As an 11-year-old graduate to the university of adult horror, the idea of young adult fiction never really appealed to me, even at the age when it probably should have. I never really got further than Judy Blume when I was in middle school, and although I read those books religiously (as did all of my class-mates) I had already dipped my toes into a world of giant man-eating rats, Pennywise The Clown and more blood than a Hammer horror film.
Young adult fiction was a genre that I bypassed. That is until the Twilight novels were published and I felt myself, like many others, being drawn into the world of Bella, Edward and Jacob. The Twilight series, despite now appealing to a much wider market mostly thanks to the movie franchise and a certain English actor with rather lovely hair, were written for the young adult reader. They have been awarded numerous accolades for Children’s and Young Adult Fiction and have spent a spectacular 235 weeks in the New York Times Bestseller list for Children’s Series Books.
After years of immersing myself in the murky waters of adult horror, it seemed strange and somewhat alien to be drawn into reading a series intended for the teenage market. But nevertheless, I enjoyed reading them. I would never go as far to say I hold them up there with the works of King, Herbert and Rice (each to their own, you understand) but I completely respect and admire what Meyer has achieved and found myself wanting more as soon as each book in the series was finished.
I admit, I’m not sure I should enjoy YA fiction. I feel slightly as if I am betraying my first fictional love. It’s a bit like saying “look, I’ve read all the serious stuff involving blood and gore and now I just want to go back and ready about twinkly vampires and school proms”. For a thirty-six year old, I feel a bit at odds with this. It’s like what Judy Blume herself said in Forever “Like my mother said, you can’t go back to holding hands”.
But, as you may have already noticed, I have this weird masochistic fascination with being proved wrong.
So I ticked Twilight off my list and felt pretty pleased with myself for having got through it without wanting to write a stern letter to Meyer herself demanding to know why she hadn’t killed off half the characters in a brutal blood-fest and why she hadn’t let Edward and Bella bump nasties in the first book (although I really was tempted with the latter as they did frustrate the hell out of me).
Then a strange thing happened. Having started to make more of a concerted effort to connect with other writers on Twitter, I found that the majority of my new followers were in fact, YA writers. Probably one of my earliest followers was a lady called Michelle Muto, author of The Book of Lost Souls and Don’t Fear The Reaper. We didn’t connect much in the early days. I would do the odd random #FolllowFriday for which Michelle would always express her gratitude but other than that I was never really sure what we would have in common, other than being writers. I didn’t want to fake myself as a big YA fan, when in reality I didn’t believe myself to be one.
I downloaded the Kindle app to my PC and found myself automatically purchasing The Book of Lost Souls, mostly out of sheer curiosity. I wanted to check out some of my Twitter friends work. I wanted to see if I could compare Dark Sanctuary to other novels and see whether it was good enough; whether it could stand side by side with theirs, when I eventually make the leap to getting published. I never expected to enjoy it. It was a YA novel after all and I just didn’t see how I could ever connect with it.
And, I’m shamed to say, there it sat for some time until Father Christmas brought me the Kindle itself and having some time over the holiday period to catch up on some reading, I was determined to give it a shot.
The Book of Lost Souls centres around sixteen year old Ivy MacTavish and her friends, all Kindreds (witches, vampires, werewolves, demons) living side by side with the Regulars (non-supernatural beings) in the town of Northwick. Ivy herself is a witch, and we first meet her when she has come up with a not-so-cunning plan to transform her friend’s brother’s horned-toad lizard, Spike, into a human, so that she can take him along to the Northwick High Halloween Party in order to make Dean, the intended target of her affections, jealous.
“What?” I hear you say “no evil rodents? No vampires hell-bent on wiping out an entire town?”
Nope. But strangely, I was reeled in. I think what got me first was the humour. Newly turned lizard Spike, still not quite in charge of his human faculties, causes absolute mayhem at the party in an attempt to lick embroidered dragonflies off the chest of Ivy’s enemy in matters of the heart, Tara and Uncle Lucas (Ivy’s friends crazy geriatric werewolf uncle) gate crashes the party with a few prized bones raided from the local cemetery. I found myself actually howling (not in a werewolf sense of course) and that always goes a long way with me, as not many authors ever make me actually laugh out loud. In fact, I can probably count on the fingers of one hand which writers have done so: Janet Evanovich, Terry Pratchett and Jeremy Clarkson.
Yet here I was, getting sucked into a YA novel on account of it’s humour. And then came the more serious undertone to the book.
We learn that Ivy’s family is tainted with rumours of dark magic, her own father having abandoned her and her mother years before after getting involved in some pretty sticky murderous business that has left its own dark stain on Ivy herself. Many expect her to be just like her father, and when she comes across a dark magic book ‘The Rise of the Dark Curse‘ in the cemetery, Ivy embarks on a mission to discover who left the book there to be found whilst trying to avoid accusations as townsfolk begin to be murdered around her and battling with her own growing fascination with the book’s tempting magic.
As Ivy got more and more sucked into the whispering dark pages of the book, I found myself getting well and truly sucked into Michelle’s story. All of sudden, I forgot that I was a grown woman reading a YA novel. It didn’t matter. I was completely immersed in really what is simply a great story. Touching on friendship, relationships, family, feelings of abandonment and betrayal, there was nothing here that I couldn’t relate to now or at least remember experiencing when I was a teenager.
Does it matter that the story is about a sixteen year old girl? No.
Does it make it any less interesting and enjoyable to read about a teenager, when the reader is an adult? Not at all.
And I think that’s the whole point about young adult fiction that I have been missing all this time, or at least, trying to ignore. It really doesn’t matter if the intended market is much younger than you actually are. If the story is good enough, if the characters are captivating and well-written, then that really is enough to open up the book to a wider market. You only have to look at Twilight and Harry Potter to know that its true. Okay, so I know that a successful film franchise definitely has it’s benefits, but at some point, someone read those books and decided they were able to open them up to a wider audience, because they already knew that they could appeal to all ages.
So, next time you let that YA novel sit festering on your Kindle or think twice about clicking that download button, take a small word of advice from a fellow sceptic, and just give it a go.
You never know….you might just become a fan.
Please feel free to follow Michelle on twitter @michellemuto or check out her blog http://michellemuto.wordpress.com