So since I wrote about my take on NPR’s top-100 young adult books, I realized I had a lot more to say on the topic. First, I felt that there were a fair number of books on the list that were just so-so and wouldn’t really stand up in 20 years or more to be “classics.” So then I thought, “Hm. So what books are missing from this list that should be on it?” And I realized, looking through all of the books I’ve kept and lugged around with me through thousands of miles of moves and lots of years, that I didn’t really have a lot to add to the list, for a few reasons. First, some of the books I remember loving and reading over and over were actually more like middle-grade books, rather than for older teens. Second, I’d like to see more Madeleine L’Engle books on the NPR list, but at least her teen books were represented with A Ring of Endless Light. (The wonderful series that starts with A Wrinkle in Time, of course, is really more aimed at middle readers.) Third, I just couldn’t find any other books I’ve read and enjoyed that weren’t on the list already or were really what I’d call classics. Yes, there have been some great books written in the past 25 years or so since I wasn’t a “young adult” myself, but I think most of what I have read more recently as an adult has gotten represented. Honestly, though, I think the list would be better if it were just a “top 50.”
So I’m going to write today just a bit about some of the books that I did absolutely adore as a younger reader, books I either kept from buying them way back when or that I bought later on to have copies of in my home library. They’ll fit into a few different categories, but I’ll just kind of lop them together in this post.
- Middle-grade books I adored and read and re-read: These are easy: The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and A Wrinkle in Time and sequels by Madeleine L’Engle. I have no idea how many times I went back to savor these. I will say now as an adult that I have read some with my daughters, and I still enjoy them for various reasons but am not quite as captivated. I’m guessing that has to do a little with the age level. Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising sequence is so complex in its world and how it is written that it can be read by middle readers but still is great for older readers, and it’s held up well for me as an adult. I don’t think that this means anything negative about the middle-grade books I loved so much back then, but they were, I think, really well-aimed at those ages, rather than being for a broader age group. But others may very well disagree with me on that opinion.
- On to L’Engle’s teen books: as I just mentioned, there is a definite difference in target audience between A Wrinkle in Time and the Austin family books, even though there are connections in characters who appear in the two major sets of books she’s written (about the Murrays and Austins). The characters are different ages, as are the target readers, and have different kinds of struggles and experiences because of their ages. I love how I was able to grow up with Madeleine L’Engle’s characters, moving from middle reader to teen.
- On teen books that were my absolutely most-read: thank you, Beverly Cleary. She, like L’Engle, wrote books for a variety of ages of young readers, and I grew up with her characters as well. I enjoyed Ramona and then went on to gobble up her teen romance stories. I really could have added in Cleary’s teen romances to the great clean romance list I contributed to and wrote about here. I read two books countless times: Fifteen and The Luckiest Girl. They are so well-worn they’re soft to the touch. My 16-year-old, who has kind of grown out of gobbling up books the past few years, still has read and re-read Fifteen almost as many times as I read it (at least 15). Some teens today might think that the stories are dated, and while it’s true they are most definitely set in a “simpler” time, they are still swoon-worthy and absolutely delightful. They’re clean, romantic and absolutely true. I wish more books today were as good as those.
And there you have it. I may revisit the topic and talk more about middle-grade books in the future, but for now this is how I view some of my old faves.