Yesterday, I went to my cousin’s 33rd birthday party. I decided to give her a book, because I always give books as gifts. When I was wondering around Powell’s trying to pick something out I got totally overwhelmed. For reader’s unfortunate enough to not live in Portland, Powell’s is the largest independent book store in the world. Sometimes hundreds of thousands of books to choose from can be a lot to handle.
So I headed over to the YA section. I’ve read enough of the books in that room to feel comfortable. But what YA book does one give a 33 year old? I gave my mom CHAINS by Laurie Halse Anderson for Christmas. She loved it so much that it’s now making the rounds through the rest of my relatives. So middle grade historical fiction is okay for the 60+ market.
I settled upon THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusek. I’ve recommended it to other adults in the past and never heard of anyone disliking it. Clearly this book won the national book award for a reason, and is more than capable of transcending age barriers.
At the party, my cousin was excited about getting a book from me and curious what the book was about. None of the other adults at the party had ever heard of THE BOOK THIEF either. So I told them, “It’s a world war two book set in Germany. It shows the lives of the ordinary non-Nazi Germans. It’s interesting because while there are so many stories about WW2 this one addresses a part of the story almost never covered.”
Then I went on to say, “The cool thing about this book is that it’s narrated by death. Since it’s WW2, people are dying all the time. And death keeps showing up and observing the lives of the characters.”
“And this book is YA?” My cousin and her friends all sounded skeptical.
“Actually, it’s middle grade.” That’s the thing adults never seem to understand. Kids are capable of understanding complicated and interesting stories. KidLit isn’t lesser fiction. There is a lot of KidLit that’s totally ground breaking and amazing. Books like THE BOOK THIEF and CHAINS are just as good as any book in the “adult” section of the bookstore, and better than most of it.
I’m really glad that I gave my cousin THE BOOK THIEF for her birthday. Partly because it’s a great book that I’m sure she will love. But also because it gave me a chance to introduce the wonderful writing of Markus Zusek to a room full of ill-informed adults who claim to be literary.