Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly

This was on my "to read" list for a long time, then I got it from the library and it sat on my shelf, still on the "to read" list, for a while. Then I came across Emma's blog, Booking through 365, on which she lists her favorite books ever: 1. The Gemma Doyle Trilogy! 2. A Northern Light 3. Wintergirls 4. Paper Towns. 5. The Hunger Games. Then I saw that Emma was included in the stupid NY Times YA Lit thing. I was really needing some excellent YA around then, so I read A Northern Light right then. In fact, I quit reading The House of Mirth, and read it. (Not enough was happening in The House of Mirth, and the little that did happen, I didn't particularly care about. And I have a lot of other books on my shelf that I'm eager to read, so... read some 250 pages of The House of Mirth, that's enough. Moved on.)

This is all I want to say about the stupid NY Times "debate" about YA lit--I think Roger's post at Horn Book was a great commentary on the whole debacle. He points out that the respondents were asked, “Why have young adult books become so popular so quickly — even with not-so-young adults?” but only two of the respondents actually address the question:
Only Lev Grossman, rationally, and Joel Stein, sophomorically, addressed the topic. Grossman, a book reviewer and member of an adult book club that reads YA, understands the difference between adult books and YA but can’t seem to resist queering his pitch: “The writing is different: young adult novels tend to emphasize strong voices and clear, clean descriptive prose, whereas a lot of literary fiction is very focused on style: dense, lyrical, descriptive prose, larded with tons of carefully observed detail, which calls attention to its own virtuosity rather than ushering the reader to the next paragraph with a minimum of fuss.” Aside from the fact that he’s comparing good examples of the former with bad examples of the latter, Grossman ignores the fact that most of YA (including The Hunger Games, which is what I assume prompted this debate) is not literary fiction, it’s what we perhaps too-loosely call commercial fiction, reading as diversion, where the page-turner is king. A comparison between The Hunger Games and, oh, Mrs. Dalloway (Grossman’s example, not mine) is meaningless. If you want to compare The Hunger Games to, say, Snow Crash, or Sarah Dessen to Jodi Picoult, you might come up with points more interesting and useful.

Anyway. But I loved A Northern Light. It's historical fiction, set in 1906, and loosely based on a true story. I'd say, really, that the part of it that's about the true story is a relatively small part of the book--it's much more about our heroine coming into her own, deciding what kind of adult she's going to be, and what she's willing to do to get herself there.

I'm often so impatient with historical fiction, but this was really fun.

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