Wednesday, June 04, 2008

genre-busting teen reads

I didn't know much about sticking to genres as a kid. Aged about 9. my 'show and tell' book for a class at school was a Regency romance by Georgette Heyer. The one series of kids' books that worked for me was Anthony Buckeridge's books about Jennings - it's the case for many writers apparently. I had no time for Billy Bunter or the William books, but Jennings was wonderful. Professor Brainstorm's amazing adventures were a good laugh too.
In my teens I had a run of Gerald Durrell - who I expect would still meet great scrutiny as a fine prose stylist. Next up was A. J. Cronin before I woke up and switched to D. H. Lawrence.
SO I don't think I became a teenager and decided 'whey-hey, I can read young adult fiction at last!' Years were really ticked off more by what I could legally drink. And now I'm far from being a teenager, I find I'm enjoying 'young adult' fiction a good deal.
David Almond is one of the best expressions of shamanism in literature. They're set in the northern landscapes of Almond's own childhood. It takes me a while to accept his staccato, abbreviated sentence structure but after a while I'm hooked. Philip Pullman's Northern Lights trilogy was one of a rare sequence of books I needed the next one of. I read Allan Garner's The Owl Service recently, felt it was probably fairly impenetrable for its teenage audience, found it quite hard to follow myself, yet images from it kept streaming back to me afterwards.
I met Philip Gross here at Plymouth University recently, and told him how much I admired his most recent YAF novel The Storm Garden. It's a book that slipped between the genres, apparently - really because it's so good it needs no such age distinction. It's a great read for bright, sensitive teenagers, but grand simply about teenagers. The enigmatic lead character Max keeps conjuring you into the powerful drive of his own skewed story world. Two kids, a boy and girl, are essentially running away from society to get a chance of kicking their own true lives into shape. It reminded me of another recent read, Jim Thompson's The Getaway. Instead of teenagers the runaways in that were adults; instead of relative innocents they were criminals; sex got beyond heavy petting; it was morally dubious, the morality of the tale redeemed by a magnificently weird ending - such are the reasons that THE GETAWAY is not a book for teenagers. But I still reckon if you like the Jim Thompson, you'd enjoy the Philip Gross.

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