Sunday, August 29, 2010

Young Adult Books for Adults

By Steve Weddle

So we're chatting on Twitter last week about adults reading young adult books. MOCKINGJAY had just come out at midnight and folks were excited.

It's possible that if you search the basement of DSD, you'll find an archived post in which I might have made what could be considered a "snide" remark about adults who read the TWILIGHT books about the 120-year-old guy seducing a teenage girl.

But many adults read young adult books. OK. As DSD's Jay Stringer said, "A good book is a good book." Of course, he should know. He wrote OLD GOLD.

I asked folks for a good recommendation for a young adult book that I might like. I said I'd listen to suggestions and pick one and then report back about how cool it was -- or wasn't.

Kent Gowran mentioned Robert R. McCammon's Boy's Life.

McCammon says this at his site:

I say Boy's Life is not about lost innocence, because I believe we all maintain the pool of innocence and wonder inside us no matter how far we get away from our childhood. I believe this pool can be revisited, and we can immerse ourselves in its healing water if we dare to take the risk of knowing again the children we used to be. This is a risky thing, because once we look back---once we let that wonderful pool take us in again---we may not ever fully return to being the adults we are now.
This is part of what Boy's Life is about: the rediscovery of magic, of wonders that lie drowning and half-forgotten in our souls. Boy's Life is about the dreams and terrors in the life of a Southern boy in 1964, but I hope it is more than that, too; I hope it is a universal key to yesterday, and by the opening of that door for a backward look we may all see today tomorrow in a much clearer, brighter light.

What it's about: The year is 1964. On a cold spring morning before the sun, Cory Mackenson is accompanying his father on his milk delivery route. Without warning a car appears in the road before them and plunges into a lake some say is bottomless. Cory's father makes a desperate attempt to save the driver, but instead comes face-to-face with a vision that will haunt and torment him: a dead man handcuffed to the steering wheel, naked and savagely beaten, a copper wire knotted around his neck. The lake's depths claim the car and the corpse, but the murderer's work is unfinished as, from that moment, both Cory and his father begin searching for the truth.

OK. That sounds promising. A few other folks suggested that one too, or agreed with Mr. Gowran. Well, let's put that one in the running.

How about JERNIGAN, also recommended by Mr. Gowran? 
"Self-pitying, alcoholic widower Peter Jernigan, unable to communicate with his confused teenage son and emotionally distanced from his live-in lover, narrates this depressing first novel."

Well I like the sound of that. I don't know from the work of David Gates, but this looks promising. No idea how this is young adult, but 'tis intriguing.

Hilary Davidson mentioned Sophie Littlefield's upcoming BANISHED. Now, I don't need much convincing to read a book from Sophie Littlefield. Of course, for those who could use a push in that direction, here's an excerpt you'll dig.

John Hornor Jacobs has a YA book, which I'll of course read because his THIS DARK EARTH is such a great novel. 

Allan Guthrie said Jess Mowry is worth looking up. He suggested WAY PAST COOL, which looked good and has an excerpt here.

THE NEW RULES OF HIGH SCHOOL by Blake Nelson was the suggestion of JimmyTheWorm. According to the Booklist write-up at Amazon, "High-achieving students may question whether Max's voice and lifestyle really belong to a Yale-bound kid, but many teens will recognize the book's rapid dialogue, school politics, and the young man's wandering, often painful ambivalence."

Amy Boggs may or may not have suggested MOCKINGJAY.

Tom Piccirilli said "Try Peter Abrahams's Reality Check or Bullet Point. Very strong, dark YA material. And Robert Cormier, of course, including FADE." 

How could you go wrong with Robert Cormier, right? The Library School Journal people said of FADE: "Those who find Cormier's novels bleak, dark, disturbing, and violent will not be disappointed with his latest."

Dave White said THE OUTSIDERS. I think I read that one when I was a kid. I think I liked it. You'd think I'd remember a book with Sodapop and Ponyboy Curtis.

That's the thing, though. I didn't read much young adult when I was a kid. Maybe it wasn't as popular. Maybe it wasn't a genre. Maybe it wasn't capitalized as YA, and I just didn't notice.

I read Salinger. I read Harry Harrison's STAINLESS STEEL RAT books. I read Piers Anthony. I read Dr. Strange comics. I read Spider-Man. 

When I was a young adult, science-fiction was young adult. There was fiction on the left-hand side of the Waldenbooks in the mall. There were children's books in the back right corner, along with some "merchandise." In the middle was all of the non-fiction. The biographies. The sports books. Cook books. And along the right-hand side of the store was the science-fiction and fantasy. That's where they kept the Steven Brust, the Isaac Asimov.

Maybe I need to head into the new stores and look in the YA sections. Maybe I need to see what all the fuss is about.

I still can't imagine a noir hero in a YA book, though. Someone who loses. Someone who doesn't [SPOILER ALERT] defeat Voldermort at the end of the book, or whatever the YA equivalent is.

Is it possible that Young Adult Noir even exists? I mean, yeah, there's the Glass family in Salinger's works, but anyone else?

Forget the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. Or maybe don't. I don't know. Young Adult mysteries. Thrillers. Noir. OK, DSD friends and neighbors. What have you got?


mybillcrider said...

Boy's Life is a wonderful book, though I'm not sure it was intended as a YA novel. Why not try an Edgar winner, John Green's Paper Towns? Or if you want something really crazed, take a look at Larry Doyle's Go, Mutants.

Chuck said...

Agreed that Boy's Life is a) Awesome but b) Probably not YA. Even still, I'd recommend just about anybody read that book, young and old, male and female.

McCammon is king in this house, honestly. You want a surprisingly relevant recession-era novel, read Gone South, too.

Anyway: great post, as usual. Certainly looking into reading more YA, since looks like a lot of great work is happening in that arena. Also interesting that a lot of books not actually meant as YA are retroactively being given the label.

-- c.

Steve Weddle said...

Mr Crider - John Green. Yes. I've watched him quite a bit on his Youtube channel and he seems like a bright, quick guy. I bet the book is great. I'll try that one for sure.

C - I think something seven out of every five books sold is YA now.

Sophie Littlefield said...

thank you, both steve and hilary, for the mention!

I've read a lot of YA in the past year. I'm still thinking about how I feel about most of it. Now I'm also thinking about whether any of it could really be called noir. Will report back.

redemptive endings do seem a bit de rigeur...i'll just say that as a mom - and i'm being a total hypocrite here - i might vote for hopeful endings for the books that make their way into my kids' hands. There is a day when some people are ready to read noir - some people never get there - i'm not sure there's much value in giving it to people before they are ready.

Chuck said...

"C - I think something seven out of every five books sold is YA now."

It's a regular YA-YA Sisterhood out there.

... see what I did there?



What I did there: see it?


I'm going to go weep softly in the shower, now.

(Today's CAPTCHA: "Jauliest." As in, "I'm the jauliest bear what ever did eat Boy Scout Troop #309!")

-- c.

Ron Earl Phillips said...

Jonathan Maberry has a new YA book coming out next month called Rot and Ruin. It's a zombie themed YA and knowing Maberry it will be accessible to all readers.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is a really good read.

Jay Stringer said...

The challenge is laid down.

I want an athology of YA NOIR, and i want it now.

Hunter said...

When defending Boy's Life in front of a school district council that was considering banning the book, Robert McCammon said:

"You might ask why I would write a book like that, for young people to read.

"I would say that I did not write it for young readers. However, over the course of this book's life, it has struck a chord with young readers. I don't know why, since it's set in an era that was lost before they were born. I think it must be something universal, something of yearning and struggle and change and fitting into a world that is very often filled with frightening shadows."

While Boy's Life wasn't written as a Young Adult novel, it is required reading in many high schools around the country.

It's also my favorite book by any author.


Kent said...

Somewhere along the line that Twitter conversation leaned into coming of age stories, and that's when I brought up BOY'S LIFE, not necessarily YA, though there's not a thing in there that a young adult shouldn't read.

I also have to say, following that conversation, I've become sort of interested in this HUNGER GAMES book.

Steve Weddle said...

Sophie -- agree with the "happy" closing idea for the not-quite-ready readers. My girl is nine and Percy Jackson had better end up beating Voldermort every time or we're gonna have trouble. I'd imagine once the kids get to the mid-teens, they're ready for more noir endings. Of course, at that time of their lives, don't they have enough angst and pain?

C - Yup.

REP - Yeah, Dotorow. One thing he does that I like is releasing all his stuff under Creative Commons licenses, with free downloads.

Jay - Then get writing, bub.

Kent - I read the Dragon Tattoo to find out what the fuss was about. I read DaVinci Code for the same reason. I might give a run at the Hunger Games, too.

David Cranmer said...

I've read Barrie Summy's I So Don't Do Mysteries, the above mentioned John Green, and The Hardy Boys. Liked them all.