25 April 2010

Day 29: Enchanted Hunters

Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood by Maria Tatar.  ISBN: 9780393066012.

At some point in the introduction, Tatar states that she's going to focus on books that belong specifically to the canon of children's literature.  It got me thinking about how much I read that could be considered "children's literature."  It also fascinates me that nowadays kids aren't reading the books that their parents read when they were young to connect the different ages; parents are reading what their children are reading, and these are books that were written this year or last year, or only three years ago.  And it's not just parents, it's twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings, and over, regardless of their childless/child-free state.

Think of what this might mean about our current literary tastes or why we are still reading children's and young adult literature. 
I'm not talking about just the classics, those age old tales like Robinson Crusoe and Peter Pan; these are stories that it makes sense to revisit as adults, or visit for the first time if we somehow missed out on them in our childhood.  But what about things like Harry Potter, books that were meant for children from the start and just kind of snowballed into this worldwide phenomena?  Granted, I believe that most of the literature meant for younger audiences that adults are picking up are targeted towards young adults, so there is some overlap, but why are 40-year-old women drooling over Edward Cullen when there are plenty of Harlequin Romance Highlanders willing to actually ravish the girl rather than pussyfooting around?  

I wonder if maybe that's the whole appeal.  Not the lack of sex, but the simplifying of it, and every other aspect of adulthood. 
There are young adult novels that do go in-depth on adult topics and address them and their complications, but more often than not we see something that is presented in clear language, with sterilized situations and relationships.  There may be some confusion about relationship roles, etc. by the characters, but they are the typical and familiar confusions that young adults can relate to and "old" adults remember feeling.

For most of us, adolescence is a relatively short time in our lives packed in with far more complications and difficulties than later years.  We're dealing with things like growth spurts and insane hormone levels and friends turning into enemies and vice versa as we try to figure who we are.  We have to deal with new decisions and situations like whether or not to have sex, do drugs, go to college, take extra AP classes, get a job.  Our relationships with our families get incredibly complicated because we feel we deserve that extra freedom, but our parents refuse to even give us the chance to earn it.

Young adult literature takes all of this and turns it into black and white.  We might see the complications, but the author is able to explain the whys and whats so that we don't have to experience the turmoil of young adulthood, but we get to watch someone else struggle through it. 
On the other hand, I think another draw of young adult literature might just be that it is easier to read, it usually has larger fonts, the plots aren't overly complicated, and young adult authors totally uninhibited with what they write.  When there's no adult mind judging your flights of fancy, it's much easier to fly higher.


  1. Thank you for addressing this topic! It boils something deep and barely hidden inside me every time I hear adult women gushing over those Twilight books. But your theory makes a lot of sense.

    As for Harry Potter, I am guilty of loving that series, but I was about 14 when I started reading them, as were probably a lot of the 20 somethings who read it now.

    My sis is big into young adult, and while some have some cool ideas (Vampirates, for example), I usually get bored with them really quickly. Two that stand out as exceptional to me though are Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Like the Red Panda by Andrea Seigel.

    Also, it seems that whenever I try to describe a story I'm writing to someone who has never read my work, they invariably say, "Hm, sounds like young adult." I get really offended by this and I don't know how to stop!

  2. Hi Dayna,

    I don't want to make it sound like I have a problem with adults reading Young Adult books. I definitely don't. I have a problem if that's what they read exclusively. I suppose things like Dan Brown, Danielle Steel, etc. isn't really much better, but at least they usually have more adult content.

    I think the Harry Potter series is wonderful. I'm not sure it quite deserves all the attention it got, but I definitely liked the book a lot better as it started to grow up. And at least the writing was good and imaginative.

    I did rather enjoy Like the Red Panda which I read this year. I think maybe it was a little too adult for Young Adult, but maybe that's because it's more "serious" than many of the YA that's out there. It seems that the works that cover the most serious topics are wrapped up in fantasy, or they're covered with such light-hearted frivolity that it misses the point entirely.

    As for your work, the only thing you can really do is show it to people and then ask them if they'd really want to hand it over to an impressionable 13 year old. Or you could always mention how many times you say the word, "penis."

    Keep writing,

    Amy L. Campbell


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