Although I am not normally a reader of young adult fiction, I did recently pick up a copy of the first volume of Suzanne Collins' dystopian sci-fi trilogy, The Hunger Games. I had been listening to a podcast of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, a show in which a group of snarky nerds chat and giggle about television and movies and such like, when one of the panelists, admitted that he didn't like to read BOOKS. Indeed, he hadn't read a BOOK since he really couldn't recall when. And then, encouraged by the rest of the panel's sham horror, he promised that he would in fact read a BOOK as soon as a Book worthy of him could be discovered. To this end, listeners were encouraged to email recommendations of books worthy of his attention, so that, from the mass, he might choose the one to honor with said attention.
Some weeks later, he announced the anointed title. It was not War and Peace. It was not The Great Gatsby. It was not even The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It was The Hunger Games. Now to my astonishment, never myself having heard of The Hunger Games, the rest of the panel burst out with their own enthusiastic endorsement of the selection. It was a compelling read. It was a wonderful book, an inspired choice. Since I consider myself a somewhat literate sort of fellow, I was at a loss as to how I could be so ignorant of a book so many found so wonderful. It was at that point that someone happened to mention the genre, to mention that said Hunger Games was an example of what we happily lump together as young adult fiction, and now I understood. Far from young adulthood myself, young adult fiction was something I had left behind decades and decades ago, in favor of what I happily lump together as old adult fiction.
Of course, I turned up my nose. Young adult fiction was for children; commentators on NPR — intellectuals, pseudo and otherwise — should be expected to read real books, adult books. Bad enough to confess you didn't read, worse to decide when you finally agree to take book in hand that the book you take is one step past Horton and the Grinch. Meanwhile, the discussion of the book continued, and there was naught but praise. Everyone on the panel seemed to have read it and everyone loved it. To hear them talk, this was a modern masterpiece; young adult notwithstanding, it was a book for the ages.