Having a runaway hero whose pursuers can not only see and track him, but can hear his thoughts too, makes for a tense read. It reminded me in some ways of the Bourne films, where the hero has to work in tiny moments - blinks in the eternal eye of the omnipresent CCTV. What else does this book remind me of? Well, the sexual politics and hysterical fundamentalist religion are bound to recall The Handmaid's Tale. The rural setting, the presence of the river and the pursuit will make you think of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Night of the Hunter
If I have one quibble, it is that I think it should be sitting proudly on the shelf next to these books, rather than being hidden away in the "young adult" ghetto. There's been a lot of fury among authors recently about the proposal to "age-band" children's books, but in a way they're too late. The real disaster has already happened. It's called "young adult" fiction. It used to be the case that you moved on from children's fiction to adult fiction, from The Owl Service, maybe, to Catcher in the Rye. There were, of course, some adult authors who were more fashionable with teenage readers than others - Salinger, Vonnegut, Maya Angelou. But these were chosen by teenagers themselves from the vast world of books. Some time ago, someone saw that trend and turned it into a demographic. Fortunes were made but something crucial was lost. We have already ghettoised teenagers' tastes in music, in clothes and - God forgive us - in food. Can't we at least let them share our reading? Is there anything more depressing than the sight of a "young adult" bookshelf in the corner of the shop. It's the literary equivalent of the "kids' menu" - something that says "please don't bother the grown-ups". If To Kill a Mockingbird were published today, that's where it would be placed, among the chicken nuggets.
This is not just a question of taste. It seems to me that the real purpose of stories and reading is to take you out of yourself and put you somewhere else. Anything that is made to be sold to a particular demographic, however, will always end up reflecting the superficial concerns of that demographic. I've lived through an era in which demographic-fixation murdered popular cinema and replaced a vibrant art form with a kind of digital holding-pen for teenage boys. I think we're in danger of doing the same to fiction. The best young adult fiction - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, A Swift Pure Cry, Noughts and Crosses and so on - strolls out of its category. I've no doubt at all that The Knife of Never Letting Go will do the same. Don't let the demographic exclude you.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
"Don't let the demographic exclude you"
At the Guardian, Frank Cottrell Boyce praises Patrick Ness's The Knife of Never Letting Go and offers a serious argument against the category of young adult fiction: