I haven’t been around for a while, and thanks to Martin who reminded me of my recent blog-shy behaviour tonight, I thought I should probably come back and do something.
So, what’s been happening? Not a lot writing wise, I have to be honest. Lots of work and personal stuff going on. I hit a bit of a wall over the Summer with the collection of shorts I’m working on, and with the novel. Maybe I just needed the break. Maybe I’ve been having some kind of mild identity crisis. I’ve certainly been trying to get myself out of a bit of a rut I’d fallen into.
Which brings me to the title of my post. I’ve been trying out some books that I wouldn’t normally read. My partner recommended a whole load of Young Adult Fiction to me, something she’s quite enthusiastic about, and after some initial scepticism I decided to give it a go. After all, she had previously pushed Philip Pullman in my direction and that turned out extremely well. So I gave The Hunger Games a go and was pleasantly surprised. I whipped through the trilogy in a couple of days. And then, by sheer chance, we were given Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go to read on my uni course. So that was another trilogy I devoured in just over a week – the Chaos Walking trilogy. Of the two I probably prefer the latter (just), but they both made me realise I’d held far too many wrong preconceptions about Young Adult work. I’d assumed it was all like Twilight – tween romances with a heavy dose of fantasy. I expected overly simplistic plot devices and dumbed down language, all kinds of fluffy stuff the kids might like. I couldn’t have been further from the truth.
The Ness books in particular tackle some pretty heavy duty intellectual and ethical ideas about responsibility and culpability. They explore if and how it’s possible to move on once you’ve made a serious moral error. They deal with compromise and difficult decisions in an ethically ambivalent world. And they focus again and again on the difficulty of trying to forge your own identity in a storm of conflicting influences. What’s more, they do all this with style and with a frenetically paced plot to boot. But what I realised, and maybe it shouldn’t have been such a shock, is that whilst these themes may be particularly pertinent for an adolescent reader, they are far from irrelevant for adults. It’s a bit of a myth that you grapple with the big questions as a teenager and then settle them, or move beyond them, as you mature. The reality, as I’ve found it, is that you never really satisfy yourself on these things and you revisit them again and again whatever your age. Which is why, I think, the incessant self-doubt of the narrators in both series of books, the guilt and confusion they experience, resonate so strongly. These books are essentially introducing younger readers to some fundamental philosophical concepts and pull no punches whilst doing that. As a result they stand shoulder to shoulder with work written with an older audience in mind, the only really difference being they are somehow more thematically succinct – certainly no bad thing when you think about it.
If you haven’t read Ness, then I urge you to check him out. (Surely everyone, except me, had already read the Suzanne Collins books anyway). I’m moving onto the Gone series by Michael Grant next – I’ll update the blog when I’m done with those. But it’s fair to say I’m becoming a bit of a convert. I hate admitting I’m wrong, but from time to time I suppose you have to…