Sunday, March 2, 2008

Good creepy YA novels

I just finished reading two really good Young Adult novels. This is my favorite type of book - much better than adult stories. 
 TUNNELS by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams is about an ancient civilization deep within the earth and a boy who loves to dig. Strange concept, but it is a wonderful creepy, adventure story that reminded me of Jules Verne. It also made me think of the old Infocom adventure game "Zork" - especially when the boys are exploring the ancient, deserted city with crumbling ruins. I've seen some reviews recently that call it the next Harry Potter. I think that's silly. Even books that are about a boy wizard going to a magical school, like the Charlie Bone series, are not the next Harry Potter books - and they should be enjoyed on their own merits. I think books can be enjoyed and adored without having to be compared to Harry (who I do love too). I think the true magic of the HP books was not that they made JK Rowling very rich and provided lots of marketing opps, but that they reintroduced all ages to the magic of reading and made publishers more willing to take risks on unusual themes and new writers.

The second book I finished was  100 CUPBOARDS  by N.D. Wilson. I was attracted by the cover illustration! (Hey, I'm an artist.) But the book lives up to the promise of the lush, dangerous doors on the jacket. This story starts with a boy in an attic bedroom and crumbling plaster revealing slowly turning door knobs. Oooh - chills! Of course, the doors go to other worlds, BUT they are tiny doors, so you can't just walk through... Oh, and his parents disappeared in South America... and why can't anyone open the door to Grampa's bedroom (he died two years before). I love these creepy mysteries!! Both these books are series and I can't stand waiting a year for the next book! Aaah!
And speaking of Harry Potter, the difference between these books and HP that makes them more appealing and believable, is that the kids make use of the adults in the story. Weird, huh? Classic fairy tales kill off the parents so the kids can have more interesting adventures. These modern stories may have a parent disappear or be kidnapped, but the other adults in the story are still important. And it's not just because I'm an adult now that I like this change, but my son has also noticed it. YA stories, in the past left me feeling really lonely and lost because the character always had to solve everything on their own - and sometimes failed. Depressing. And being a teenager is hard enough without the messages that "yes, you really are alone" and "don't trust grown-ups". My son kept asking me why Harry didn't ask for help? He often kept information from his professors, or Hagrid or Dumbledore. Sure, it would have changed the plot, I know, but it would have made more sense in most cases. Anyway, I find it refreshing to read about adults who are part of the mystery, who believe in the magic, who get credit for having creative solutions, for caring about the kids and helping them sort things out. That seems so much more realistic. Having a grown-up, an adult, you can trust and talk to, makes all those confusing years so much more bearable. Adults do have a place in stories - they can be useful and helpful and even fun. And I'm glad that message is showing up in the new stories.

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