Admiring the Young Adults

September 21, 2010

Later note: I’m told I should include a spoiler alert because this post reveals the general nature of the ending of Beth Kephart’s new book. So be forewarned—although I think, from the book’s tone, any reader will expect the book to end as it does.


Normally I don’t read young adult fiction. I tried the first Harry Potter and gave up after a page and a half because it seemed to me a clever compilation of tiresome old conventions. (Okay, so I’ve just offended 17 kajillion loyal Potterites. See if I care!)

My avoidance of young adult titles has nothing to do with my level of sophistication. After years of scanning school reading lists brought home by my kids, I admit that at heart I’ve always been a ninth grader. The tenth-grade lists get too intellectual for my taste. Besides, anyone who reads my own fiction can vouch for my immaturity. It’s just that, with so much to read—so much that I guiltily know I’m not reading—there’s no time for anything that doesn’t at least purport to offer grown-up insights.

But I was impressed when I read the new young adult novel Dangerous Neighbors and discovered that it dealt with a most adult theme, suicide. Not teen-angst suicide thoughts (which are serious enough), but a young woman protagonist who is profoundly depressed, carrying an adult load of grief about the death of her twin sister, for which she blames herself. From the outset of the novel, Katherine is determined to make amends by jumping into the blue sky from a point high above the earth.

Since the author, Beth Kephart, is a friend and marvelous writer who has published numerous memoirs and other works for big folks, the book’s vividness and delightful style were just what I expected; she brings the Centennial era startlingly to life. I’ve known, too, that recent books for teens offer edgy content. The surprise, for me, was the level of maturity with which Beth felt she could treat the theme without losing her audience. The book does have a happy ending, of course. Lovely young Katherine does not jump off the tower. Still, I’m thinking, if teens are reading about suicide, why are those of us in our supposed prime reading novels about tattooed, antisocial, obsessive, sexually casual computer hackers (see my previous post).

Note to self, and to other writers of so-called adult fiction: Grow up, wouldya?

Second note to self: The kid next door may know more than how to fix this computer. Say hello to him next time instead of grunting.