As librarians we bend over backwards for our reluctant readers. We salivate at the idea that a book is perfect for reluctant readers, that it’s so appealing that kids who don’t like books will LOVE it. We preen with delight when non-readers tell us “I loved this book and I never read books.” We feel an indescribable thrill when we talk about how we connected reluctant readers with the right books. We champion books that are not all that well-crafted because we know, we know, that they will speak to a reluctant reader, that they will suck in some teen who doesn’t read often or widely.
This is something I am proud of in our profession. This is a particular reward, a particular task that takes particular skills, in our profession. Not everyone is good at it and it takes time and skill and patience. It takes the ability to, at times, squash down that voice inside you that wants to prostrate yourself at a teenager’s feet and scream, “NOT TWILIGHT! THERE’S SO MANY *GOOD* BOOKS YOU COULD BE READING INSTEAD!” And that is a lot harder than you might actually think, when you are a person who loves good literature so darn much.
But we push through that! We reach out for reluctant readers, we constantly assure them that we are there for them, that our collection is for them, that we won’t give up on them. And I’m damn glad we do.
Only sometimes, sometimes, I wonder about what happens when we forget about our non reluctant readers – those teens that can’t get enough, that read dozens of books and still want more, the ones that walk out of the library with a huge pile of books and a big smile.
What happens to them in our giant stampede of “THIS BOOK WON’T HURT YOU, I SWEAR!” reassurances?
I think I know. It’s not that they stop coming into the library, not quite, it’s that they stop coming to us. They go to the adult section, you see, and fall in love with Harry Dresden and Daenerys Targaryen. And while that is totally awesome – nothing breaks my heart quicker than to see a 15 year old, a bright, voracious reader look right at me and say, “Yeah, young adult books are just boring, I’m not really interested anymore.”
When we, and here we means librarians, teachers, writers, publishers, publicists, all of us who are involved in this industry, when we encourage the dumbing down of young adult fiction, we tell this 15 year old they’re right.
We say: “Yup, you had a good run here with us, you really loved those kid books! But now you’re way too smart and sophisticated and mature as a reader for all this stuff, this baby stuff, so you might as well go find real books!”
And I don’t want to be in an industry that says that. Do you?
When I am doing training and workshops for librarians I inevitably come up against the Octavian Nothing issue.
Here I am, having just spent an hour telling them all the latest zombie-romance-vampire-killing-non-stop-action books that are sure to fly off their shelves and now I stand before them and tell them that, with limited budget, they need to buy Octavian Nothing – a dense, historical novel that wrestles with huge, hard questions and is written in deliberately stylized prose meant to evoke the 18th century. They stare at me in bewilderment. Who am I? Can they trust anything I say? HAVE I GONE MAD?
So then I tell them the most important part: Octavian Nothing is not for all your teen readers. Octavian Nothing is the kind of book you have to sell to your teen readers, the kind you have to work to connect with the right teen. And maybe Octavian Nothing is right for one teen out fifty. But for that one, this is the kind of book that can change their life – the kind of book that can open a world of possibilities in them, that can make them think and wonder, that can make them say, “Yeah, young adult literature is awesome.”
Don’t you want that?
And yes, they nod, thinking about Octavian Nothing, thinking about the American Revolution and questions of liberty and freedom and justice and moral right. That seems profound, that seems like a higher calling. Yes.
But what if that same question was posed about a book where monsters rip people’s faces off, where the blood flows copiously, and there are very nasty things that go bump in the night?
Would it be so easy to nod then?
The Monstrumologist is that book. It’s not for every reader. It’s not for many reluctant readers (though there are some who will be drawn in, much to their surprise!) It’s sophisticated, smart, classically structured, dense, and detailed. The Monstrumologist is a book for the teenagers who think that young adult literature doesn’t have anything left to offer them.
The Monstrumologist tells the story of young Will Henry, who is apprenticed to Pellinore Warthrop, the monstrumologist of our title. Dr. Warthrop is an amazing character, full of sharp edges and determination – a man who never flinches from his duty, even when his duty is dark business indeed, he springs off the pages with clarity. Will and Dr. Warthrop, as I am sure will come as no surprise to you, encounter and do bloody battle with a great number of monsters, both of the human and inhuman variety. The books are richly plotted, detailed historical pieces and, oh yeah, they’ re rip-roaringly-turn-on-the-lights scary and stomach-churningly gory.
This blog is not a review of The Monstrumologist series, per se, Bear already handled that for me a few days ago And if you want to read a great one try out Liz’s review of the first book (she has great reviews of all three titles in the series, Curse of the Wendigo and Isle of Blood.) or you could read the professional reviews, which were glowing. (Booklist said it “might just be the best horror novel of the year.”) I wasn’t lucky enough to get an AR of Isle of Blood but I can’t wait to read it next week because this is a series that has only become richer and more fulfilling with each volume, as you come to know all the characters and their world better.
When I heard that Simon & Schuster had declined to pick the book up for a fourth volume, I felt YA lit grow poorer.
But! Now we know there will be a fourth volume and THAT makes us all richer.
To celebrate and because I hope this series of posts has convinced at least one of you, dear readers, that you absolutely MUST start this series today, I’m giving away a copy of The Monstrumologist so that you too can be taken in by Will and Dr. Warthrop (and so that you too can have nightmares!!) All you have to do to enter is leave a comment on this blog and I’ll randomly select a winner! The contest is open extra long since I’m currently out of the country on vacation – so you have until September 19 to enter.
If you can’t wait that long, head out to your library to get The Monstrumologist right this second. I promise, you’ll be richer for it. (and probably a little scared too…)