Thursday, September 3, 2009

Summer's Over

-Everything runs backward now. Like matinee films sometimes, where people jump out of the water onto diving boards. Come September you push down the windows you pushed up, take off the sneakers you put on, pull on the hard shoes you threw away last June. People run in the house now like birds jumping back inside clocks. One minute, porches loaded, everyone gabbing thirty to a dozen. Next minute, doors slam, talk stops, and leaves fall off trees like crazy.- p. 238  Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

So writes the main character, 12 year old Douglas, in his journal as summer comes to a close in this exceptional book that I recently finished reading. I bought it without knowing anything about it except the impression that Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes left on me. I read that book about a decade ago and still think about it often. Seeing that Dandelion Wine was another coming of age kind of story, I gave it a shot. It ended up being nearly as compelling.

Dandelion Wine chronicles the summer of 1928, mainly from Douglas's point of view, but delves into the lives other inhabitants of the small town throughout the book, giving brief insights that are sometimes funny, often profound, and always excellently written. 

At its heart, like Something Wicked.., this is the story of a boy realizing he's not a child anymore. Both books do a remarkable job of capturing that time in life when the wonder of childhood starts to fade even though we try to hold on a little longer . . those moments like when you were 12 and spotted your old favorite toys and decided to play with them, but when you picked them up, they just didn't have the same magic. There's a sadness there and Bradbury recognizes that and writes about it beautifully. 

When you weren’t looking, the sun got around behind you! The only way to keep things slow was to watch everything and do nothing! You could stretch a day to three days, sure, just by watching!  p.106 

What's interesting to me is that both of these books, if written today, would be published as YA books. However, they wouldn't exist as they do. For example, there's a few scenes in Dandelion Wine that focus on some adult characters that would've been edited out if a publisher was making the book specifically for YA, not because these scenes are inappropriate or irrelevant, but simply because they would be accused of "not speaking to the book's audience." Which got me thinking a little about age-specific writing and it's benefits and limitations. 

Benefits: A story geared for an audience (in my case, usually kids of a certain age) that's theirs, all theirs. 

Limitations: Potentially profound observations, that kids could learn from, sometimes get left out because a certain scene or situations doesn't pertain directly to their lives.

Given the clear divide between YA and General Fiction among booksellers, it makes me wonder how many books like Dandelion Wine get lost . . coming of age stories that are for both adults readers and those actually still coming of age . . a book that looks forward and back with equal integrity. If you don't know what I mean exactly, give either of these stories a read. You'll thank me for it, I promise.

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