Puget Sound English Department

June 18, 2009

Second Childhood

Filed under: Literature,Uncategorized — ATH @ 5:56 am
Tags: , ,

At my advanced age and with my advanced degree in hand, I’ve finally developed the confidence to return to a category of books that mystified me even way back when they were pretty much all I read: “Young Adult Fiction.” My daughter has a way to go before she gets to the American teenage iteration Bildungsroman, but her presence in my life has brought to mind the books I loved as a child, books that are, sadly, out of print. Instead, there seem to be more and more overtly commercial series featuring tie-ins (“Hannah Montana: The Novel”?) and, of course, Harry Potter. But no one series can substitute for the rich variety I remember.

In the past few months, I’ve (re)read a couple of YA texts that seem to me only arbitrarily and perhaps pejoratively described as “YA”; that is, they deal with teenage protagonists, but in sophisticated adult ways. If you haven’t read them, consider them highly recommended. And clearly my suggestions here slant female; please remember it’s preliminary, and send suggestions for male-focused counterparts beyond The Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace.

1. Dodie Smith, I Capture The Castle (1948; reissued 1999 by St. Martins with a gratuitous plug from J.K. Rowling on the cover). There’s an excerpt here. This is a magical story by the author of… 101 Dalmatians, a factoid that tells you almost nothing about the charmingly bizarre Mortmain family, their artistic and grinding rural poverty, or the rich and old-fashioned story of romance and culture clash that unfolds when wealthy Americans take over the property on which their decrepit castle stands.

2. Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now (see more at her website). This novel is perhaps I Capture the Castle‘s polar opposite. Elizabeth is a 14-year-old American visiting rural England when a nebulous, fragmented war breaks out, leaving her and her young cousins to fend for themselves until their farm is commandeered by the defensive forces and they are scattered throughout the countryside. The language is spare and tight, the details of war and suffering are terse and disturbing, and the narrator, an incestuous, precocious anorexic and survivor, is unforgettable.


  1. Ah, I really like I CAPTURE THE CASTLE, and it was made into a nice little film, too.

    Comment by O. — June 18, 2009 @ 3:39 pm

  2. I see a 2003 version: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0300015/
    But my feeble brain seems to recall an earlier version…perhaps it’s just that 2003 seems so very long ago. A charming movie; one of the few that I can enjoy without it spoiling the book. (I’d also put “A Room with a View” and “Cold Comfort Farm” on that list, perhaps because the Brits are better at adaptations?)

    Comment by atracyhale — June 18, 2009 @ 3:51 pm

  3. I heart Capture the Castle and Cold Comfort Farm, too. Thanks for the recs, A!

    Comment by Tamiko Nimura — June 18, 2009 @ 4:46 pm

  4. Oh yes, and Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian is a good male-focused YA novel.

    Comment by Tamiko Nimura — June 18, 2009 @ 6:04 pm

  5. oh, I LOVE ‘I Capture the Castle’, and the movie it was made into is pretty good as well. I’ll have to check out ‘How I Live Now’, thanks for the rec!

    Comment by Alyssa — June 19, 2009 @ 4:22 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: