Friday, August 14, 2015

Magical Realism & Adult vs YA

I am a sucker for magical realism. I love the idea that there is a little magic all around us. That sometimes you can't explain everything and instead of being a bad thing, it just be the best thing ever. Knowing that, it is probably not surprising that I have read two great examples of magical realism in the last week: Sarah Addison Allen's FIRST FROST and Leslye Walton's THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER. Both lovely, lyrical, and lasting stories, one is YA while the other is adult by category.

*Disclaimer: I'm going to try to keep this about magical realism and not about my issues with the way we categorize books by age/audience/arbitrary silliness. Don't hate me if I can't.

Sarah Addison Allen, I should note, is probably my favorite author after J.K. Rowling.  Her stories are brimming with real, flawed, and resilient characters that weave their way into your heart and don't want to move. Ever. FIRST FROST, her latest novel and a sequel to her first GARDEN SPELLS, this autumn story left me emotionally raw and craving October like a drug. Shelved with the adult books at my library, this book does have several key adult characters but one of the main characters - arguably the one with the pivotal central role - is a 15 year old named Bay who knows where everything belongs, including her heart. Her story arc left my chest aching and my face smiling. It was a fabulous story that told on its own would have easily been show cased on a YA shelf. However, because Bay's story is told within the larger one of a strange October in a stranger town with the strangest family, it's an adult book. This particularly bums me out because I think Bay's story is one a lot of teenagers could stand to read.

Okay, I'm tangenting about my category issue.

Back to my other example, Leslye Walton's THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER. This book made me think of THE HOUSE OF IMPOSSIBLE LOVES by Cristina Lopez Barrio with its whimsical house setting and the unhappy, unusual women in the family. This book, like Allen's FIRST FROST told not just the story of Ava Lavender herself but of her whole family, both past and present, that was struggling with their otherness, their broken hearts, and their difficulty in communicating with each other and with those around them. This book was as much about Ava's family as it was about her. Ava's arc, though darker than Bay's was equally lasting. I'm still still mulling over both of them.

Okay, I give up. Writing this only highlights how similar these books are and they're literal shelves apart. The main distinction is that AVA is written in a well-informed first person while FIRST FROST is a mostly omniscient third person. Besides that, I cannot draw hard lines between the YA and Adult categories (not that narration is a line either but it is a difference at least). They both mention/depict sex - more graphically so in AVA surprisingly enough. They both talk about family and friendship and growing up even after you're out of your teens. All solid story elements. Especially in light of the recent discussions of whether YA is for or about teenagers, I wonder how our system of categories is harming our community of readers.   I'm not really sure what I'm trying to say. Maybe that I'm confused. That I know adults who don't read YA (*rolls eyes*) but love Sarah Addison Allen and I think they're hypocrites? Maybe. That I wonder how many teenagers would really benefit from reading about Bay but won't venture out of the YA room? Maybe. That I don't know how what the answer is and it makes me frustrated? Absolutely.

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