- Books, Literature, and Writing
Five Young Adult Books to Revisit as an Adult
YA Novels - The Glory Days
I've always been a fan of YA fiction. Blame it on my teachers, who sent me home with summer reading lists (do teachers still give those out?) that let me experience worlds so different from my own average American upbringing. Or blame it on my friends, and the times a handful of us (as thirteen-year-old girls) decided to write our own endings to our favorite novels to give everyone happy endings. Or blame it on the fact that I was a child of the late 70's and early 80's, and lucky enough to be the right age to enjoy the YA fiction of what I like to think of as the genre's glory days. Or maybe my own. And yes, many of the novels I read were written before the 70's, but they were all over those summer reading lists of mine.
That's not to say today's YA novels are in any way inferior. I believe that reading is one of life's best simple pleasures, and if there are authors that can awaken the excitement of reading in kids, then I'm all for it. It's just that for me, for every Stephanie Meyer or Rachel Hawkins that's out there now, there was Madeleine L'Engle and Lois Duncan. And of course there was S.E. Hinton. Did you know she was a teenager when she wrote The Outsiders? Of course you did. I'll bet half of you learned that back when you read the book for the first time, and then went on to at least consider writing a novel yourselves. Don't lie - we've all been there. That's what great YA fiction can do.
And so, every once in a while, I like to go back and give another look to some of the books that got me hooked on reading in the first place. This is just a handful of them.
The Young Unicorns
Author: Madeleine L'Engle
I can't NOT start with this one. It's a beautiful story - suspenseful, thought-provoking, exciting and comforting, all at the same time. Ms. L'Engle always created characters I cared about, characters I wished were real just because they were so interesting. And it wasn't always the obvious characters that a girl reading a book like this would most connect with. So yes, I could see the story through Vicky Austin's eyes, but I loved Dave and Emily and Canon Tallis and Mr. Theo. I could feel Dave's apprehension on the New York streets, and his reluctant longing when he was with the Austins. I loved Emily, who handled her blindness with such strength and whose gift of music was so joyful.
And I felt as if I were there. It's one of the author's talents that she can create settings so realistic I could lose myself in them. Everything from the sound of steps when someone walked in the cathedral, to the smells of the subway tunnels, to the chill in Central Park on a foggy November evening. Everything distinct and vivid and enveloping.
But what I've always loved the most with this novel is how it makes me think. Really think, as in what's important in life, and what's right and what's wrong and why something that seems like it could be right might be wrong. And why it is that to be demanded of gives one dignity. And how love really is the most important thing - not romantic love, in this case, but human love. Family love. Just simply, love.
All of Madeleine L'Engle's books are wonderful, and many of them filled my younger years, but The Young Unicorns is an absolute masterpiece.
The Young Unicorns - by Madeleine L'Engle
The Undertaker's Gone Bananas
Author: Paul Zindel
I was one of the misfits in school, and I loved reading stories that let the outcasts shine. I remember first reading Paul Zindel when "The Pigman" showed up on the summer reading lists, and went on to read everything else I could find by him. "Confessions of a Teenage Baboon", "My Darling, My Hamburger", "The Pigman's Legacy" - I enjoyed all of them, the humor and Zindel's ability to create characters that were quirky yet relatable.
By far my favorite was, and is, "The Undertaker's Gone Bananas". A funny and suspenseful mystery, this one has friends Bobby and Lauri trying to figure out what happened when Bobby thinks his neighbor kills his wife. I don't want to say too much here and spoil the story for anyone who hasn't read it, but I spent as much time hoping that Bobby would realize how much he liked Lauri as I did hoping he'd prove Mr. Hulka was a bad guy.
The Undertaker's Gone Bananas - by Paul Zindel
The Truth Trap
Author: Frances B. Miller
This is one of those stories that can break your heart and mend it again. After his parents' deaths, teenaged Matt and his little sister Katie are at risk of being split up. Katie, who is deaf, convinces Matt that they should leave town so that they can stay together. But the big city isn't easy on them. Katie is murdered, and Matt is accused of the crime. And that's all happened by the time the story opens, so no spoilers there. But what Matt goes through, and how alone he is in his grief for his lost family, his guilt over Katie, and his fear that he'll be locked up, these things take the reader into the story. There are two police detectives assigned to the case, and they and their families become a part of Matt's new world, for better or worse. The story is riveting, and heartbreaking, and ultimately joyful. I cry every time I read it, even years later. It's populated with characters I love.
The Truth Trap - by Frances B. Miller
Down A Dark Hall
Author: Lois Duncan
Oh, the appeal of an old isolated estate, a bunch of strangers, and a handful of mysterious happenings. Hooks me every time. In this case, that wonderful old trope was adapted to tell the story of Kit, who arrives at an unusual boarding school to find that there are only a few other students. She also slowly realizes that there's something "special" about each of them. This is one of those eerie stories that we love as teenagers. Gothic setting and teenaged angst. Lois Duncan is another one of those authors whose works filled my bookshelves, but this is the one that ended up taken down the most often.
Now something odd: this story's "time" has been updated since it's original 1970's printings. I suppose someone thought it would be nice if Kit and her friends were familiar with modern amenities like wi-fi. Personally, I prefer the original, but if the update makes the story intriguing for a new generation, more power to it. So if you go hunting for this one on Amazon or in your local bookstore, check to see whether you're getting the old or new version.
Down A Dark Hall - by Lois Duncan
Author: S.E. Hinton
You didn't think I'd leave this one out, did you? I didn't grow up anywhere near Oklahoma, and I didn't know anyone in gangs. Heck, I didn't even have any brothers. So everything about The Outsiders was a new world to me. I remember talking about this story with my friends the year we read it for school. All the guys talked about who was cooler, and all the girls talked about who was cuter. I'm still not sure how we decided who was cuter in a book, but you remember what teenaged girls were like. "Cute" could be sweet and in need of love and protection, like Johnny. Or it could be tough but harboring one soft spot for someone, like Dally. Or it could be fun and good-looking and still a nice guy, like Soda. Things were more straightforward for the guys in our class, because "cool" usually equaled "tough", and that was Dally, hands down.
Well, we had the red cover of the book, and when someone found out that there was a different cover on a copy in the library, we were all over it. Now how many books do you know that can cause kids to go crazy just because there's a new cover? Of course, there've actually been many covers for The Outsiders. Surprisingly few of those covers make it easy to figure out who's who, though. At least until the movie came along.
So there was Ponyboy, Sodapop, Darry, Dally, Johnny, Steve, Two-Bit. And the socs. Which we all called the socks, until it was drilled into our heads that socs=socials. Admit it, you did, too.
Like most of the authors on this list, SE Hinton had other YA novels. Each stands alone, but when you read them, you can usually find little bits that tie them to each other. A character, or the name of a gang or place, or a reference to an event. Just little things, but they made the world she wrote seem that much more real.
Do you have a favorite SE Hinton novel?
The Outsiders - by S.E. Hinton
What about you? Do you have any favorites from your YA reading days?