Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Young Adult Novels and the Old Adults Who Write Them

According to this article that appeared in the Washington Post a couple weeks ago, I'm too old to be considered to be tolerated for remaining young in my mind. That's ok, since there are enough times that I feel old already. But I suspect few things would make me feel as old as reading a young adult novel.

I've read a couple of them before, but probably not since I was a student teacher. However, I may be wrong, because there seems to be no clear definition of what a YA novel is. The Post article isn't about the age range of YA subjects, rather it's a profile of Nick Hornby, the British novelist who wrote High Fidelity and Fever Pitch. According to his Web site, he's known for being funny, humane, and touching -- though the article seems to point more to a sense of melancholy that runs through his personality. But I'd say a man who has a profoundly autistic son is allowed to be touching and melancholy at times when it suits him.

What I liked most about this article -- which struck me as rare for the Post, though I don't usually read it for its literary reportage -- was that it got to the heart of who Hornby is as a writer and why people enjoy reading him. He said that the characters he likes to write about are "people in very ordinary situations in cities, whose lives get bent out of shape by something kind of big happening to them." Perfect. You've got me hooked! That's what I like to write too. (Well, sometimes the situations get a little out of the ordinary.)

The article is about Hornby's entree into the YA field, with his new book Slam. While some of his creative team feel it should have been marketed to the adult reading public (where it would sell better), Hornby seems pleased at the opportunity to do something new.

Hornby was inspired to write in part by the early works of Roddy Doyle, who wrote The Commitments, The Snapper, and The Van. But his approach to YA novels appears to have been changed by his discovering David Almond and the late Robert Cormier. (I'll admit they're both news to me.)

Slam -- and indeed, this article -- are unique, in that they show that there are still writers and publishers willing to do something different, something daring, to cultivate new readership. I'm pleased to see it, and I hope there are more examples to call attention to in the future.

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