Sometimes, I think that YA books work harder at tackling difficult issues and topics because they are still meant to meet impressionable minds trying to make their way in the world. When I see calls for YA manuscripts, usually ones that tackle tough and current issues, like mental illness and immigration, are the ones that publishers are looking for.
And it’s great. I have often said on this blog that YA books can help build empathy in a mind that is open to empathy but might still be focused on the smaller immediate world of the person. I don’t think that all teens are necessarily ‘me’ focused. I have met many on different parts of the spectrum, from completely self centered to so giving and concerned with others I have had to help them pull it back a little to take care of themselves.
Today I am tackling two YA books that are very very different, but I both feel are important in their own ways, written in different times and contexts.
A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K Le Guin
There are lists floating about discussing important children’s books always mentions A Wizard of Earthsea, floating between Anne of Green Gables and Charlotte’s Web and Winne the Pooh and all the other better known ones I long since read. And like those classics, it is about growing up and knowing your power, but it reminded me more of the Lord of the Rings, and His Dark Materials. It is a created world, and there are significant philosophical slants to it, very Tao. It discusses the power of names and knowing true names, managing and respecting power, coming to terms with death. I noticed in the age rating on Amazon it says 12 and up, no upper age limit, because although intended as a children’s book, it extends past the reaches of coming of age and into bigger, more lifelong concepts. Even if one did tackle it in middle school, it would need to be revisited, much like Lord of the Rings and His Dark Materials require multiple readings. Full disclosure, I have only read the Hobbit and the Fellowship, and I know that the other two are going to have to happen. Maybe when the snow returns in a fit of binge crafting. Anyway. This is heavy and it is not flashy. It is a journey through an unknown land of a boy figuring out how to wield his power. I feel more well read in the children’s classics, but I don’t know if this is something I would share with my son. Depending on who he is and how I frame it to him. Huge work, though.
So Wizard was written in 1968, and combines legends and philosophical concepts, which I think is in keeping with the times in which it is written. Race forward to 2014. Prejudice has focused to Pakistan and Afghanistan and Muslim countries as our ‘enemies’ when the vast majority of these equally god fearing people are coming here to live for opportunity and freedoms. Like the reason we all came over. My family was here before we were a country because we wanted religious freedom and began the Seventh Day Adventists. So I am not judging on anyone who is looking for the same. I think our young people need to be informed and empathic to everyone coming here looking for something better. Just because some of us may have gotten here first doesn’t mean we have rights to more of the pie.
The Art of Secrets, James Klise
I stumbled on this one because it was a 2015 Edgar Award Winner. This is an epistolary novel, which may fit some reading challenge criteria. It is interesting, well written and pulls in a number of personalities and motives. It’s a mystery, not so much who committed the catalyst crime but who committed the following one. The tragedy centers on a Muslim family who are the victims of arson and then the privileged white school kids who are trying to help them. Told from all these perspectives it is a rich and multi faceted plot that does not ignore the differences between kids coming in to the privileged school in Chicago and the worlds that they come from. Some reviews felt that some of the nonwhite voices are a little stilted and stereotypical, and maybe they are, but I still liked it the same. It has a rating of 3.5 on Goodreads, which I feel maybe could be a little higher, considering The Winter Sea was rated higher but I think it is less important. It has won or been in the running for a number of awards and reading lists. This is one I might encourage my son to read or read with him.
I have sooo much YA in my kindle because of my own enjoyment of the genre and my own desires to write it. So there will be lots more YA posts to come, but I felt both of these works are important in their own ways.
May has finally arrived!
Half marathon on Mother’s Day weekend next weekend! ahhh