Friday, June 22, 2012

Growing Past YA

I recently turned nineteen. That means I have less than a year left of official "teen" life left. And then I'll be an adult or something. At least, that's what they tell me.

The point is, I am quickly aging out of the Young Adult demographic. I started reading YA when I was nine years old, and for years, I was younger than the protagonists. I wasn't even in middle school yet and I was reading about seniors in high school. It mad me feel mature and grown up. Then I started high school, and I was the same age as the protagonists, which was nice. They understood me and experienced the same things as I was experiencing right at that moment. Or, at least, they experienced the things I wanted to experience. The first romances I longed for, the best friends I dreamed of. But now, I'm in college. Slowly but surely I'm moving away from the YA set. I'm growing up and I really don't know if my love for YA will be able to grow with me.

I have a number of friends my age who insist that they cannot read books with protagonists that are younger than them. I don't have a hard rule like that, but I understand where they're coming from. When we graduated from high school and started university, we felt like we were past it all. The high school drama. The 9:00 to 3:00 school day. The group projects. Parents and principals and all the other people trying to control you. Right now, I think we all want to distance ourselves from that, not dive back into it. It all feels a little immature and silly and we kind of want to pretend we're over that.

I am still reading YA. But I have, for the most part, stopped reading middle grade fiction. It's all a little too cutesy and innocent for me. And I won't specifically reject a book if I read that a book has a fourteen year old protagonist, but it certainly doesn't do the book any favours. I'm much more enthusiastic about books about high school seniors, people who are worrying about college and future plans, just like I was (and still am). I can connect with those feelings so much better. They feel so much more relevant to my life than some grade nine drama.

On a theoretical level, I like to believe that I can appreciate YA, no matter my age. That the most rewarding part of reading is not the plot or the happy ending, but the ability to connect to characters and authors on an emotional level. And there is no shortage of YA books that provide that connection. When I read Elizabeth Scott's Perfect You, I cried, as touched the exact places in my heart that my best friend had bruised. When I read Deb Caletti's Stay, I smiled at all the small moments I recognized, all the exact doubts of insecurity and poor self-esteem that I have nursed all my life. On this theoretical level, it seems as though it's not about abandoning YA, but abandoning bad YA. Which is, of course, silly and impossible. Because the things that I love in books aren't written in the descriptions on the back covers.

On a much more minuet and literal level, I am concerned. I just finished Terra Elan McVoy's Being Friends with Boys, in which the Charlotte, the protagonist, said "I watched Shrek everyday when I was little". Now, Shrek was released when I was nearly ten years old. It's not a movie I watched when I was "little". I remember seeing it theatres, and enjoying it. But I was too old to watch it obsessively in the way that little kids watch movies. When I was "little" I loved The Lady and the Tramp and The Little Mermaid. Those are my childhood reference points. What bothered me about Charlotte's statement was not that I didn't understand the reference, it was that I didn't relate to it. It was not from my generation; this not a movie my friends and I grew up with. It's a small, seemingly insignificant reference, on its own, but it raises a larger issue: as a get older, won't I relate to the references less and less? Thus, won't my emotional connection with YA books grow weaker and weaker?

Like so many questions and concerns I talk about on this blog, I don't have an answer. And before anyone says it, I am more than aware that there are many, many people who read YA who do not have the word "teen" in their age. But I'm just not sure I will be one of those people.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Looking Back

I think I'm going to look back at this time like I now look at the awful stage of my life known as puberty: something necessary, painful, and, thankfully, long over.

My parents are getting divorced. No, that's a lie. Technically, legally, they will be separated. I don't know why they don't want to go the whole way with it, other than the fact that divorce is probably more expensive. But, for all intents and purposes, I'm viewing it as a divorce, seeing as they will not live together or have much contact with each other at all.

At least, that's the plan, for now. Supposedly what their (our) future is going to look like. But right now, that is very hard to imagine or believe in any way. Right now, I'm sitting in my bedroom, the same one I've occupied since I was seven years old. I'm staring at the white and red walls, which used to be purple, before which they were yellow. I'm sitting at my desk, where I sat to do so many projects and write so many essays, from elementary school all the way to university. Right now, in this moment, nothing's changed. I'm ten years old and all the adults are telling me that my body going to change in some freaky ways, and even though they've told me what some of those (gross) ways are, I have no idea how this will affect me or change my life.

Like seriously, it feels like I'm reading an outline for my life over the next year, and all I can do is add little annotations like "that might hurt" or "that's going to be bad" or "I'm not going to like that". Selling my childhood home, the only place I'm ever truly comfortable? Yeah, that's really, really going to hurt. Moving an hour away, to a part of the city I wouldn't even refer to as Toronto, a place I've never been, and, more importantly, never wanted to go? Yeah, no, I'm not going to enjoy that, in any way. Splitting my time between not only houses, but cities three hours apart? Yeah, that's going to really suck for me.

It all feels so overwhelming and out of my control. I feel like life has handed me one of those stupid body books, telling me what to expect over the next year, outlining the physical changes of my life with no regard to the emotional challenges they bring.

I remember when I was about eight or nine years old I read this terrifying book called Newton and the Giant, which told me that people lost their ability to imagine when they left childhood. I cannot emphasize how completely petrified I was by that idea (that author, who is a complete liar, deserves a hard slap upside the head, in my opinion). I thought puberty would not only steal my body, but also my favourite part of my mind. Now, though, I'm not afraid that I'll lose the ability to imagine new things. I'm terrified that I'm going to lose the ability to remember. Which, in a lot of ways, I fear is worse.

Right now, I'm upset about a lot of things. I'm upset with my parents. I'm concerned for my mother. I'm upset about losing my family. I'm sad about losing my house. There are ways to comfort yourself about each of these things ("it's for the best", "we'll always be a family", "it's the people that matter, not the places"). And sometimes, saying those things really does help. But sometimes not. And right now, as I'm sitting in this house I love, surrounded by memories, there's nothing I can tell myself to make me believe that I'm not going to forget all of it, myself included.

When I was ten years old I lost control of my body and I thought I was losing control of myself. Now, almost ten years later, that fear is back. At ten, I was standing on the edge of deep gulf, staring down into the darkness, trying to figure out what I was going to become. I'm standing there again today. And only thought that I have to comfort myself is that I'm ten years older, ten years wiser, and have ten years more experience dealing with pain and picking up the pieces that I should be able to handle it all better. But that's probably not true. But how do I know, right?

Which is why I repeat this to myself: this is something necessary, something very painful, and I promise, one day, it will all be long over.

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