My Classic YA Literature List

Inspired by fellow writer Johanna Parkhurst‘s blog post on the YA she read growing up, I decided to hop on this wagon and go down memory lane myself.

I read far more adult books than YA books when I was a teen. I think it’s fairly typical of a dedicated bookworm to skip the supposed easy stuff and go straight for the classics, both the heavy ones and the delightful ones. Like so many readers before me, I could never get enough of Austen and the Brontës, or Dickens. I gave up on a few Russians (Dostoyevsky – to this day I haven’t completed any of his works), I thought D.H. Lawrence was mostly dull, and George Eliot’s Middlemarch was given up on several times until I completed it and liked it after seeing the TV series.

Thinking back, though, I realize I did read buckets of YA too, and some of the titles are still unforgettable. My bookshelf was always crammed with various MG and YA books, and I was a member of several books clubs catering to the YA market. I religiously saved up money to buy as many of their monthly shipments as possible.

So, which titles do I remember? I still have a box of old books in the attic, and when I went through them this morning, a number of lovely gems appeared.

When I was a teen, the majority of my books were read in Norwegian, usually translated from either English or Swedish if they weren’t originally Norwegian.

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One YA series that stood out in my Norwegian selection, was Ingvar Ambjørnsens’s “Pelle & Proffen” series. His teen working-class boys from Oslo tackled neo-nazis, drugs, prostitution, environmental dangers, violence and corruption. (Fairly controversial issues, perhaps, but not so much here in Norway, where the dark sides of society were/are not regarded as unsuitable for teens to know about.)
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a couple of the books were filmed, to great national success. “Døden på Oslo S /Death on Oslo S” and “Giftige løgner /Poison lies” were on every teen’s lips. The soundtracks also featured my favourite band at the time, DumDumBoys, who were extra special since they came from my town and several of the band members had had the same primary school teacher as I did.

IMG_5053I read many books that were YA novels from the US, and though I realize now that these books, much like films, sort of gave me a very stereotypical view of life across the pond, they taught me a few useful things. (Like dating – which was completely unknown in my world, where boys and girls went out to meet each other and it was never referred to as a date or anything formal or anything entailing going to whichever lengths. Dating was not how you got a boyfriend or girlfriend back then.)
One series I particularly liked, and that I re-read dozens of times when I was aged 13-16, and later when I needed to reminisce about the old days, was Candice F. Ransom’s trilogy Thirteen, Fourteen and Fifteen. I read these in Norwegian, and today, when finding them in the attic and then checking them on Goodreads, I discovered that the names of the protagonists were changed in translation. In the original, the main character is Kobie, and her best friend is Gretchen. In my versions, Kobie had become Katie and Gretchen Gillian. For some reason the translator thought the original names were too difficult for Norwegians… The books were still great fun, though, and I remember Kobie/Katie as a character I could recognize myself in.

Adrian Mole

Other books that I read and re-read were the Adrian Mole series by the late Sue Townsend. He was fun, sweet, helpless, nerdy and desperate. I really identified with his struggles. His family was also fabulous, especially his unemployed dad.

My own family used to watch the TV series together, and none of us really wanted Adrian to get together with Pandora.

I’ve read all of the Adrian Mole books, also the ones where he’s adult, but none of the sequels can really compete with the first book, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4.

flowers When I was 15 or 16, I had a penpal (the old-fashioned kind, you know, the one where you send each other hand-written letters. Does anyone know what I’m talking about?) who lived in Idaho. Her name was Autumn, and she often wrote about how she snuck out of her window at night to go out and meet her friends after curfew.

She also sent me V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic. I was hooked on the creepiness of that book immediately, and begged her to send me the sequels, which she did. They were even more creepy, and in hindsight I see that this series was definitely questionable when it came to relationships and sex…! And how evil wasn’t that grandmother?!

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Joan Lingard’s series about Kevin and Sadie, the Romeo and Juliet of Belfast, also struck a chord with me. Across the Barricades and the sequels were among the first books I read in English.

 

 

 

As for my students, I think it’s highly unlikely they have ever heard about any of the books mentioned above. They probably know who Ingvar Ambjørnsen is because he’s written some successful adult books that are easily accessible and which are often used in schools – plus several have been filmed (Elling, anyone? It was even made into a play that ran for a week or so on Broadway before being cancelled…) – but the rest are probably unknown to them. Most will know who John Green is, and since we read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in English class, they may remember the name Sherman Alexie if I ask them in August. They’re the Harry Potter and Twilight and Hunger Games generation.

EDIT 29/6-14: How could I forget S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders?! I was in love with all the brothers!

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Odd topics of research for next novel

Okay, so while I’m waiting for my darling book to be published, I’m writing away on another project (I have several, which may be the topic of another blog post at some point).  Today, I came to a specific point in the plot that required me to put down an injured sheep at a location far away from vets, slaughterhouses and civilization in general.

I’ve been in close contact with sheep quite often, and has stumbled upon dead ones twice in my life, but I’m a city girl and see no reason to pretend I’m anything but a blank canvas when it comes to putting sick animals down. So, in order to be convincing about how this particular ‘plot sheep’ was killed, I had to do some research. Now, a few hours later, I know how to go about this in a humane way thanks to a very informative brochure on the matter (courtesy of experts in the Norwegian sheep and goats breeding association), though I think I can safely say that I am highly unlikely to ever be able to utilize the kind of precision and guts it takes to go through with it. Thankfully, I have fictional characters at my disposal who are capable.

It made for an interesting and odd day, researching this topic and figuring out how to go about describing it in writing and actually integrating it into the story. (And no, I have no intention of telling you what the novel is about. It may never come to anything.  But sheep are not major characters, I assure you. No real sheep came to harm during my writing either.)

Oh, and afterwards I had to study skinning sheep carcasses, too. Don’t want that sheepskin to go to waste, of course!

Publishing date and vellum pages

Two OMG moments today (and let it be known that I don’t OMG or LOL or WTH very often. I let my younger characters deal with that kind of language. I prefer to spell things out, but make an exception today 😉

1) It’s official – my book will be published on July 17. Only a month away, wow! [Insert huge pile of celebratory candy here]

2) In today’s mail I received a bundle of vellum pages for me to autograph – they’ll be added to the first ten print copies of the book. I can also add a message to my reader(s).
Uh-oh. A message? A profound, deep message that gives the impression that I am this completely eloquent person who knows exactly what to say (write) at the exact right moment? Everlasting words for eternity to muse over?
I’ll see what I can do.

Editing, Round Two – and the Galley Again

The second round of edits went by so fast I forgot to blog about it. I’m not joking!

The second edit arrived in my mailbox in late May, and I had one week to complete it. I knew this meant there were only minor issues to solve, which was a relief, because during the editing week I spent four days traveling. I managed to squeeze in a couple of hours of editing late one night at the hotel in Oslo. I was lucky this editing round didn’t require any serious rewriting and such, because then I would never have made the deadline.

I had to sort out two very minor inconsistencies, see some more commas added or removed, and I clarified a couple of very strange sentences, but on the whole the second edit was pure fun. Some of the comments from the editor were simply fabulous!

Last night, I completed going through the galley proof of my manuscript, and I have to say it was scary to see that the old battered Word document now looked just like a book. It had the front matter with the publisher’s details, the coveted ISBN number – hurrah! – it had my acknowledgement page, then chapter after chapter of my words. MY WORDS! If I could dance (I can’t, and that’s not an exaggeration, trust me) I would be doing a Riverdance or something equally complicated and cool to celebrate. I resort to some sugar instead.

Admittedly, going through the galley I was struck down by sudden doubt in my abilities as a writer, and had to take a break after I started critiquing my own work a little too much. Being nervous before an exam is just healthy, I think. Anyway, in the end I found three minor errors (one example: tree instead of trees) to report back on.

Next stage: getting ready for finding out the exact publishing date.

The Embarrassment of Reading YA

There’s been a buzz on the Internet for the past week or so after Ruth Graham of SLATE magazine published an article where she states that you should be embarrassed to read children’s books if you’re an adult.

As an avid reader of YA books, and now a writer of them too, I really feel I should make my own statement regarding Graham’s view:

I LIKE TO READ YA. I AM AN ADULT. I AM NOT EMBARRASSED.

When Graham in her article says Fellow grown-ups, at the risk of sounding snobbish and joyless and old, we are better than this, I immediately think she is snobbish and joyless herself. Literature is written to be enjoyed. I don’t appreciate being told that what I read isn’t worthy enough. For the sake of full disclosure: one of the books that I enjoyed the most last year, and surprised me with its addictive style, was a very hot romance novel! Another book I enjoyed was a much praised literary novel. So there you go.

I think I can safely say I am a very well-educated person – I have read the classics; I have studied literature; I have even enjoyed a rather advanced exam on James Joyce. All the serious accomplished stuff. But you know what? I like other parts of the literary spectrum too. I read widely, I call myself an eclectic reader. Proof can be found on my Goodreads account. And my favourite category for quite some time now has been YA. Why? Because YA has it all: history, drama, love, romance, sex, violence, fantasy, dreams, sorrows, pain, yearning, loss, achievement – you name it.

My job is often to try to make more people enjoy reading. If they read something that isn’t considered complex enough, so be it. Comic books? Fine by me. I just want people to read. If you start reading comics, you could still end up enjoying old Greek tragedies. I could go all serious now and say that I read a lot of YA so that I can keep track of books to recommend to those of my students who need to be lured into the brilliant world of literature.

But no, that’s not the main reason.

I repeat: I read YA because I love it. Simple as that. I’m too old to be embarrassed.

 

PS. Should I be embarrassed to write YA as well?