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    A Sense of Self

    Regina Harvey Icon

    I’ve been reading a lot of young adult fiction lately. It’s a fabulous pool to dip into. It’s the pool that nearly drowned me twenty-some years ago. I conveniently had a sore throat the morning after every late night spent nearly finishing some wondrous book or another, which allowed me to stay home, finish that one, start another.

    I don’t like to generalize about any genre - we all know how annoying it is when someone says, “Oh, you write mysteries,” as if that meant something very particular. So, I don’t want to do that with young adult fiction. Young adult novels aren’t just stories about a character between the ages of say 11 and 18.

    But. Some things can be said. At least, I’m going to go ahead and say them. Whatever else is going on in the story, there is this commonality in most young adult fiction: It’s often about a coming to a sense of self for the first time.

    Yeah. Okay. What the heck does that mean? And what does that have to do with writing mysteries?

    First, think back to the first time you felt truly differentiated from family, from friends, from any notion preconceived by you or others as to who you were and what your life was about. (If you haven’t gotten there yet, you may want to check out a different type of website than this one.) What was the pivot point? An event, a revelation, a person or place?

    Or a book, maybe?

    And now, think of a favorite mystery. Likely it features a well-developed protagonist. Whether they have a sense of their own selves or are still struggling with it, you as a reader have a clear sense of the character.

    Additionally, a mystery itself is a kind of coming to realization. A well-resolved mystery comes into a sense of itself through its solution, returning the world to a type of equilibrium. Unless, of course, we’re talking about noir, where the world is gritty and real, without tightly tied loose ends. There’s a little of that reality in some young adult fiction as well.

    I’m still muddling thorugh the mystery of why young adult fiction speaks to me so loudly after all this time, providing me with such a great swim (to absolutely beat to death my original metaphor). But I think it has something to do with this coming to a sense of self. That element, like the return to equilibrium that some mystery provides, is a comforting one that I sought again and again as a young person. Why I’m loving swimming in this pool now, I can hardly say, but who said Adult Swim couldn’t be something to enjoy, even in this pool?

    14 Responses to “A Sense of Self”

    1. Some of the best writing around is being done by YA writers. Try Nancy Werlin or Pete Hautman if you haven’t already.

      by Bill Crider on March 13th, 2008 at 8:48 am

    2. I had no children’s books or YA growing up. Our house just wasn’t like that. At about 12 I started reading pulp like James Bond, Matt Helm, that kind of stuff. So, I have no point of reference with YA.

      But I do remember one day when I realized I was like no one else and that ME was unknowable to those outside my skin. It felt tingly and weird and like I was gazing into a light blue hole with no ending.

      I think I was 12 or 13 at the time.

      A few years later I discovered psychedelics that opened up even more doors and I don’t regret it a bit. Not a moment. In fact, I’m grateful.

      Uh, what was the question again?

      by David Terrenoire on March 13th, 2008 at 9:09 am

    3. So in addition to recommendations of Werlin and Hautman (whom I haven’t tried - thanks Bill), what psychedelics do you recommend, David? And should I combine them with the reading of Werlin and Hautman? Or would that be just a bit too tingly and weird? :wink:

      by Regina Harvey on March 13th, 2008 at 9:46 am

    4. I can recommend the usual natural suspects. Psilocybin is more entertainment than the others, but can give you a new perspective on the people around you. Mescaline is really good for feeling the connection with all things. It helps you feel like part of something larger. Peyote should not be used lightly. This is serious business, and can lead you to the Creator, the Spirit, whatever you want to call it, inside each of us. It is truly magic.

      Go with an open mind and a desire to step outside your assumptions.

      It’s been 30 years since I’ve done anything like this, but I don’t regret my explorations back when I was a young seeker.

      And no, I’m not joking.

      by David Terrenoire on March 13th, 2008 at 10:15 am

    5. Not to sound too old-fashioned, but I really was effected by the young adults in the Jim Kjelgaard and Walter Farley books - even though most of them were boys (and a little bit by the life story of Mustang Annie in the book Mustang, by Marguerite Henry). They were kids who did a lot of thinking and living on their own - or bucked the system in ways that I really wanted to do. I also read a ton of books the other kids in my grade school didn’t read - it was easier and more interesting to not have to sign up for a turn with the more ‘popular’ books - most of which I just read later. All this made me notice - and like - that I wasn’t like everyone else, and, I think, made me really able to pull more meaning out of more ‘complicated’ books (Ray Bradbury’s stories, or St. Exupery’s The Little Prince, for example) later on. I still have my ‘dog and horse’ section in my bookshelves, and have kept those books as the important works they are, at least to me.

      by Kate Hathway on March 13th, 2008 at 10:31 am

    6. Faves from way back when for me were S.E. Hinton, Paul Zindel, Katherine Paterson, Paula Danziger - though she’s more middle grade, I guess. Lois Duncan for the scary stuff, and of course, Judy Blume. Robert Cormier too. Others I’m forgetting.

      by Regina Harvey on March 13th, 2008 at 10:48 am

    7. Thanks for the primer, David, though I’m wondering if mixing YA with all of that lovely stuff - even just in blogging about it - could get me in all kinds of trouble. I’ll stick with yoga, followed by a good read!

      by Regina Harvey on March 13th, 2008 at 10:50 am

    8. I actually cut my teeth on Stephen King. Not really YA stuff, now is it? I didn’t read much as a child and my parents really didn’t read to me that I remember.

      Maybe that explains why I am the way I am.

      by Will Bereswill on March 13th, 2008 at 11:23 am

    9. Oh, now I’ve said too much and made everyone all uncomfortable.

      I’ll go back to my Dark Place and leave you alone now.

      by David Terrenoire on March 13th, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    10. David - I will bring you bread and water in your Dark Place - and maybe a few good books to read.

      by Regina Harvey on March 13th, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    11. “Oh, now I’ve said too much and made everyone all uncomfortable”

      Wait, I thought that was in your job description.

      I haven’t read any YA in years, but I like stories that deal with a coming of age, or a coming to terms with self. We don’t typically know ourselves as much as we’d like (or as much as we’re comfortable with - I’m not sure any of that makes sense - blame the cold medicine), and being there with someone as they come to terms with who they are can be invigorating and help us define ourselves.

      When done well, it’s not story about a boy growing into his skin, or a girl discovering her power for hte first time. It’s us doing those things. It’s us remembering that feeling of being more than we were.

      by Stephen Blackmoore on March 13th, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    12. Last year I was sitting in the waiting room of my doctor’s office ( a nice hobby I’ve been glad to give up) and there was an elderly man reading the Misty of Chicolta (I know I’m butchering the name.) I guess he went to visit the Island and had never read the book so he bought it.

      He did say that he didn’t see any ponys on his trip there.

      I love YA. I’m reading the Alchemyst by Michael Scott right now and just finished The princess Academy.

      by Lynn on March 13th, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    13. Well said, Stephen, cold meds or no. I think that reading along with the awakening of someone allows us to reopen or restart that process in ourselves.

      …and I haven’t even been taking cold medicine.

      by Regina Harvey on March 13th, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    14. I love the picture of that elderly man reading such a book, Lynn! Makes me get all choked up! I’ll have to check out your recent reads - sounds like you enjoyed them! Read on!

      by Regina Harvey on March 13th, 2008 at 8:08 pm

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