Below is an excerpt from a 11/25/09 post. A bit of background: 2009 was the start of my own book project: to read 1K YA novels in however long it took. Reading Newbery and Caldicott Award winners was a sub-project.
When I read Creech’s award-winning novel, I was working on a first draft of a YA historical fiction — my writerly concerns take up much of this “review”, but it should be clear that I loved this book. Here’s what I wrote in 2009:
Most recent book read for 1,000 YA novels project is Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech. 1995 Newbery Medal winner and absolutely lovely. Complex story with three plot lines woven together so neatly it’s hard to tell when you’re moving from one to another. First person narrator who’s honest, troubled–and thirteen, just like my heroines. Her voice is real, her story full of ups and downs. Makes me wonder if I have enough ups in mine. That’s something to keep in mind, as I write those final 5,000 words in the next 6 days.
Last night I was talking about writing with my sister and her husband, who, no doubt in support of my effort, were reminding me of how many bad books have been written by famous authors. They wanted to know if I was writing a mystery, or a romance. When I answered that I was aspiring to literary fiction, L laughed. Not cruel laughter, not meaning, “as if you could!” He seemed more likely to mean, isn’t that what every writer aspires to?
Possibly–in fact, as I think about it, there probably aren’t many writers who aspire to less than that. Even those paid by the word (like Dickens, for instance) must also have some higher goal. The story drags us along, demanding to be told, and we try to tell it in the best words we can find.
The definition of “literary fiction”, according to that stand-by resource, Wikipedia, is as follows: it “focuses more on style, psychological depth, and character, whereas mainstream commercial fiction (the page-turner) focuses more on narrative and plot.” This sounds about right.
Can a YA book be literary fiction? Yes, definitely. Look at the awards–by some standards, the ultimate acknowledgement of LF. Creech’s book has it, with the big medal on its cover. She deserves it, her book deserves it. But reading her makes me almost despair.
That despair has diminished, but not completely disappeared. I was happy to hear Neil Gaiman mention his writerly fears — of the public’s discovery that he’s a fraud and the subsequent loss of permission for him to do what he loves most. If someone as excellent as Gaiman (another Newbery award winner) shares these fears, there’s hope for all of us.