November 9, 2012
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to band with fellow YA writers
To deflect the slings and arrows of adult criticism
Or to take arms against shitty writing and wooden people (and glitter)
And by opposing it (or them) end them.
If there’s one question I hate to be asked, it’s this: What do you think of Twilight?
I’m asked this a lot, most often by people I suspect haven’t read much YA fiction, as if Twilight is the litmus test for all YA books.
The beautiful thing about reading is that it gets better. Even as you get older and your eyesight fails and your hands cramp and you get a crick in your neck, the reading gets better. The more life you experience, the more colourful and nuanced are the worlds you create with only an author’s words and your own imagination. The more we read the more we expect from our authors—we raise our own bar with every brilliant book and often a book we have loved will slide down the favourites scale depending on what comes after.
Some books I’ve re-read since young-adulthood not only stand up, they’ve grown even more legs. I see themes and layers that weren’t visible to me as a teenager, and I’m achingly aware of just how much of the author’s soul has been bared. I can still read Jack London and be amazed by his ability to describe teeth and snow and blood on snow, in a hundred different ways. Robert Cormier’s novels are classics, deservedly; so too, Colin Thiele.
But often when I re-read a beloved book from childhood, I’m disappointed. The magic has gone.
I read Enid Blyton books to my daughter and struggled to keep a straight face when I got to ‘Dick’ and ‘Fanny’. Elyne Mitchell’s Silver Brumby series seemed a little ridiculous. Go Ask Alice wasn’t subversive to me any more—it was boring. Meg Rosoff has been criticised for portraying an incestuous relationship in How I Live Now, so I was prepared to be shocked all over again by Virginia Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic. I snort-laughed most of the way through it. And let’s not get started with My Sweet Audrina—the most gripping, page-turning book from my teenage years, it was passed beneath desks and talked about in whispers. On re-reading, I only felt sad and disgusted. Poor Billie.
Okay, I thought, maybe I should try some adult books that I read and loved as a teenager. Hot, lusty, bodice-tearing historical romance, the kind I read over and over, picturing myself rattling along in a wagon-train and being ravished by a wild colonial boy. Enter: June Lund Shiplett’s Journey to Yesterday and Return to Yesterday. I pinched these books from my mum when I was about fourteen, read them under the covers by torchlight, and got me an education.
My gorgeous mum tracked these down for my birthday (complete with authentic mouse chew-marks):
I honestly believed they’d be as compulsively readable all over again, even if only for nostalgic value.
Oh, Stacey. You simpering wretch of a woman, bonking two men in two different centuries. And Ben—no means no.
Now if I discover an adored book from childhood or young adulthood, I pick it up. I stroke its cover. I might even buy it—but I won’t read it. Some reading memories are gold dust—try to recapture them and they slip through your fingers. Trixie Belden, you shall remain perky, feisty and unblemished in my fuddled memory; I swear to protect you from my jaded, cynical, grown-up self. Because it’s not you, it’s me.
So how do I answer that horrible question? Honestly? I just say that if I had read Twilight at age 14, I would have loved it.