Journalists call them marmalade droppers, stories whose appearance in your morning newspaper startles you into losing your grip on your breakfast. I had one not so long ago when I read that Martin Amis reckoned that only a ‘serious brain injury’ would cause him to write children’s fiction, confining him as it necessarily would to write ‘at a lower register than what I can write’. Really, Martin?
The assumption that children, in general, are less discriminating consumers of fiction than adults is fairly widespread, but my own experience as both a parent and a teacher tells me otherwise. OK, there is plenty of dross written for children, although I would argue that even the worst of the manufactured series, Rainbow Fairies say or the equestrian adventures allegedly written by ‘celebrity’ author Katie Price, are no worse than some of the tripe that their elders happily elevate to the top of the bestseller lists (50 shades of unreadable, anyone?)
Over the past couple of years, I’ve been reading more and more YA fiction to the point where I’ve come to prefer much of it to most recent fiction written for adults. Writers like Patrick Ness, Jennifer Donnelly and John Green are leading a new wave of really innovative thoughtful young adult novels that don’t pull their punches or make assumptions about the level of linguistic or emotional complexity teenagers are capable of dealing with. I loved Donnelly’s Revolution, despite my reservations about the timeslip dream sequence at the very end: the character of Andi was so strongly drawn and her pain so vivid that it more than compensated for any weaknesses in the structure of the novel. Equally, John Green’s The Fault in our Stars provided another heroine, Hazel, for whom quirky and feisty are adjectives far too banal to come anywhere near being good enough to describe. This blog is mainly a place for me to write about the books I read and try to counter those who, like Amis, think that writing for a younger age group entails checking your artistic integrity in at the door. Go away, read this year’s stunning Carnegie winner A Monster Calls, and then tell me it isn’t the best book you’ve read this year. Just don’t drop your marmalade on it.