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.