One of my favorite blogs is The Book Jam. I always look forward to getting the latest book recommendations from Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow, friends and avid readers in Norwich, Vermont. The Book Jam also features author interviews and occasionally a post from a guest blogger. Recently, Beth Reynolds, a children’s librarian and bookseller, contributed a great piece on why adults should consider reading Young Adult (YA) fiction.
Her main point was, “Labels don’t matter. Good writing does.” According to Reynolds, adult readers shouldn’t simply dismiss YA literature as a waste of their time. (That would be literally judging a book by its cover!) Once they scratch the surface, they’ll likely find that they have just as much to gain from this genre as their younger counterparts.
As someone who regularly reads YA, despite being…ahem…a little older than the intended audience, this was music to my ears. But I have to confess that I didn’t always feel this way. Back when I was in the trenches of new motherhood and deeply afraid that my brain was turning into diaper ointment, I used my limited reading time to challenge myself with dense, weighty material. In fact – and I swear I’m not making this up – for three years in the early 2000’s, I read nothing but presidential biographies. From John Adams to Abraham Lincoln to Harry Truman, I resolutely trekked through American history the hard way – 15 minutes at a time. That was the longest this sleep-deprived mommy could concentrate before face planting in the book.
Meanwhile, friends would tell me they were hooked on Harry Potter or Twilight, and I would nod and smile politely. Inside, I was thinking, “Sounds fun, but those books are for kids. I’m a grown-up. I need to read grown-up books.” The fate of my gray matter was hanging in the balance, after all. Then, just when I least expected it, something happened: my kids got a little older. As they did, they started reading YA fiction. And guess who they brought along for the ride?
At first we read aloud together, but before long they took off on their own, reporting back with reviews and recommendations. At my oldest daughter’s urging, I finally consented to read The Sorcerer’s Stone for myself and discovered how much I had missed being immersed in a richly-imagined, well-told tale. What’s more, I now had a whole new point of connection with my favorite young adults – yes, the very same little people who sent me running for His Excellency George Washington back in 2004.
My 14-year-old daughter and I have read many of the same YA novels over the past few years, which have sparked some very interesting conversations. We read Divergent and asked, “Which faction would you choose?” and “What would your fear landscape look like?” We read The Hunger Games and asked, “Could you survive the games?” and “Peeta or Gale?” We read The Fault in Our Stars and, amazingly, only one of us cried. I won’t say which one, but let me assure you that more than enough tears were shed for both of us. In each case, the observations of a teenager still finding her way compared to those of an adult who has (allegedly) already figured things out were truly fascinating. (I still insist that all stay-at-home moms are Abnegation by default.)
Last month, my 12-year-old daughter came home from school and told me that her English class had starting reading The Book Thief. “We finally get to read a good book!” she announced. I congratulated her, even as I wondered how she got all the way to seventh grade without reading any “good books.” (Might need to take a peek at that curriculum when I have time.) “What do you think of the narrator?” I asked. “I don’t know,” she replied. “Is it Satan? Or the Grim Reaper?” We were going to have a lot to talk about.