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Books for Young (at heart) Adults
By Hilary Williamson

Did you ever browse the section of the library shelves earmarked for Teens or Young Adults, while cultivating that detached look that says to any observer ... 'these aren't for me, of course, I'm borrowing books for my daughter, nephew, grandchild'. I used to be embarrassed about taking out these books for my own reading pleasure, but no more. There are just too many that are darn good reads for all ages. Here are some that I have enjoyed reading (or re-reading) recently.

The popularity of Potter has spread to adults around the world, who want to see what the phenomenon is all about, and get quickly hooked on Harry. And Tolkien's Hobbit long since endeared himself to generations of readers. But there are many other excellent reads relegated to Young Adult sections of libraries and bookstores and overlooked by older readers who might enjoy them - for example Rosemary Sutcliffe's Lantern Bearers, a tale of conflicting loyalties in the waning days of Roman Britain, or Andre Norton's action-packed adventures in her alien Witch World.

My father recommended Diana Wynne Jones to me as a fantasy writer somewhat overlooked in N. America and on a level with Rowling. So I tried her first Chrestomanci book, Charmed Life, and was enthralled by its imaginative use of magic, misunderstanding and mystery. Barron's Lost Years of Merlin series blends unrelenting action and a true hero into its magical formula. Darren Shan's Cirque du Freak is an utterly compelling mix of fantasy and horror. And Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy is epic fantasy written at an adult level, which just happens to have young adults (Lyra and Will) as its main characters.

Aside from Pullman and Norton, these authors chose young men as their stars, with Hermione, Janet and Rhiannon in supporting roles. Tolkien tends to cast his ladies as remote elven princesses with walk on parts. However, more recent fantasies have given a starring role to young women. Robin McKinley's Beauty inserts in the fairy tale a mousy, spotty teenager who dreams of becoming a scholar. Peter Beagle's Tamsin recounts the coming of age of rebellious young Jenny Gluckstein in a Dorset encounter with ghosts and boggarts, and A Question of Will sends another awkward teenage girl to center stage in Shakespearian times.

Recently my son brought home a book called Holes by Louis Sachar, for a high school book review. I dug in and was thrilled by this story of Stanley Yelnats, a saga whose symmetry goes beyond the name of its chubby protagonist. Holes was a Newbery Award winner in 1999. Another excellent story with a young hero on the fringes of society is Jerry Spinelli's Maniac Magee, which won in 1991. In general, the list of Newbery winners is a good source for reading material, with books that are quick reads and of a high quality.

Other tales that I recommend for the young at heart are T. H. White's classic Sword in the Stone, Tony Earley's heartwarming Jim the Boy and Gabriel King's mythic Wild Road (along the lines of Watership Down). I have enjoyed all of these very much. They are books to read and read again. Nowadays I have no compunctions about my taste for Young Adult literature and unashamedly surf the virtual shelves for novel material. If you're not doing the same, you're missing the magic.
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