They’re Not Letting It Go

Another week, and what a week it’s been! Legal documents, identity theft, sickness, impending travel, impending reading periods–oh my! I definitely don’t want to dwell on the stressful items, though. It is Friday night, after all, and that calls for, if not relaxation, a little reflection on the good parts of the week.

This past Monday, my students started their tackled Kazuo Ishiguro’s profoundly moving Never Let Me Go (the trailer for the movie adaptation, by the way, looks promising! ). I’ll admit that I was a bit worried about their ability to hold their attention in the book, given the fact that our past two novels had been much shorter and at least a little more plot driven, with a few good and shocking cataclysms. Never Let Me Go, on the other hand, is nearly 300 pages of suggestion, subtlety, sorrow, and ethical soul-searching. Rereading the book in preparation to teach it to the class, I was as moved as ever by Ishiguro’s writing. But I did start to question whether I’d picked something far afield of teenager-tastes.

As someone who’s just written a book for the teen market, it’s a bit of a favorite torment of mine to second-guess my ability to know what kids would like to read. I’m an old fogey who’s completely clueless? Do I have any idea what kids are interested in, or am I living on planet crazypants? Etc. Ad Infinitum. It’s not a productive habit at all, I’m afraid to say. It’s almost like wondering whether your outfit makes you look fat: you can’t see it from where you are.

But I’m happy to say that, while the first few days I heard reports that “I feel asleep after the first page” or “this book is really boring,” around day 4 and 5 the tone of the conversation had shifted to “this is getting really good” and “I really like this book.” Phew. So the old fogey isn’t on planet crazypants yet. We’re on book 3 for 3 that the kids have actually read rather than skimmed or flat-out cheated on using online summaries. And none of them are “kid” books whatsoever. They may involve young protagonists, but the stories have that essential quality of communicating universal truths without clobbering anyone over the head with morals. And that, as I’ve long suspected, interests even the most reluctant reader.

Of course, teaching this class is not about me. But, selfishly, it does feel good to know I still have the ability to pick good literature that kids will actually read. And on that invisible tally sheet in my head, I’m racking up another point for youth readership!

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