The only thing more ironic than reading zero books on your two-week Great American Bookstore Tour is reading one book: a series-concluding young adult novel that I didn’t even buy in print.
In my defense, I did buy nearly 40 new books over the last two weeks, books that have been relegated to a “special” pile atop my kitchen table, where I hope to be reminded on a daily basis that the endgame of buying dozens of unneeded (but oh-so-wanted) new books is that one must eventually get around to reading them. But I suppose dusty used paperbacks — who have spent their recent years crammed in overflowing bookshelves all over the West Coast — should be grateful to have a new and slightly more spacious headquarters in my tiny apartment. They should be thanking me, those books. I gave them a home.
But anyway, I’m stalling. The truth is that it’s very difficult to read on vacation, even when your vacation is pretty much entirely dedicated to books. And so it wasn’t until halfway through my second week of GABST that I decided to get cracking on Light, the last in six-book young adult series by Michael Grant. After all, I’d stampeded through the preceding five books in the span of about two months last year; no point in resisting now.
Now, don’t be discouraged by the dramatic selfies populating the cover of Light and the other Gone books: These aren’t (or aren’t only) silly novels about teen romance. Mostly the romance (between lead bro/teen hero Sam and annoying know-it-all Astrid, and between evil megalomaniac Caine and head biotch Diana) is a subplot within the Gone books’ much broader story arc: that of a nuclear accident whose fallout resulted in the sudden disappearance of everyone over the age of 15, plus the sudden appearance of an opaque dome that trapped the remaining babies/children/teens in a town-sized confine while also spawning a series of human and animal mutations that are in equal measure awesome and deadly. I mean, say what you will about 16-year-olds navigating the confusing trenches of young love, but post-apocalyptic politics and nuclear-grade genetic mutations are plots that know no terminology like “young adult.”
In any case, since it’s not exactly easy (or helpful) to review the sixth book in a series, and there’s certainly not much I can reveal from Light’s plot that would make sense to someone who hadn’t read books 1 through 5, let me instead take this moment to offer a more general congratulations to the young adult genre, whose proliferation was obvious in the various bookstores I visited during Great American Bookstore Tour. Say what you will about teens and their texting, teens and their Snapchat, teens and their Bieber (an author, btw), but the numbers suggest that either a) young adults are definitely reading, and maybe more than ever before or b) old adults are reading a lot of young adult books. At the very least, hopefully c) all of the above.
I suppose there’s room for debate on whether books about supernatural star-crossed lovers, or to-the-death televised tween battles, are going to create the intellectuals of tomorrow. But personally I don’t think it matters. My love of reading — which has since expanded into nonfiction, science writing, historical books and the occasional poem — started at the bottom, with Dean Koontz and R.L. Stine (no offense, guys). The point of great YA fiction isn’t to make kids smarter—it’s to make them love books. To make them fall in love with reading, to the point that they stay up late, huddled under the covers with a flashlight, just to find out whether the Hardy Boys solve their ten-billionth mystery, or if God eventually tells Margaret that he is indeed there.
The point of YA fiction is to get kids so excited about books that they’ll overlook all the boring/weird/mediocre/downright shitty ones they’ll be forced to read between the ages of 10 and 18. So excited about books that they’ll return to them once the overbearing weight of College Reading is lifted (even I barely finished books as an undergrad). And so excited about books that it will become unfathomable to them—by the time tedious old adulthood rolls around—to not at least pick up the occasional James Patterson, or jump on the (honestly, ageless) Harry Potter bandwagon.
So to that end, bring on the Twilights and Hunger Games and Gones. Press forward with saucy “New Adult” semi-erotica and barely-tolerable novelizations of video games. I find it hard to believe that today’s teenagers will be any stupider for reading these books instead of Goosebumps, or Christopher Pike, or Judy Blume. Most importantly, at least they’re reading.