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The Best of Youth

I just finished reading The Best of Youth by Michael Dahlie (W.W. Norton & Co., 2013). In it, aspiring twenty-something author Henry agrees to ghostwrite a YA novel for a respected Hollywood actor named Jonathan Kipling (I had Liam Neeson in mind, though that ends up doing a major disservice to Mr. Neeson). Henry has written eloquently about intergenerational friendship, which is the theme Kipling has in mind for “his” book. Henry’s/Kipling’s novel, The Best of Youth, is very well received; it sounds like Aidan Chambers’s Dying to Know You (Amulet/Abrams, 2012), and is just the sort of thing The Horn Book would like:

Advanced reviews had been coming in…and in just the previous few weeks Kipling was being heralded by the experts in children’s literature as something of a modern master. The reviews were in the trade publications — the book was still over a month from official release — so they were mostly the opinions of the librarians and booksellers who spent their days in pursuit of reading and bookselling and interesting others in books…As one reviewer wrote, “Truly exceptional writing is not a thing that comes around often, and reviewers have to be circumspect when heaping praise on the latest novels to come along, but here, I believe, we are looking at perhaps one of the best portrayals of a young person’s vision of the world since Catcher in the Rye, and surely the book rivals the very best coming out now for the adult literary market.

(Okay, so we probably wouldn’t say that in a review, but still.)

Kipling proves to be a spectacular asshole, and his despicable actions leading to another character’s lament, “[this] is the last problem I ever thought I’d deal with…I went to fucking Oberlin, for Christ sake. I minored in women’s studies. I thought this was something the sweater-knitting Peruvian women on my semester abroad had to deal with,” which resonated with my inner Yeowoman.

Here’s my question: would Henry have done what he did in the end if Kipling hadn’t done what he did? Henry knew the consequences of entering into the ghostwriting agreement (and he already had an inkling of Kipling’s character.) What do people think? And, oh my gosh, what about those poor million-dollar goats?!

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She is a current member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee.



  1. Michael Dahlie’s pen name for young readers is Michael Simmons – Pool Boy, Finding Lubchenko, etc. He’s now pretty open about this and you’ve reviewed him frequently. Just interesting and maybe an explanation of his insight into the publishing world.

  2. Elissa Gershowitz Elissa Gershowitz says:

    Thanks for the insider info! Yes, Dahlie/Simmons did seem to have his finger on the pulse in that book.

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