It feels like I’ve been reading predominantly young adult for years, but in actuality I didn’t “get into” teen fiction until I wasn’t one anymore*. I’m certain I’m not alone in this (similar experience anyone? Anyone? Bueller?), so I won’t pretend like I was special or precocious as a teen. I don’t know what would have been teen fiction in the late 90s and early 00s, but I know what I read wasn’t it.
For one thing, I didn’t read to the volume I do now. I fancied myself an artist, and I thought I would go on to design characters for animation and video games. I wrote with communities of similarly geeky people in incredibly involved story lines, but I never thought I’d go on to be a novelist. It was a hobby, just writing games**.
Young adult also didn’t exist like it does now. There was Harry Potter (the first book came out when I was in grade seven — at the time I thought I was too old to read it), Artemis Fowl, and others, but the first section of the bookstore I’d go to would be horror. I didn’t want to read teen fiction because I thought I was beyond it.
In my teens, I discovered some of my favourite authors — Neil Gaiman, Chuck Palahniuk, Clive Barker. I read Simon Logan’s collection of short fiction, I-O, and then I read it again. And again. To date, I don’t think I’ve reread a book as many times. (It’s no longer published in print, but it’s available on Smashwords for $1.49USD.)
I read novels like Girl, Interrupted, The Bell Jar, and Prozac Nation because I had a morbid fascination with mental illness, dealing with a disorder of my own. Arguably, all are young adult since I believe the authors were in their late teens when the books begin. It’s, uh, been a while.
And then there are the books I read for school — The Lord of the Flies, The Great Gatsby, Animal Farm, all almost cliched for classroom reading. But we also had a brilliant Canadian Literature class featuring books such as Kit’s Law by Atlantic Canadian author Donna Morrissey, The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx, The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, and a number of others.
At twenty-seven, I’ve been reading teen fiction for six or seven years now. Obviously, I no longer believe I’m “beyond” teen fiction, though I am choosy in what I read. And I don’t regret not reading it as an actual teenager. From a writing standpoint, I needed to read Neil, Chuck, Clive, and Simon to understand what I love to write, and how I create characters, and what my voice is. They taught me how to break genre boundaries, and create worlds outside of the box.
Let me know what you read as a teenager below in the comments. I’d love to hear! (Or just poke fun at me for how ridiculous I looked as a teen. Sigh.)
* There will be post about this one day.
** And probably at least two about this.