Reading Young Adult Literature in Middle Age

I think the young adult books that spoke to you when you were 11 and pre-pubescent (awful word; we now call it tween, which is possibly more awful) form your adult tastes. For me it was Madeline L’ Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time with a side of Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion. It was a direct path from here into fantasy, sci-fi, adventure stories and animals.

Give me some Call It Courage about a cannibal island or Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf. Also The Yearling. A Separate Peace. Charlotte’s Web. The Phantom Tollbooth. And now I’m re-reading these things.

Why do this, when there are so much great new books to discover? 1) I have kids and they are just getting into the American Y.A. canon, and 2) I believe T.S. Eliot when he said in Little Gidding (which I learned is a place, and not as I had thought, a little girl), “We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time.” Boy, is that true of re-reading A Wrinkle In Time.

Now I’m Meg – the protragonist’s mother, Mrs. Murray. How must she have felt about her kids traveling to other planets with Mrs. Whatsit and company? I want to tell everyone to be sure they have their cardigans. Ditto with Mrs. Ramsay: You’re really going to let your kid just back from a shipwreck ride a barely-trained stallion in a horse race, what?

It’s truly magnificent fiction for children. They are just coming in to their own independence and capable of imagining other worlds, and it’s great for me in my 40s, because between the laundry and the lunch duty and the hot flashes, I need the escape of a humble pig, and wonderfully permissive mothers.


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