Y.A. for Grownups is a weekly series in which we talk about Y.A. literature—from the now nostalgia-infused stories we devoured as kids to more contemporary tomes being read by young people today.
A seasonal gift (or burden) of our youth is the old summer reading list, those books we were supposed to "get ahead" on while ostensibly on vacation for three joyous months. Sometimes we loved the list, sometimes we hated it, and we read it with varying levels of dedication depending on that. But what if you could have picked those books yourself: What would you have chosen? As a companion to our primer on how to identify the perfect beach read, we asked some of our favorite Y.A. book authors (Judy Blume! R.L. Stine!) for the titles that would have been on their ideal summer reading lists—from middle-grade to Y.A. to adult—and why.
R.L. STINE, author of the Goosebumps and Fear Street series (among others) and an upcoming novel for adults titled Red Rain, told The Atlantic Wire, "I would recommend a wonderful, scary Ray Bradbury novel that has always been one of my favorites—Something Wicked This Way Comes. Late at night, a boy in the midwest sneaks out of his house to go watch a carnival set up in an empty field. He doesn't realize it's a carnival of evil and he's about to be trapped in all its horror." Stine adds, "I would also recommend The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. A bit difficult but accessible enough to Y.A. readers and worth it for the amazing imagination and droll humor and unforgettable characters."
JUDY BLUME, author of any number of books you devoured as a kid, including Are You There God?, It's Me Margaret, Blubber, Forever, and quintessential summer read the adult novel Summer Sisters, told us, "Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk," about a Jewish girl in New York in the 1930s who dreams of becoming an actress, and the course her life actually takes. (The book became a movie starring Natalie Wood.) "I wanted to be Marjorie—except for the ending," confesses Blume.
JEFF HIRSCH, author of The Eleventh Plague and the upcoming Magisterium (October 2012), offered the following: Watchmen, by Alan Moore. "In my mind Moore's classic graphic novel could be a perfect school assignment," he told us. "You can talk about its themes and structure all day long as well as use it to explore issues of history and gender and power and fanaticism, but at the end of the day it's an incredibly engrossing story about people in ridiculous outfits punching other people in ridiculous outfits." Portnoy's Complaint, by Philip Roth. "My parents didn't much care what I read as a kid, just that I was reading. If we can get the entire country to subscribe to this notion, then this is a great school assignment for reluctant readers, especially boys. Again, plenty of fancy literary stuff to talk about, but it's laugh-out-loud funny and shockingly profane in a way teens might appreciate and relate to." And, Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry. "Like most kids, when book report time came I was looking for the shortest book possible, but there comes a time when you need to make the leap to a big one," he says. "McMurtry's classic is a great entry point. Beautifully written with unforgettable characters and a truly epic sweep...I have a hard time imagining anyone not getting sucked into the joys of long immersive novels by this one. And for kids who need an even more gradual on-ramp, the movie's great too!"
CARAGH O'BRIEN, author of the dystopian Birthmarked trilogy (the final book of which, Promised, will be out in October), told us, "The stories I liked to read and reread back around 5th grade hooked me with their gritty fantasy or injustice or both. An abused horse, an accused witch, or a cut bird could get me every time. I’m still guided by MacDonald’s ethereal moon lamp." As such, she chose The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald; The Green Fairy Book, by Andrew Lang; Blitz, by Hetty Burlingame Beatty; and The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare.
JESSICA SPOTSWOOD, author of Born Wicked, the first in the Cahill Witch Chronicles, told The Atlantic Wire, "My dream summer reading list would have definitely included Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind,which is still one of my favorite books; I love how strong and clever and flawed Scarlett O'Hara is, that she's a survivor in a society that doesn't value that in its women. The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells would have been on my list, too, because then as now I love stories about complicated families and the friends who become our families. And my favorite Austen in high school was Emma, because I was an (often ill-fated) matchmaker myself -- but today I would go with Northanger Abbey, because I adore snarky Henry Tilney."
Well, that should get you through August.