I tend to read a wide variety of books, including fantasy and science fiction. And that means that I have gravitated towards YA reading much, much more than I did, say, five years ago, because quite simply, some of the best fantasy out there is coming out in YA. The label “young adult” or even “middle grade” can be confusing for people who don’t remember what they read when they were in middle grades, and were young adults. The label doesn’t mean that the themes are dumbed down or that the books are less carefully crafted. Often it means that the genres are harder to peg–where would you have placed Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief” in the adult world? Literary fiction? Historical fiction? But then there is that paranormal element, too, since it’s narrated by death.
In short, I love young adult books to death, and I’ve read more great fantasy and science fiction in YA in recent years than I have in the regular old adult sections.
Over the weekend, on a whim I picked up a copy of Frances Hardinge’s Well Witched. I’d read her first novel, “Fly by Night” many many years ago. I don’t even think I bought it myself. As I recall, it was a gift from a friend who personally the author, who also knew that I was a Harry Potter fanatic and thought I might like it. In retrospect, now that I am an author myself, I suspect my friend hoped I would become as fanatical about Hardinge as I was about Rowling, and I’m sure that my lackluster response was probably disappointing. I read it. It was fun. I thought it was a decent first try. I didn’t love it, though–I thought the main character was a little flat and the world building a little dry–and I promptly forgot about the author. I’m not even sure why I picked up this book (which has the much cooler title of “Verdigris Deep” in the UK but apparently that’s too inaccessible for us slobs in the US audience?), except that I was itching for a fantasy and my local Borders didn’t have “Inkheart” in stock. (A tale for another day–HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE, BORDERS?)
Several hours later, I emerged, blinking, into the light. Well Witched is everything I love in a book. It’s fraught with moral ambiguity. The villains are never identifiable. The plot construction is tight. There is character growth both subtle and deep. Oh, and the main character has tiny eyes that grow on the back of his hand.
There is no romance in the book, but it has the thing I love best about romance: A boy who learns to appreciate things he’d never seen about the people he loves, who not only grows literal eyes, but learns to see figuratively deeper.
I adore the fact that ten year olds will read this book, and I hope that adults will, too.