Like most writers (I assume), I read a lot. Usually three or four books at a time, and usually fairly quickly. I’ve got one going now that I keep taking breaks from. And it’s had me thinking more than any book I’ve read lately. I’ve taken breaks from it because I don’t want it to end, and because the content needs time to sit and simmer in some places.
I’m reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. And it’s been a wonderful experience. It’s a book that has changed the way I think about some things. YA literature, specifically. I grew up reading YA classics, but I didn’t know, at that time, that there was any such thing as young adult literature. I read whatever I wanted, and some of the things I read happened to have characters that were more relatable than others. As a writer, of course, the genre is not unfamiliar, especially with the fairly recent successes of the big ones like Rowling and Meyer. And I enjoyed those series very much. And I think the writing in both was just fine. The stories were what kept me reading. But with the Book Thief, it’s different. The language is what’s keeping me reading.
My former experiences with YA had led me to believe that writers who focused that way were looking for one thing – marketability. The quality of the writing didn’t seem to matter quite as much if the story hit all the necessary plot points and kept younger readers engaged. But Markus Zusak has challenged that idea.
I should say, first off, that I have no idea why this book would be construed as YA, if you want the truth. The protagonist is a “tween”, I suppose… but outside of that… the themes are universal, the setting and action are quite adult (although in this day and age, with kids playing ridiculously violent games and watching blood and gore in movies, maybe there’s no line there anymore).
But I’ve gotten off track. My point isn’t to consider the rise of YA literature or find rules for its categorization.
My goal was to basically GUSH over Zusak’s work. I don’t know if he sits down and worries every little sentence to make them read as they do. I’m guessing it’s a bit more natural to him. And I envy that… On every page is a sentence I wish with all my heart I had written. My husband is getting irritated because as I come across these, I tend to read them out loud, several times. So he’s been woken to me saying things like:
“In fact, on April 20 – the Fuhrer’s birthday – when she snatched a book from beneath a steaming pile of ashes, Liesel was a girl made of darkness.” A GIRL made of DARKNESS. Lovely.
“It was a Monday and they walked on a tightrope to the sun.”
“She wanted none of those days to end, and it was always with disappointment that she watched the darkness stride forward.”
“The tears grappled with her face.”
“Her wrinkles were like slander. Her voice was akin to a beating with a stick.” That one has been in my head since I read it. Her wrinkles were like slander. I adore this idea.
I’ll let you read the rest yourself if you haven’t done so already.
It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that feels like it was painted with a brush and palette. Thanks, Markus Zusak, for reminding me that literary fiction and YA do not have to be different things.