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Editorial: Climbing the Walls

Last month, while reading and re-reading books for The Horn Book’s annual “Fanfare” discussion, I teased followers of the Read Roger blog with mention of a book that had me excited for YA publishing all over again: “Granted, the half-dozen books I have to get through before [the meeting] are themselves already separated from the herd, and granted that you can still find plenty of formula in YA publishing, but at this minute I am feeling very proud of all you YA writers and editors and publishers.”

The book — now it can be told — was Nova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us, which is just one of several excellent YA novels to make our list of the best books of 2015, beginning in this issue on page 12. While I had known before reading it that the book was being passed around the Horn Book offices with fervent recommendations, I confess that overhearing the words ballet and horror had made me quietly resolve to ignore it if I possibly could. My mistake, and one fortunately rectified via professional obligation.

The Walls Around Us, along with A.S. King’s I Crawl Through It, Neal Shusterman’s Challenger Deep, and Tim Wynne-Jones’s The Emperor of Any Place, all also on the Fanfare list, are recommended for high school readers. This is not to say that younger readers should be steered away from these titles, simply that the books’ complexities will probably be best and likeliest approached by sixteen-year-olds rather than the twelve-year-olds who, twenty-five years ago, were in the sweet spot of YA publishing. And by complexities I don’t mean sexual material; while contemporary YA does sometimes make me blush, none of the four books I mention is notably juicy in that regard. Rather, the challenges they present are narratorial, each of them employing shifts in point of view, register, and timeframe, along with an elastic sense of realism, to tell their stories. While these novels are very different from one another, they are united in the generous trust they have in their readers to navigate the unexpected: a helicopter you can only see on Tuesdays (I Crawl Through It)? An island where you’re haunted by your future descendants (The Emperor of Any Place)? Is he on a boat, or what (Challenger Deep)? Wait, who’s dead (The Walls Around Us)? These writers do not hold our hands through the strangenesses but instead encourage us, through confident prose, to stay with them because we don’t want to be left behind.

We have known for a while that many, maybe most, readers of contemporary YA are adults. Nothing wrong with that in itself, of course, and these four books are evidence that such readers are not necessarily looking for something easy. (I believe I have said in the past that they were and herein Take It Back.) But, except insofar as their dollars might allow YA publishing to take risks, I don’t care about adults reading YA, do you? And what I love best about our Fanfare YA choices is that none of them is an adult book in disguise; each one approaches young adulthood from the inside — even if it’s from the inside of an invisible helicopter.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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