HEY REMEMBER WHEN WE WERE A BOOK REVIEW BLOG
We whine a lot about the vapidity of YA here, and at the same time I think we’ve also tended to overlook Children’s. There’s a lot of amazing stuff going on in kid lit right now. I’ve found children’s novels to be rich, complex, and challenging works with deep social themes and creative storytelling. It’s certainly far more interesting than YA. The cynical part of me wonders if this is because it’s aimed at boys as well as girls. More seriously though, I suspect this is at least in part because people who write YA do it either largely at a publisher’s behest, either dumbing down their already-successful adult work or making adjustments to a manuscript because publishers see YA as a cash cow right now and want much more (I’d guess there’s a lot of letters going out that say, “Well, we don’t see this as an adult novel, but we’ve spoken to Janet in YA who’d be willing to pick it up if you could make it work for that demo…”). On the flip side, people tend to write for children because they want to, and when you start out a project and end with the same goals, you get a better product.
Whatever the reasons, if you’re looking for deep works for young readers, Children’s is where to go right now, and Kelly Barnhill’s novels are a perfect encapsulation of the amazing stuff going on in the genre. I’m not through her whole catalogue yet, but am working toward it.
Tangentially, she’s also written an adult short story collection that I found phenomenally disappointing. She just doesn’t seem to be a great short piece writer, which is weird since the afterword said she preferred shortform. Hopefully she sticks to novels in the future.