“When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” C.S. Lewis
Not caring about growing up is probably a luxury reserved to the eldest child, which I am. While my siblings wallowed in the unfairness of not being old enough to do things, I enjoyed disdaining said things: “Oh, I could do that, but why would anybody want to?” Needless to say we all get on much better now that these age-based restrictions have gone. However, there was always one exception to the disdain: wanting to read grown-up books.
For me it was never a question of content, so much as proving people (such as the adult who told 9-year-old me that I would never be able to read The Lord of the Rings because it was such a long book) wrong. I was also lucky to have book-loving parents who didn’t impose restrictions on my exploration of their shelves. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I never really had a ‘Young Adult’ phase: aged 9 I was reading Catherine Cookson’s gentle romances, aged 11 I was reading Shakespeare, aged 13 I was devouring Tolkien, and at 15 I had worked my way through Norfolk Libraries’ stock of Sci-Fi and Fantasy (Seriously. And kudos to them – it was an excellent and varied selection). I simply didn’t understand why anyone would need ‘Young Adult’ novels, which seemed to be the literary equivalent of training wheels.
While some children’s books (Lewis, Carroll, Alcott) have stayed with me, and are still read regularly, my disdain for YA remained intact, not helped by the popularity of such poorly written fare as Twilight. I’ve also tended to view adults who rave about YA with suspicion – why exactly are they reading books aimed at 13-18 year olds anyway?
Then the unthinkable happened. I had a story idea which, when I step back and think about things like genre and audience, is arguably YA. You know, that category of books I never read. I could have ploughed on, and plotted, and drafted, and rewritten, but I’m just smart enough to know that when I eventual ask for critique the words ‘Young Adult’ will come up. So I admitted to myself that I needed to read some YA to at least have some idea what I’m doing.
On the same day that I came to this momentous conclusion a publisher tweeted about some YA releases, and linked to the Teen page on their website. I’m not one to say no when the research comes looking for me, and I knew that my criteria was basic: male protagonist, not dystopia. With that in mind I picked up the first Spook’s Apprentice book.* This isn’t meant to be a review, so I’ll just note that it was good: a bit too long-winded when it came to descriptions, and quite short, but creepy in the right places, with nice ties to English history and folklore, and enjoyable characters who kept me turning the pages. I’m in no rush to go out and buy the rest of the series, but the experience has dented my ‘fear of childishness’. I suspect I will still avoid any YA that’s overly hyped, but I have quietly added a few titles to my ever-growing To Read pile.
If you have recommendations on YA novels I should try, then please feel free to leave me a comment. Alternatively you’re welcome to confess your own fear of childishness – I promise I won’t judge!
*To clarify, the publisher was advertising a recent release in Joseph Delaney’s series; it looked interesting, so I decided to start at the beginning.