Are you a grownup? Because you’re still reading children’s books. Or at least, a bit more than half the folks reading Young Adult novels, the fiction that publishers have targeted at 12- to 18-year-olds, are in fact legal adults – with the majority aged between 30 and 44.
The study that says so, from an American outfit called Bowker Market Research, points to the popular Hunger Games trio as leading the adults astray (the first book has already been made into a blockbuster Hollywood movie). But there’s far more out there than just The Hunger Games. Old(ish) standby Harry Potter may have kickstarted the trend.
And the readership is so devoted that even the US public broadcaster, NPR, is tracking Young Adult novels that adult reviewers can’t put down. Whatever Young Adult actually means…
“Debates raged over what constituted a young adult novel versus an adult novel,” wrote NPR’s Maggie Stiefvater in her end-of-year review. “Apologetic grown-ups sneaked into the teen section of the bookstore, passing subversive teens pattering into the adult paranormal and literature and mystery shelves.”
And she added: “For the most part, I let the discussion pass me by. I don’t care what a book is classified as: I care that it’s good.”
Topping Stiefvater’s best-of list is the Lennoxville Library’s Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein (2012).
It’s 1943. Verity is a spy, captured by the Nazis on her very first trip to Occupied France during the Second World War, betrayed by her own inattention to detail. When crossing the street, she looked the wrong way and was hit by a truck. Only a just-arrived foreigner would be so unaccustomed to the rules of the road….
Verity is sent to a particularly nasty Gestapo prison, where she’s tortured, and finally promises to spill all she knows about the Allied war effort in exchange for a few more days of life, and a little less pain.
As harrowing as it sounds, Code Name Verity is a beautiful story of the friendship between two women forged during war, expressed in careful detail in a confession written for German interrogators.
Verity is, she writes on her snippets of paper – letterhead snatched from closed-down hotels, old recipe cards – a coward, spilling her guts here in the Chateau des Bourreaux, as it’s called by the locals. Yet Verity is still full of vinegar, snapping repeatedly at her captors, who insist on referring to her as an English prisoner: “You ignorant Quisling bastard… I AM SCOTTISH.”
As she’s a collaborator, the other prisoners call her much worse.
Verity’s best friend is code-named Kittyhawk – a female pilot. She crash-landed on the same ill-fated trip that delivered Verity across the channel.
Author Wein spent years meticulously researching this book, offering a relatively accurate look at the role of women in the British armed forces during World War II. Wein was even careful to track the invention of the ballpoint pen, a writing instrument which makes a brief appearance! (The pen was first manufactured in England, licensed to the Royal Air Force in 1943.)
Fans of historical fiction will enjoy this book. The French Resistance blows things up real good. And anyone looking for a great read will losethemselves for a few hours in a carefully recreated world that skips from present to past, from war to peacetime, from prison cells to the simplicity of how the two women met and how their friendship blossomed.
Meanwhile, in another part of the forest… NPR’s Maureen Corrigan is a fan of Sutton writer Louise Penny, recommending The BeautifulMystery: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel, on her own list of best mysteries of 2012. And Penny’s local fans devour all her books. But there’s one you might have missed.
The Hangman (2010) is a novella, a short specially commissioned for the Easy Reads publishing project (and filed in the – you guessed it! – Easy Reads section of the Lennoxville Library shelves). Your knowledge of the hamlet of Three Pines is not complete until you’ve read this Inspector Gamache mystery.
Early one cold morning, a jogger discovers a man hanging from a tree branch. The man is definitely dead. But is it a murder or a suicide? Gamache spends time in Three Pines working it through, remaking the acquaintance of some of the locals as well as meeting a few tourists for the first time, not all of them pleasant: “Stupid people worried Gamache. They were unpredictable.”
— Eleanor Brown, Jan. 4, 2013