I’m normally clueless about what is and isn’t fashionable but even I have glommed on to the fact that YA (short for young adult literature) is very ‘in’ and not just for young readers. Most adults I come across are either reading it or writing it (seriously it seems that you could fit all the world’s authors who aren’t writing a YA series into a medium-sized elevator). I don’t really ‘get’ this new fashion but that’s not surprising as I am just not a fashionable gal. However when one of two choices for my book club this month was a YA novel (here in Australia it was published as YA, in the US it wasn’t) I chose to give it a go, at least partly to see if my ‘why would I want to read stuff written for teenagers?’ paradigm is causing me to miss out on some great reading.
The book is Helen Grant’s The Vanishing of Katharina Linden. As opening lines go “My life might have been so different if I had not been known as the girl whose grandmother exploded” was a good start at drawing me in. The story which follows is narrated by Pia Kolvenbach, who at 18(I think) is telling of events that took place when she was 10-11 years old (a neat way of getting around the fact her narration contains the occasional word or concept that a 10-year old is unlikely to express). She lives in the small German town of Bad Münstereifel with her German father and English mother. It is the sort of town where everyone knows everyone else and so it seems unthinkable that a child could disappear. Therefore when fourth grader Katharina Linden vanishes one Sunday, the parents and authorities of Bad Münstereifel start to worry. When a second child goes missing a few weeks later real panic sets in.
After her grandmother exploded Pia became something of an outcast with only one friend, Stefan, who is a fellow outcast for reasons that I must have missed. The two embark on a rather leisurely ‘investigation’ into the disappearances which mainly involves visiting one of the town’s elderly residents and listening to his stories about the town’s history, usually a mixture of fact and legend with a healthy smattering of ghosts and demons thrown in for the children’s amusement and/or moral edification.
I enjoyed the gentle humour of the book, such as when Pia is doing a school project on ‘where she comes from’ and when she gets to the bit about what products that place is known for she asks her mother what Middlesex has a lot of, to which the reply is ‘roads’. I enjoyed the character of Pia too, she is a likable and thoughtful kid whose tribulations are realistically depicted. At one point someone in the town is ‘identified’ (through rumour and innuendo) as the person responsible for the missing children and a mob mentality takes over most of the adults. Depicting this from a child’s perspective, who takes the words they hear more literally than an adult would, is both realistic and thought-provoking. The book also touches lightly (but intelligently) on the theme of a young girl growing up and having to do some adult-like things for the first time.
Overall though I feel a bit ho-hum about the book and in the end I still don’t really ‘get’ the allure of YA for people who aren’t young adults themselves. In summary I was mildly entertained but thought it a bit slow and I spent a lot of time wondering what the adults where thinking and doing while Pia and Stefan bumbled around. What was going wrong with Pia’s parent’s marriage? What were the police doing about the missing children? How did the teacher who let a child get kidnapped from under her very nose cope with the guilt she must surely have felt? Based on this experience I can’t really imagine making a habit out of reading this kind of thing.
In trying to get a handle on the phenomenon of adults reading YA I came across this blog post giving 5 reasons why one adult reader loves YA and started to realise why this particular fashion just doesn’t do it for me. The blogger lists 5 things she loves about YA three of which I don’t really get into (close/first person point of view, plot tropes such as high school dynamics and life as a series of firsts), the fourth of which I do like but didn’t find in this book (fast pacing) and the last of which (kick-ass female protagonists) I love but find plenty of in the ‘adult’ literature I read.
I’m glad I tried this book, it was quick read, I didn’t hate it by any stretch and I have satiated my curiosity about this relatively new phenomenon. But I won’t be hurrying to read any more.
What about you? Are you an adult reader of YA books? Do you get something out of them that is missing in ‘adult’ literature? Am I missing the point entirely?