Today I received a lovely blog post and review from Uma Krishnaswami (a writer whom I much admire and who has done so much to expanding our notions of children’s/ya) about Tell Us We’re Home. What moved me about her post is that she articulated something that I have long felt: after I wrote and published The Professor of Light, I had a sense that I would venture into young adult. I would not abandon the world of adult fiction or nonfiction, but I knew there were many coming of age stories I wanted to tell. For me, writing young adult has enabled me to touch a certain part of myself–a bit less guarded, not yet clapped into adult attitudes, still striving, still yearning. It’s rare to have a reader be so attuned or even cognizant of your own arc and development as a writer–a true gift.
I came over to young adult many years ago, with my first nonfiction book, Remix: Conversations with Immigrant Teenagers, arriving like a shy newcomer. But it was only when I published Ask Me No Questions several years later, that I understood the world of young adult and its lively appreciative audiences. And, happily enough, I’ve been watching the rising tide of interest from all quarters–adults and young adults alike, as evidenced by this article in the LA Times today: Young Adult Lit Comes of Age.
As someone who devoured young adult literature when I was a teenager, lounging on hot days to read Paul Zindel’s My Darling, My Hamburger or S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, this is cheering. What I loved then–and still do–is the immediacy of this fiction, the sense that they are creating complex, literary worlds where a young person is at the very center. To this day those books flicker like old favorite movies in the back of my mind, mysterious, yet familiar. That did not mean I was not reading great literature written for adults–what is Jane Eyre but a coming of age novel? Or Oliver Twist? Or even Tess of the D’Urbervilles? All of those were consumed in that same bedroom when I was a teenager, too. Yet young adult novels evoked the Raider: depth and strangeness of that period in one’s life–the awkward, half understood truths; the shimmering, jagged edges of self that are just emerging. For me, all of those books have a gratifying lack of completion, because, of course, they are capturing someone who is still on their way somewhere; still forming.