’ve tucked into the corners, my bookcase is a proudly displayed and well-loved collection of young adult fiction (YA).

I used to try to justify my reluctance to move on to more adult fare to my parents. Now I don’t bother. Though I receive one or two great Canadian works of literature a year (my latest, Cool Water by Dianne Warren, was excellent) I think by now my mom and dad understand that my literary growth pretty much stopped in adolescence (by choice and not by intellect).

I do not shy away from the real world or from being informed about adult issues (I read my Macleans cover to cover every week!). But the reading I undertake in my leisure time should be just that: leisure. I don’t want to be depressed or feel guilty about something horrible happening somewhere. I’d rather read about people with magical powers.

I think my feelings regarding “adult” literature (by “adult” I mean adults read it, I don’t mean erotica) were shaped early on by the books my mother would order from the Northwest Regional Library in Saskatchewan. They were all very good books. By good I mean they were thematically interesting and deftly crafted works of literature. However, I began to notice a pattern in the books I was reading. Eventually, whenever my mom recommended a book to me I would start by asking my now-standard question:

“Are there any suicides or pedophiles in this one?”

And my mom would say, “Well….sort of.” This led me to believe that literature written for adults is a never ending parade of misery and misplaced sexual feeling. This is a broad generalization, sure, but if you take a look at most lauded Canadian literature you’ll see I’m not too far off the mark.

Back to YA: not only does it provide me with a more pleasurable reading experience, it is often plain old better than many adult books I’ve read. Why? Because issues surrounding sexuality and violence, that are sometimes carelessly and artlessly written into adult fiction, require a more delicate hand in fiction for younger readers. This subtle allusion to the darkness that lurks beneath those last years of innocence is more profound to me than in-your-face sex and violence (the adult fiction I prefer is also of the more subtle variety).

And then, of course, there’s the magic. In my regular life, I have had to accept that no amount of feathers attached to my clothing will make me fly, and that the ghost I thought I saw in grade 3 was likely the product of spooky stories, darkness, and the company of my hyperactive friends (the mob mentality strikes again). I’ve lost all my baby teeth and the Easter Bunny stopped visiting. I accept the laws of physics and the legal and societal rules we all live by. I have a content and productive life.

Would I rather be a wizard? YES.

Good YA fantasy writers are my heroes. In order to create the worlds that make their books so enjoyable, they must understand them intimately. This involves a commitment to being an adult mentally living in a fantasy land. How awesome is that? Very. Any adult who can keep the spark of childlike wonder and imagination not only alive but robust is my kind of adult. Their books feed my need for a little bit of whimsy while I wait for my letter from Hogwarts to arrive.

So what ARE these YA books I love so much? I’ve compiled a list of my favourites from my collection:

  • The Abhorsen Trilogy (Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen) by Garth Nix         [Necromancers, the stages of death, Charter Magic, a talking cat]
  • The His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass) by Phillip Pullman         [Science, religion, parallel worlds, daemons, loss of innocence–Don’t see the film]
  • The Wind On Fire Trilogy (The Windsinger, Slaves of the Mastery, and Firesong) by William Nicholson         [Politics, i.e. how different political systems attempt to ensure fairness and happiness, magic, family, sacrifice]
  • The Emily Books (Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, and Emily’s Quest) by L.M. Montgomery         [Must-reads for any little girls who want to write, way less saccharine do-gooding than Anne of Green Gables]
  • The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery        [An ignored and repressed underdog gets hers against her stupid family. Woot!]
  • Painted Devil by Michael Bedard         [Scariest book I read in childhood. Puppets, spine-tingling descriptions of everything from a doll’s tea party to wallpaper, a neat history of the Punch & Judy tradition]

If anyone has read any of the above books, or has any tips for other great YA you think I’d enjoy, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section. In the meantime, I’ve got a brand-new hardcover copy of The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen waiting for me. Oh. My. Stars. This is going to be epic.

Happy reading!