Stephen King tells his budding authors in On Writing to read everything. Although I have always had a well-balanced reading selection, I have really taken that advice to heart. I do try to read a bit of everything. I read non-fiction books which include memoirs, biographies, history and social/cultural exploits. I read almost all genres of fiction except for erotica and sci-fi. I am not opposed to reading these genres, but typically just don’t find books that tickle my fancy within them. I also don’t plan on writing a steamy sex thriller or creating another world filled with fantastic creatures. I do try to keep an open mind and read. Some of my most favorite books come from the young adult shelves.
Young adult books were not as substantial when I was a teenager as they are now. I feel like I went from Goosebumps and Judy Blume in elementary school to assigned school reading in middle and high school. Arguably, the category was non-existant. That did not stop me from reading though. I really enjoyed my school reading which included books such as Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Great Gatsby, To Kill A Mockingbird, and The Scarlet Letter. I still have my Dover Thrift editions in my garage, marked up with my “insights”. I also did a lot of independent reading too. I read NYT bestsellers, and whatever was lurking in my mom’s extensive collection. Yet, I cannot recall reading a book which I related to as a young adult.
My first true experience was Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone. I had all four of my wisdom teeth removed, my cheeks were puffed up like a chimpmunk’s, and I had no intentions of leaving the house anytime soon. I picked up this book in preparation for the “long winter”. I devoured every page. Maybe it was the percocet, but it was the most fun I had experienced with a book. I was hooked. Calling the Harry Potter series young adult is even a bit of a stretch, but as the series progresses a case can be made for it. This was my transformative experience with young adult literature.
Since then, my friend introduced me to John Green, who writes with such authenticity that I feel like I am fifteen again when I pick up his books. I recently found another book, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo. The teaser begins with: ” From the moment she sets eyes on Chris, she’s a goner. Lost. Sunk. Head over heels infatuated with him. It’s problematic, since Chris, 21, is a sophisticated university student, while Amelia, 15, is 15.” Without question, I grabbed it. I was 15 when I met Mark, and although he wasn’t at university, he was six years my senior. Only when you are in that type of relationship can you understand the complications that come along with age difference. (Even though if I were 22 and he were 28 no one would care.)
I love seeing the relationship unfold, but what really blew my mind was this:
Amelia is speaking with Chris about her family life:
“My mum has this really busy, really full-on job that she does Monday to Friday, plus she’s got Jess to look after, plus my dad, plus all the housework and…she’s really unhappy. The air in my home…is heavy with my mum’s unhappiness. And her exhaustion. And her sheer dissatisfaction with her life. And I hate it. I can be up in my room when she’s in the kitchen below and I feel her despair seeping up through the floorboards and into my room and throughout the whole house. You can hear her banging pots and pans, or cursing the vacuum cleaner…”
After this revelation, Amelia tells Chris that feminism is to blame for her mother’s current plight. She explains:
” ‘…And thanks to second-wave feminism, my mum spends all day getting shoulder-charged by a bunch of delinquent teenagers, picks up Jess from preschool, goes to the supermarket, comes home, cleans up the day’s mess, gets the dinner on, gets Jess in the bath, folds the laundry, gets Jess out of the bath, serves the dinner, clears up after dinner, puts Jess to bed and collapses, waking up to do it all again the next day.’
I pause for breath. Chris looks thoughtful.
‘Well. I guess you have a point,’ he says. ‘It can seem like women like your mum got sold down the river by feminism, or at least caught in its wake. But really, don’t you think they are getting screwed by patriarchy, not feminism?’ “
Wow. Reading this blew. my. mind. I am so happy that this narrative is cropping up in young adult fiction. I love the back and forth between the characters. Young people do have these conversations! Not all 15 year old girls are on a quest for “stuff” and some 21 year olds actually have conversations about society, inequality and that nasty f word. And maybe some teenager out there is reading this just for the love theme and wonders what feminism is, or what the hell second wave feminism was. Reading this made me so happy, and a bit jealous too. I wish this had existed when I was 15.
So, yay for young adult! I think this is a recognition that teenagers do have complicated family structures, deep curiosities, and gosh darn it, they wonder about sex too!