Friday, September 21, 2012

Expiration Date

While working on another post, I remembered that I really need to do a post on expiration dates.  In regards to children's and teen books, I mean.  I have long believed that certain books have an expiration date, and my go to example for this is Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Lois Sachar.

Sideways Stories From Wayside School (Wayside School #1)

Don't get me wrong-this is a great book for kids, but I think to fully appreciate it, readers need to be in that weird age between 2nd and 4th grade.  Their sense of humor is a little wacky at this time, and this book speaks so directly to that, that it's just genius really.  That Louis Sachar could write a book so perfectly suited for that age group as a grown man is pretty astonishing.  But I'm telling you, if you read it after that window of time has closed, it's just a strange little book.

But more important examples of this come in the form of young adult literature.  With so much crossover appeal, YA has become the next big thing for adult readers, but not all YA books are meant to be read by adults.  One classic example is Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.

The Catcher in the Rye

Don't yell at me yet, Salinger is classic and brilliant and lalala.  But, I read this book and loved it and identified so closely with it in high school, but when I had to re-read it for a young adult lit class in grad school, I thought Holden was a lazy, whiny jerk.  Basically, I'd grown up, Holden hadn't and I just couldn't take it.

Then there's the book that jogged my memory about writing this post: Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen.

Someone Like You

You'll read more about why I bought this book at a rummage sale next week, but I picked it up, read it and just laughed at how ridiculously preachy it was.  Here's part of my Goodreads review:

"Halley gets a call at her summer camp that her best friend, Scarlett needs her because Scarlett's boyfriend Michael was killed in a motorcycle accident. Halley is busy comforting her friend, fighting with her mom, working at a grocery store, and creating a new love interest when she finds out that Scarlett is pregnant with Michael's baby. They only had sex one time, the night before he was killed, and now she's carrying his love child."

That's the gist of it.  Have sex one time and your boyfriend will die and leave you with a baby that you will deliver on prom night.  No kidding!  Oh, and Halley is way too scared to have sex with her boyfriend, because what if she ends up just like Scarlett!  

Now, had I read this when I was sixteen, I know that I would have related.  Actually this book did come out when I was sixteen, so there are no cell phones, no texting, no Facebook, no internet.   Aside from my theories that you should not read this book after high school, I honestly wonder what teens would think of it today.  It has not aged well.

But that's not my point.  My point is that with all the angst and all the drama and all the sensationalism, this is not a crossover book.  Someone Like You needs to stay firmly in the Young Adult section, and should only be read by adults looking to laugh at their youth.  To me, this sounds like a bad after school special wrapped up in a sex ed lesson from an abstinence only campaign.

To be fair, Goodreads reviews suggest that Sarah Dessen has come a long way as an author, and I'm not saying that she is a poor author, just that she is writing for a very specific audience.  I also said that had I read this at 16, I would have loved it.  But my 30 year self just could not stop laughing at this whole situation.

What other YA books out there should stay firmly in YA land?  I suggested Daughter of Smoke and Bone to one book club member and while she really did like it, she said that she could really sense that teen angst in the background.  Is that necessarily a bad thing?  Do you sometimes bristle at the preachiness of some "crossover" books?  Let's discuss!  Drop me an email at or comment below to keep the conversation going!

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