Thursday, August 20, 2009

On Reading, Writing and Remembering the 90s

I have been doing a lot of reading lately. Between the continued job hunt and working at the restaurant, my free time has been rather sporadic. Picking up a book for a few minutes a day gives me a chance to wind down and relax.

I wrote about my massive to-read list late last year, and I have since made a nice dent in it, but I have also picked up a few titles that are less likely to appear on anyone’s list of greatest novels. I hope to one day publish the novels swirling around in my head, and to help me get there, I like to read kid lit and young adult novels to sort of see-how-the-authors-did-it and learn from their work.

The book covers are also quite entertaining.

Most recently, I picked up Running out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I found it in the for-sale shelves at my local library, and for a quarter, it was a total steal. The novel centers around 14-year-old Jessie, a young women living with her family on the frontier in 1840. Jessie’s world is shattered when she discovers her pioneer village isn’t a village at all, but a scientific experiment, and the year is actually 1996.

Sounds familiar, right? It took me a quick Google search to discover that the book was not, in fact, the basis for M. Night Shyamalan’s film The Village. (In fact, Simon and Schuster explored the possibility of a lawsuit against the Shyamalan and Disney.)

The really interesting thing about Running Out of Time, however, wasn’t its twist ending or the scandal surrounding its similarities with the 2004 film. Rather, while reading it, I felt like I was 10 again, hiding away in my room to read the Secret Window or Bell Prater’s Boy. I was excited to turn the next page! Perhaps it was in part because the book took place in the 90s, when I was in elementary school, but it read how I remembered books being when I was a kid, where I thought it was entirely possible that a brother and sister team could unearth a treasure, or Nancy Drew could solve the mystery before her dad returned from his trip.

A lot of kid lit and YA novels, I have a hard time reading as an adult, even if I know I loved them as a kid. While I can pick up Harry Potter any day to read and enjoy as an adult, I am just not interested in the Babysitter’s Club books I loved in fourth grade. I was surprised when I enjoyed Haddix’s novel, and I think I’ll even send it to my little brother to read--if he can get past the 90s references and lack of cell phones :).

I think the key is that Haddix didn’t write a book she thought 12-year-olds would like, she wrote a book that takes place in a world entirely in the perspective of a kid, and this gives the book something of a timeless quality.

That’s what I would like to do one day. I want my books to entertain teens and tweens, but I think I want their parents to like them too, or at least for their cranky, post-grad sisters.

I’ll let you know what the little brother thinks of the book.

3 comments: to “ On Reading, Writing and Remembering the 90s

  • Lori Ann
    6:28 PM  

    You know what's interesting? The whole big "lead character actually turns out to have been dead the whole time" thing was done back in the 90's on Are You Afraid of the Dark?.

    I really am starting to wonder if Shyamalan's been stealing his ideas from kid's stories...

    I'm going to have to try and find this book, too. I love kid's books that are still perfectly fun to read today.

  • mclicious
    7:00 PM  

    I still remember the day I bought that book. I adore it, and then when I saw the Village I was indignant about how much of a cheat it seemed. I hope your brother likes it.

    ~Hannah

  • Ilinana
    4:10 PM  

    I remember reading "My Teacher Fried My Brains"... I really love re-reading books I enjoyed as a kid. If it's good and you have fun, who cares what demographic it was written for? I think you're right, that the best and most enduring books are ones that are written with entertainment in mind, not age.

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