Yesterday I posted about what YA is and what it is not, at least from my perspective. As a follow up, here are my thoughts on a recent adult title that authentically captures the teenaged experience.
There are books that I love that are deeply concerned with teenagers, to use Karre’s words, and which also respect the teen experience and portray it authentically. My friend Kate Racculia has written two such books: This Must Be the Place and Bellweather Rhapsody. Both books feature adult characters for whom decisions made when they were teenagers continue to resonate. Both also feature some of the most honest and compelling high school students I’ve read recently. The newly released Bellweather Rhapsody takes place during an all state music festival at an aging hotel in the Catskills. The grown ups are dealing with their own crushed dreams (literally crushed in the case of one Fisher Brodie whose mangled fingers mean he can no longer play the piano). The teenagers, specifically talented twins Rabbit and Alice Hatmaker, are dealing with their own goals and aspirations not yet realized. It’s a neat tension, balanced nicely around not one but two murder-suicides.
It is also decidedly adult. Which is not to say it would not have appeal to teens. In fact, I think it is a perfect Alex Award title. It is a book I would have devoured as a teen, much in the way I devoured any book I could find featuring teens (the oeuvre of Stephen King took up a lot of my reading time, but so, too, did books like Waterland by Graham Swift and The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay). And that theme of how your teen choices impact your adult life — candy to me, as I imagine it would be to most teens. But this book is adult because of the distance and perspective that the adults have. Interestingly, this book works so well because of that parenthetical “supposedly” used by Graham. Racculia’s characters have gained distance, perspective, and insight, but they still can’t figure our or shake their teenaged years. It is their failure to fully mature that makes them interesting characters worth reading about.