“I was reading a book awhile ago where this girl was like seventeen and dating an immortal, and all I could think about was how weird the age gap was — and how ridiculous it was that the girl never had homework and went out clubbing,” a friend said to me in a conversation about the growing distance between us and YA. And, while I laughed at her candor, heartily agreeing with her ridicule of teenage literature, her statement struck a certain chord within me.
To those of my generation, born in the early 2000s, our adulthood is no longer as mythical as it once was when we were younger — but now an inevitability, staring us down with a mundane and perhaps intimidating presence. With Netflix adding Avatar: The Last Airbender, drowning us in nostalgia and a yearning for the days where entertainment was marked by innovation, I’ve begun to reflect on my personal life. More specifically, my childhood, when my entry into reading began.
As the years have wheeled by and the YA industry has shed its old skin, the fond memories of oldies-but-goldies remain. Granted, some of them have now been realized as problematic or ludicrous, but they still linger as pillars of the book community. While my reading tastes have aged — like fine wine, I always say — and I am no longer as attached to these series as I once was, I find it fitting to begin this new decade with an homage to these classics.
To Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, which taught me to be how to be a rule-breaker when it counted. Cracking The Lightning Thief underneath my desk in fourth grade, glancing furtively at my teacher to make sure she was turned away, was an electrifying experience. I learned that the world isn’t neatly divided into categories and subcategories; there aren’t uniform demarcations between what’s real and what isn’t, what’s right and what’s wrong.
The awareness of all multitudinous possibilities, of the magnitude of what lies beyond my meager senses, had never been so keen. From fantasizing about going to Camp Half-Blood, to marveling at the sheer diversity of gods and goddesses, my wonder for Greek mythology came from you.
To Erin Hunter’s Warriors, which instilled in me the appreciation for communities that value the differences among them. Riverclan, Thunderclan, Shadowclan, Windclan — never mind that the cast was composed of cats, the unique characteristics that belonged to each group enriched my perspective of the world I lived in: the healing properties of marigold and poppy seeds, the gastronomy that ranged from trout to rabbit, the habitats made from reed or wood.
The natural world ceased to be just a blur on the sidelines that I ignored from my car window, but a vibrant, soulful ecosystem, whose bounty sustained so many creatures. Today, I still strain my neck to see a squirrel nibbling on an acorn, or to catch a glimpse of a loping deer, fascinated by these slips of life. I still pause in the radiance of a summer day, closing my eyes in the warmth.
To Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, which helped me embrace my inner hopeless romantic. Or, rather, my inner hopeful romantic. Before it became victim to mockery from the internet, torn apart by literary experts, it was simply a world for me to delve into with my rose-colored glasses intact. I understood that true love was not only legendary but enduring, able to withstand the difficulties that life brings.
Moreover, I understood that although love was not perfect, its flaws and mishaps did not diminish it. The relationships that connected Bella, Jacob and Edward were woven together in complicated tangles that didn’t need to be unraveled, however cheesy they are now. I cringe to remember my TwiHeart era, but I don’t regret it.
To Veronica Roth’s Divergent, which illuminated the agonizing costs of social reform and the sacrifices it requires. I discovered you during my transition from fifth grade to middle school, as I struggled to shake off the clinging tendrils of my childhood and carve out my identity. Tris’ fearlessness stabilized me through the tumult, becoming a role model whose actions I admired and aspired to emulate in my own life. Before, I was the constant fixture of my days, the axis, and all that I’d known more or less revolved around me.
After finishing the trilogy, my outlook on society became more harshly defined, bleaker but also bolstered by a determination to not only improve myself — but to improve the lives of those around me. Rather than just be a passive participant in my community, I resolved to insert myself fully and dedicate my efforts to causes that are important to me. Because of Divergent, I know how it is to be a part of a movement that is far bigger than myself.
To all the authors I’ve loved before, this is my tribute to you — to memorialize the joy you brought into my life, to commemorate the lessons you’ve ingrained in me. I am grateful for the safe-haven, the shelter, the solace, that you’ve given me, and still give to others. But now, I think, it’s time for me to move on.
Photo Courtesy of Scholastic Inc.