Yes, I’m 23 years old and I still read teen fiction. Though really in the grand scheme of things that’s hardly my worst feature. I’m unemployed, still live with my parents and so emotionally unstable that I can hardly make it through an advert break at the moment without bursting in to tears (but that’s Christmas adverts for you).
It has been four years since I was a teenager. God that’s scary to write. Yet in those four years I have probably read more teen fiction than I did as a teenager. And between the ages of about 12 and 17 I read A LOT of books. Almost constantly. Under the tables in lessons, on the bus, in the advert breaks between TV shows. And this was before the days of the Kindle app on my phone. I was lugging around massive hardback books everywhere I went. But such was my desire to escape my rather unsatisfactory teenage years.
If I look back on my time as a teenager I might perhaps say that the constant reading more added to the problems I was having than eased them. Yes, it gave me a distraction but always having my nose in a book did leave very few opportunities for people to invite me to sit with them at lunch or come to their party. So instead I missed out on the real life experience and measured my teenage experience against the fictionalised versions in the novels of Cathy Hopkins, Cecily Von Ziegesar or Meg Cabot.
But that’s all past and life got better once I reached university. And yet I still found myself reaching for the same books, alongside the more serious fiction I started reading. Which makes for some interesting juxtaposition on my book shelves. I bet not many people will find their copy of Catch-22 by Joseph Heller next to Teen Queens and Has Beens by Cathy Hopkins.
Having reread the entire Jacqueline Wilson back catalogue recently I actually think that at 23 I’m a more appropriate age to read her books than I was when I was 13. She deals with some gritty topics; teenage pregnancy, domestic abuse, rape. I actually remember after reading Secrets for the first time having to ask my mum what rape was. I don’t even think I knew what sex was. I also think at this age I can appreciate far more Jacqueline Wilson’s books. Whereas as a teenager I wasn’t too keen on Vicky Angel, I now think it’s one of her best. So I think reading Jacqueline Wilson well into my twenties (and probably beyond) is totally defensible.
More books that I still read from my teenage years which I think are of just as high standard as any adult fiction include Holes by Louis Sachar, the Harry Potter series (of course) and All American Girl by Meg Cabot which now that I have a better understanding of American politics is a much more interesting read. And added to my collection since I became a fully-fledged adult (on paper if not in reality) are anything by John Green and Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.
Less defensible is still reading the books of Kate Petty. Summer Heat and Summer Cool were two of my favourite books as a teenager. I remember getting Summer Heat as a birthday present and staying up all night to read it even though I had a Maths GCSE the next day (still got an A* though). But I read them again now and I cringe at the writing. To the extent that I have actually rewritten large chunks of the books with quite substantial changes to the original text, surely in some terrible breach of copyright (don’t worry, Kate, I won’t be issuing them for public consumption). In fact, given my less that great skills in writing, a trained eye would probably think I’ve made them worse, not better. But I have managed to correct her misspelling of Justin Timberland to Justin Timberlake. That annoyed me so much. People who are writing teen fiction and editing teen fiction should be making more of an effort to stay in touch with the cultural interests of teens. Or it was just an oversight and Kate Petty kicked herself when she noticed it.
With the invention of E-Readers as well no one has to know that I’m reading teenage fiction. For all they know I’m reading Chaucer. Which is also one of the things that bothers me most about E-Readers; that I can no longer pass time on a train journey by judging the other people based on what they’re reading.
Maybe the fact that I feel the need to defend my right to read whatever the hell I want is why reading alienates a lot of people. Reading doesn’t need to be an arduous way to spend your time. Books don’t always have to be gritty and dramatic. Sometimes they can just be mindless escapism. And no one does mindless escapism quite like Kate Petty.