Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Oh, grow up.

I've just been reading Patrick Cooper's I Is Someone Else (review to come in the March issue). Published here by Delacorte Press with an April pub date, it's an English novel set in 1966 about a boy, Stephen, who needs desperately to talk to his older brother, long lost on the countercultural road that stretched from Spain to the Middle East to India and Nepal, and impulsively takes off after him. I'm inevitably reminded of when I read James Michener's "hippie" book The Drifters when I was thirteen. It's one of the few Micheners that don't drag you through layers of history (I was so disappointed when, after reading the Condensed Books excerpt from Hawaii, about the tortured missionary and his hot wife, that the real book actually began with freakin' creation.) The Drifters consisted of a calculated mix of young people--a sexy Swede, an idealistic American, a slutty Brit with Issues, an angry black, etc. who travel together and separately on the hippy highway through Spain and Africa in the late 'sixties.

Like The Drifters, Cooper's book has some sex, some drugs, both presented with nuance. But it's still very much a YA novel where The Drifters is what we used to call an adult book for young adults: a book both popular with and intended for adults by that could attract and sustain a teen audience as well. When I was on the Best Books for Young Adults Committee in the early 1980s, we would get in big, big trouble if we put too many YA and not enough adult titles on the list. The Alex Awards were in large part created to solve this perpetual problem of adult titles being ignored by Best Books (and, now by the Printz, which can only be awarded to a book published for young adults; that is, a book published by a children's-book publisher). I sometimes worry that our enthusiasm for young adult publishing gets in the way of the fact that kids are supposed to grow out of it. And want to. Isn't it more of a thrill to get your depraved-hippies book from the adult shelf? Even with the incredible maturing we've seen, in both writing and book design, you can still spot most YA novels as such fairly easily. (I Is for Someone Else has a plot that would be right at home on an Afterschool Special.) Kids know that these are books written For Them--which can make a person feel both acknowledged and patronized by the same glance.

6 comments:

shewhousuallydoesn'tdothistypeofthing said...

I cannot think of anything teenagers want to be less than teenagers. When I was that age my main goal was not to be. Why, then, would I want to hang out in books purportedly written for an age I was not meant to be? I have always hated this division. Then there were the books for twenty something women. Then thirty something. Soon there will be geriatric literature. Books for middle aged gay men. Books for forty something women. These are not books. These are markets. We should teach our children that there are no childrens books, no YA books, no adult books. There are just books. And we should stop shoving the YA novels down the throats of teens and give them hope instead.

rindambyers said...

I can't speak to the experience of liking to read YA's when I was a teenager because I didn't have any. I had some nonfiction slanted to teen reading.I had things like Time, Newsweek, National Geographic, adult biographies, Shakespeare, Kipling, snippits of adult novels from RDC books, encyclopedias, some fiction for children, my schoolbooks, poetry for both adults and children, the Bible, and odds and ends like Fox's Book of Christian Martyrs. By the time I was 17 and in college, things like history, theology, sociology had already captured me. YA? But then, I was homeschooled in another country, another culture.

I DO think some teens like and should have good books written just for them. They like that. Other teens, like me, will have long ago, in their preteen years, flown right over them...

shewhousuallydoesn'tdothistypeofthing said...

I doubt many YA novels are written for YAs so much as they are written BY YAs. Children book writers if they are for real are stuck for good or bad looking out through the eyes of themselves as children and I am sure the same is true for YA novelists. I'm sure they'd all grow up if they could.

patrick said...

I think I agree with most of the above, which may seem strange as I wrote the book under discussion. I just write the books I want to write and hope that somebody might enjoy them. The last thing I'm interested in is filling holes in markets. As a reader though I often prefer YA books to contemporary adult fare which I often find stodgy and over wordy. Not sure about growing up if I could though. isn't it pretty great to be able sometimes to remember what it's like to be young?

Roger Sutton said...

Welcome to the blog, Patrick. There's been a discussion recently on the childlit listserv about the paucity of teen books about the 60s, and I think your book will get a nice welcome here, particularly for way it looks at the travellers' "counterculture" with insight and respect. Did you ever travel the hippy highway? ;-)

patrick said...

Thanks for the welcome! I'm sure I'm going to enjoy your blog now I've found it.
Yes, I did go that way, three times in fact though the first was best. I suppose I based the book on my travels though much more came in of course and my memories are fractured and unreliable.
The sixties is great to write about because of the coming together of people from so many different backgrounds and cultures and the sense of multiple possibilities both for individuals and for society. I'm surprised more writers aren't doing it (for any age!)