So, I’m turning 30 this year and while I’m trying desperately not to make a big deal out of it, I have done some reflecting. I mean, 30’s a milestone. One entire decade of my adulthood will soon be history and it has brought up some questions. Who was I before? And who am I now?
It started in the spring. I don’t read much during the winter because taxes take over my life, but once I’ve slept for approximately a week, I like to get back to my intellectual pursuits, especially reading. But this spring something was…off. I’d start a book and then put it down. Then pick up another one and then leave it. It seemed there was nothing I wanted to read. Fiction was boring, non-fiction was too dry. I wasn’t myself. At least not the self I thought I had become. I felt more like my teenage self (confused, restless, and dissatisfied) than my adult self. And even though it was uncomfortable, I wasn’t sure it was a bad thing.
One day I was in the library and decided I’d take a look at what they had in the teen section. It was a lot bigger than I remembered. And these aren’t the stories we had when I was a teen. When I was in 9th grade, my favorite book was The World According to Garp. I read Stephen’s King’s It in high school as well. I also read a lot of classics. Why? Because the Sweet Valley High books just weren’t gonna cut it. I read Lois Duncan and the Lewis Barnavelt series by John Belairs. They were the most interesting things going in the late 90’s. And I read Harry Potter, but I mean, who didn’t? I switched to adult books early on and that was that.
My teenage self was an insufferable know-it-all and I looked down on teen books because I always read above grade level. But now I can’t help but wonder if I would have read more YA if there had been the variety and sophistication there is now. Look at the numbers. In 1997, 3,000 YA novels were published. In 2009, 30,000 were published. Pretty big difference. I have a feeling high school Kim would have loved The Book Thief. A novel narrated by Death set in Nazi Germany. That’s intellectual. (Did I mention I was a snob?) I also enjoyed John Greene’s Looking for Alaska and the mid-grade novel Splendor and Glooms among others. Come to find out, I’m not the only adult reading YA.
But for me, I don’t think it has to do with nostalgia. You can’t really be nostalgic for something that didn’t exist. I think it took all the way to 30 to come to terms with who I was, who I am now, and who I still am. As a teen, I couldn’t wait to be an adult. I didn’t want to read about teen issues and other teens because nothing about them seemed real. Seems some of that has been remedied because I now see my teenage self in some of these books. (Kinda scary.) But would I have seen it then? Probably not. I think it takes being an adult for a while to have perspective on the teen years.
At fifteen, I was shy and quiet and I felt angry and rejected. Nobody got me. I was hard and didn’t cut anybody any slack, especially myself. Now, I’m much less angry. I don’t expect people to get me. I laugh at myself a lot easier. I really don’t care if you don’t like the way I am. I’m not changing for you. Ultimately, I’m the same person I’ve always been but the difference is that I accept that person now. I’m happy with who God made me to be. I was her then, I just didn’t know it.
Would reading better YA novels as a teen have brought me to these realizations faster? Who knows? But at 30, I can tell you they have given me perspective on where I’ve been and who I’ve been and that’s not nothing.