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24 March 2019

"Coming of Age" Books Might Be Wasted on the Young

As always, there are tweener (ages 9-13) and young adult (ages 14-18) books which deal with the hard facts of life: teen pregnancy, hellish foster homes, neighborhood or school bullies, frenemies, abusive coaches, running away, best friends or older siblings dying or disappearing, alcoholic single parent, gangbangers, war refugees, and so on, so forth.  There are sympathy, empathy, lessons to be learned, experiences to be avoided, explanations for those hard facts and sometimes, how-to's.

There have always also been science fiction for the nerds who would become the rocket scientists and digital gurus of our time and superhero comic books for the less ambitious.

More and more now, though, I see that the more popular books are escapism -- fantasy, witchcraft, werecreatures and vampires, dystopian worlds where heroines and heroes are made, "regular joes" who turn out to be His Majesty or descended from Apollo or Merlin.  I see many books written today about disabilities, but except for J.R. Polacio's Wonder, none have become incredibly successful and sought-after.  True, in the Southwest -- Arizona to be specific, Dusti Bowling's Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus was recognized for its award-winning story about kids that don't fit in -- a girl born with no arms, a boy with Tourette's Syndrome and a very obese boy -- just being normal kids.  However, while Lynne Kelly's Song for a Whale, about a 12-year-old deaf girl who's wild about science in general and old radios in particular finding an affinity with a lonely whale, is an Indienext Pick, Books on First has not exactly been stormed at the door with purchasers.  Nor is Song for a Whale the only recent book about deaf children being amazingly smart but misunderstood.  (Personally, I think Iris is a bit of a pill, but maybe that's the result of people treating her special, when she just wants to be treated like a normal student (as well as have everyone learn real sign language).
  


Another type of book littered with juveniles is the coming-of-age, but these don't seem to be children's books, but rather nostalgic memoir-based books for adult reading.  I cite Caitlin Moran's How to Build a Girl (remember daisy wheel printers?) and Jason Rekulak's The Impossible Fortress which seems to throw teen pregnancy and bullying along with programming with FORTRAN on Commodore 64s.

Is the younger generation even interested in the everyday life of a kid their age who suffered 50 years ago?  Is a kid without special needs interested in the thoughts and pains of one who is autistic, blind, suffering from diabetes or born with a club foot?  Is a child of a white suburban family of 2.4 children interested in the trials and tribulations of a black boy in the next suburb whose brother got caught dealing drugs to the white kid's older brother or those of a Latina struggling to raise her three younger siblings while her parents each work 2.4 jobs?

Or, perhaps, in those far-fetched, almost speculative fictional stories of persons so vastly different from themselves, readers young and old might be finding something in common besides age.  One can only hope.

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