Today I have a fantastic post from one of my favourite authors, Scott Westerfeld, and his partners in crime for Zeroes, Deborah Biancotti and Margo Lanagan on their favourite YA from when they were young adults.
YA wasn't a clearly defined thing when we were growing up, so we had to make do with what we could find.
I read Tanith Lee's The Birthgrave as a teen and loved its imaginative visual world and weird mysticism. The story of a woman who wears a mask because she's so hideous (she thinks) and who goes on a quest across a damaged and occasionally brutal landscape, The Birthgrave defined the next decade of reading for me.
One of the few high school-prescribed books that I actually enjoyed was To Kill a Mockingbird. That opening sequence is stamped on my brain. I loved Scout, but most importantly, I loved her dad, and the sense of justice they both shared. And yes, I'm afraid of reading the "new" Harper Lee release in case all my memories are ruined.
Paul Zindel, The Pigman. Two teens, Lorraine and John, accidentally befriend lonely old Mr Pignati, who charms them with his openhearted hospitality and his eccentric house and habits. Their friendship grows until by a series of naive bad decisions, they damage and destroy everything he holds dear. Wikipedia tells me that this book is often set for schools, but I’m glad I never had to ruin it by writing tedious essays about its themes—I just enjoyed the two entirely believable narrators and the fun they had on the way to the slow car crash of the climax.
Mervyn Peake, the Gormenghast trilogy. A big, weird, baroque monster-work about Titus Groan, heir to Gormenghast, a fantastical, mouldering stronghold inhabited by the Groans and their grotesque entourage. Go read the opening paragraph—it’s online in a million places—for a taste of the mad Gothic overwriting that Peake sustains for three hefty volumes. I loved immersing myself in the swamp of this prose when I was thirteen or fourteen.
Joanna Russ, "We Who Are About To . . ." is a (non-YA) novel about survivors of a starship crash on an unknown planet. You'd think this would be pretty standard science fiction stuff: survival, problem solving, eventual rescue! The problem is, one of the characters doesn't want to be in that kind of story. She figures that life on this unknown planet, cut off from the rest of humanity except for a handful of people she despises, isn't really worth living. The others won't let her give up, so she kills them one by one. This novel taught me that no direction is too weird for a story to go in.
Harlan Ellison, Dangerous Visions. Not a novel and not YA, this anthology of stories was way beyond of the usual range of science fiction in the 1960s. The stories dealt with sexuality, class, and social sciences, and were often written in experimental styles. But they all made perfect sense to me, and made me want to write about Big Ideas in Unusual Ways, using the classic tropes of SF. (For an example of stories in the anthology, you can probably dig up Samuel R. Delany's "Aye, and Gomorrah . . . " on the internet, a tale about third-sex space workers.)
Thank you so much! I’ve definitely added some books to my wishlist…