So I’m in the middle of revising my middle grade manuscript, and I’ve been thinking about what books influenced me growing up, and are still at work today. I have some obvious choices, and some that I’m sure I’ll think of later. I can’t leave out recent reads either, that, while perhaps not written for young readers, illustrated to me an unflinching look at a subject and informed me to dig deeper. I’m predisposed to making lists, so here is in no particular order, authors whose works I readily sought out at our little public library growing up, and ones who through word of mouth, I read as an adult:
Ursula K. LeGuin
The Bronte Sisters
Who kept you (or keeps you) up late at night with a flashlight under the covers? Bonus points for favorite childhood authors who influence your writing today.
So I’m trying to figure out why I like the Young Adult category of fiction so much lately. I’m pretty sure it all started back in early 2001 with JK Rowling. Bush was handed the Presidency, which put me out of work, and someone had previously given me the first in the Harry Potter series. It had been sitting there on my coffee table for months. I was too depressed to read my beloved Washington Post every day, so I read the first 4 of Rowling’s dense YA masterpieces back to back, consuming 4 feet or so of my bookshelf, and eventually finished out the series of 7 titles. Harry and Hermione and Ron put my mind at ease about the distressing changes going on outside in my work-life world of Washington, DC. I traveled through space and time with the three of them, into a different world, and was happily distracted for hours of my day.
But why YA? When it comes to reading, I have incredible powers of concentration. Long, hot afternoons in childhood, and later, long dull nights in law school prepared me for hours with my nose in a book, no matter when, who, or what was going on around me. So it’s not just that I need YA adventure books to mesmerize me into distraction. I think YA appeals in particular because the stories are timeless, and there are no squeamish, self-indulgent adult topics to manage (I mean, really, my internal dialogue has it ALL covered). I believe there is great benefit to staying connected to the part of yourself still on the cusp of discovering your hidden talents, or uncovering your inner hero or even remaining childlike in your fascination with the world around you. YA covers all of that pretty well, I’d say.