In the last 12 months I’ve been particularly impressed by the work of two authors. Both have written for the younger market, but don’t let that fool you. Any adult who appreciates an engrossing story and skillful, beautiful writing, will love them. Don’t be a literary snob and think YA/children’s books aren’t for grown-ups. Some of the best writing going on these days, is in that field. In fact, the latest work by both these authors shouldn’t be classified by an age group. They’re in the bracket: 10 years up to, can-no-longer-read-not-even-my-bifocals-are-helping; similar to the Narnia series, or Lord of the Rings. I challenge you to put them into an age restricted grouping.
1. Ness, Patrick, Chaos Walking (series), Harper Collins.
The three titles are: The Knife of Letting Go; The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men. I read this series early last year and I’m still thinking about it. Simply brilliant stuff. It’s a SciFi/Speculative series, but please don’t let that put you off if that’s not your thing. Just allow yourself to ask, “What if…?”
Humans colonise a planet and catch a “virus”, which has the effect of broadcasting every thought a male has, while the women remain “silent”. How do they deal with this phenomenon? (Typical for our species: not too well.) What amazed me the most about this book was the revelation that men actually think that much. Whenever I ask my husband, “What are you thinking?”, he always says, “Nothing.” I then say, “You can’t have a blank mind” and he says, “Well…it is.” SPRUNG!
Warning: (Spoiler alert) don’t fall in love with the dog. (I know why you did it, Mr Ness, and as a writer I understand. As a dog-lover, I’m still struggling to forgive you.)
2. Almond, David, My Name is Minna, Hachette
If you’re a David Almond fan, (and if you’re not, why not?) you will appreciate that this is a pre-cursor story to The Skellig. But, if you haven’t read that, don’t worry. This delightful story stands perfectly well on its own two feet. Minna obviously has some serious problems dealing with the world. As the story unfolds we get to know how her mind works, and we grow to love her. It’s a sad, dark tale told by an intelligent and imaginative child.
Both Ness and Almond are creative lateral thinkers and great story-tellers. They use the font, size and colour of the text as tools to help tell the story. Today’s society is bombarded with sound bites, YouTube flash videos, film footage of everything from a cat playing the piano, to an old lady foiling a jewellery heist, to scenes of natural disasters. There is still a strong mind-set that says, “Picture books are for little kids, and graphic novels are comics for grown-ups”. These two fellows have taken all that on board and come up with a new way of approaching the written text. I call it “visual text” and they do it brilliantly. Kudos to you, fellas!