This is how old the characters are

Am I exploring young adult fiction too late? – Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

I just recently entered the late twenties and I find it strange to be reading young adult fiction. Just to clarify things, I have nothing against YA fiction or people who read it. I have a number of bookish friends who love it and we still are friends. We don’t even try to convert each other, although I imagine that there’s a secret hope within us, that we explore each other’s books.

I find it a little disorienting because it’s my first time. I don’t know what to expect. I was not given a chance to explore this genre because I didn’t know until about two years ago that such a genre exists. I am that ignorant! Whenever I go to book stores, I usually linger at the classics and general fiction sections. When I first got lost at the YA shelves, I thought it was just some fancy division of that book store until I joined our book club and realized that it’s legit.

I also have a little problem with it: how do you classify a novel as YA? Let’s do a little exercise with my little research:

1. The main character should be a young adult. – Let’s not be Nazis about this and consider any teenager. So here are six novels I have read, the ones that immediately popped in my head, that meet that condition:

  • Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  • Fatelessness by Imre Kertesz
  • Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel

2. Language and structure should befit a young adult. – That eliminates Oscar Wao (because of the innumerable footnotes) and A Clockwork Orange (because of the nadsat talk). We still have four remaining.

3. Theme should be young adult issues. – This one is a little tough. What are young adult issues? Let’s not answer that now because that would open a can of you-know, but I think with this guideline, Fatelessness is eliminated. Jewish prison camps and the Holocaust are not a young adult issues; they are world issues. I feel a little iffy about Housekeeping because it’s about people drifting, metaphorically, and the impermanence of things. Perhaps that’s an adult issue? Let’s cross it out anyway.

4. It should be written for the young adult – That immediately crosses out everything. Black Swan Green, I think, may count as young adult, but the author has a generally adult audience. The same is true with Life of Pi, but it has a YA version. I wonder if there’s any difference in the text.

So yes, it all boils down to that: research if the author is a YA fiction writer. Or better yet, ask your friends who read a lot of YA. I think I usually ask Tina, who generously lent me a copy of Jellicoe Road, to categorize for me. And this reminds me that I’ve talked too much about stuff that I did not originally intend to talk about.

Jellicoe Road’s protagonist is a seventeen-year old girl, Taylor, who has issues with her past and, ultimately, her identity. The author, based on my bookish friends, is an Australian YA fiction writer. So all three criteria are met. Now for the language:

My body becomes a raft and there’s this part of me that wants just literally to go with the flow. To close my eyes and let it take me. But I know sooner or later I will have to get out, that I need to feel the earth beneath my feet, between my toes–the splinters, the bindi-eyes, the burning sensation of hot dirt, the sting of cuts, the twigs, the bites, the heat, the discomfort, the everything. I need desperately to feel it all, so when something wonderful happens, the contrast will be so massive that I will bottle the impact and keep it for the rest of my life.

I don’t think that’s tough to understand. I am saying this not because I am mocking it but because I find beauty in the simplicity of the narrative. No need to check your mental dictionary for highfaluting words, and this means easier comprehension and faster reading, no?

But there’s a twist. There’s an interrupting “other” narrative, and as you go further, you will realize that this “other” voice and that of the protagonist’s stretch through time, and combining the two will provide answers to Taylor’s questions. The novel is plot-driven but it isn’t strictly linear because of this “other” tale. It’s easy to determine that interrupter: it’s written in italics.

Did I spoil anything? I don’t know. I was never good at hiding spoilers. Anyway, while I am going through this, I imagine myself as who I was a decade ago. What were my issues then? Oh sure, I was an angsty kid. I probably had more angst than the number of zits that my face could display. I was a teenager with adult issues, so that alone could be a reason why I never got into YA.

One thing that annoys me though is this territory war going on among the characters. I don’t dig it. I did not experience that stuff. Does that happen in the Philippines? Maybe I was too much of an introvert when I was younger that the teenage groups ignored me and considered me neutral, therefore allowing me to step on any area. And what would these areas be? Oh, that would be the main roads that I pass everyday to go to school and the local general merchandise store (what we locally call the sari-sari store). These two areas are still logically neutral, right? No harm done.

It also helped that I did not compare it with general fiction. The novel felt like a teenage drama inside my head, but really, just lose yourself in it. I find it light and fun to read. It’s not so bad if you come to think of it. This does not mean that I’m switching genres though. I still love my classics and general fiction. I wish not to call them literary anymore because it sounds a little condescending, don’t you think?

Date Started: May 5, 2012. 10:45 PM. Book #25 of 2012.