Several of my friends and I have experienced I similar phenomenon now that we’re in our late twenties and settling in. Our parents have started pawning detritus of childhood back to us. “Do you want this trophy? This photo? This story you wrote in the 4th grade?” Now that I have a semi-permanent home, my parents have relegated (among other things), a giant box of all my papers and all my childhood books.
One book collection, however, gave my father pause.
“Is this your collection of Narnia? Or mine?” he asked the last time I was visiting.
“Welllll… yours technically,” I replied. “Though nine year old me decorated the inside cover with drawings of Reepicheep and Aslan and Bree.”
They ended up in the box, and are now sitting on my bookshelf.
Something powerful happened when I opened those books: I was swept back in time to the way, way back of our old green Ford Aerostar. The pages smelled exactly the same, the derpy drawings staring back at me. The familiar characters felt like someone I’d said goodbye to just yesterday.
This is why YA is important. When writing for teens and younger folk, we’re writing books that people will remember for the rest of their lives. To me, awkward and redheaded as a teen, I will always and forever rely on Meg Murray of A Wrinkle in Time to make me feel accepted. I learned about periods from The Long Secret and my big sister. I joke that Charlotte’s Web is the reason I gave up eating pork at 16. When doubting the religion I was raised in midway through high school, I obsessively read and reread The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Looking for Alaska got me through a bad fight with a friend.
So a word to those writing YA: these are the books that are needed. Teens need to see themselves in novels to cope with the crazy world around them. They’ll remember that book for life.