What is it about the books we read as teens that makes them some of the most memorable stories? The other day, as I stood in a ridiculously long line at the grocery store, I tried to figure out if it’s because of the way our minds work when we’re kids teetering on adulthood or if it’s the books themselves.
In my past life as a college instructor, I taught English. My favorite subject to teach wasn’t poetry or memoir, although poetry was a close second. The course that made me jump up and down when I saw it on my upcoming course schedule was “Literature for Adolescents and Young Adults.”
The minute I saw the course number (327) and name, books would start throwing themselves at me–figuratively, of course.
- The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
- The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
- Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Those are just a few of my favorites. But why?
As I was thinking, I was probably scowling at the cashier. Then, as I tossed my lettuce onto the conveyor belt, I had my epiphany.
It’s the narrator, silly!!!!!!!!
- June and the other six narrators
I love all of them. They are all me, and I am them. Maybe that’s why I love writing memoir. The first person point of view and the narrator with my voice. Like Scout, like Anne, and even like Charlie.
If you haven’t read these books, what are you waiting for? Go! to the bookstore, the library, or GULP if you have to, your Kindle.
23 responses to “Who’s Talking My Language?”
I absolutely love this post, ESPECIALLY the last line! (Gulp, Kindle) I have to say that To Kill a Mockingbird and Flowers for Algernon were at the top of my list, along with Animal Farm. You’re so right about the narrators, they are so well written aren’t they.
So so so good. There’s a wonderful book by Daniel Keyes about the writing of Flowers for Algernon called Algernon, Charlie, and I. If you haven’t read it, maybe you would like it, Jayde-Ashe!
Oh wow! Sounds fantastic. Ill have to look it up.
It’s a pleasure to read a book with a good first-person narrator. It’s like having a conversation, albeit one-way, with someone who is never bore. I think that books one reads as a teen are like music one hears as a teen. They take on a special hormone-drenched glamour even if they are crap.
However, one hopes that the books one reads as a teen are excellent. Then the glamour is justified and magnified. I read a lot of books at that age–swept handfuls of the adult shelf at the public library and took them home. I didn’t read all of them, just the ones that caught my interest on the first page or two. One that I picked off my parents’ bookshelf was “I Capture the Castle” by Dodie Smith. Fiction with an engaging first-person narrator. I wanted that book to never end.
I loved “I Capture the Castle.” It was my mother’s book, and I found it at my grandmother’s house. I think I still have it. My friend’s son played in the play of the story last year at Pace University.
On the same note of “Castle,” one of my absolute favorites as a teen was “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” by Shirley Jackson. Now THERE is one of the most fascinating first person narrators ever.
To Kill a Mockingbird…without question. The Joy Luck Club was a fantastic book as well. I loved all of the narrators voices. Oh Luanne, I also love first person POV. Recently I’ve experimented writing in first person and I’m loving it!
Jill, I’m thrilled to hear that you’re experimenting in first person. Although I know there is a time and place for other POVs, first person is so dear to my heart. I’m so glad you also loved Joy Luck Club. I think it’s one of the best books for young women of all ethnicities.
I’ve read them all except Flowers for Algernon. I chose not to read that one at the time because I was afraid it struck too close to home. Maybe I’ll try it now.
CM, oh, Flowers for Algernon DOES break your heart. I am not going to dismiss it and say, “read it, you’ll love it,” because it is one of the most heart-breaking stories. But also one of the very best ever.
Yes, the narrator makes the book. But I also think it’s the adolescent mind as you said, teetering on the edge of adulthood.
I have returned to read a few of my favorite books read as an adolescent and I have been disappointed. I think a big part is of what books say to you is… where you are in your life.
Ruth, I know you are right. But when I’ve reread some of these favorites, they stand the “test of time.” Do you remember any specific books that didn’t hold up for you?
two that come to mind… A Wrinkle in Time.
and one from early adulthood. Catch 22. Maybe my tastes have changed, but I was so disappointed in A Wrinkle in Time (after it had been my favorite book for so long) that I vowed not to reread !
Hmm, maybe because A Wrinkle in Time is more of a children’s book, not so much a teen, and there is more of a divide there? As for Catch 22, I never could get into that book in the first place, but maybe that makes me weird. Well, it would be one of the MANY things that makes me weird!
I didn’t read A Wrinkle in Time until I was 13, (I guess that’s when I discovered it) so I considered it a preteen book…. maybe I was just immature (actually I know I was immature)
Catch 22 I absolutely LOVED the first time. HATED the second time (some 30 years later)
Maybe I am just too old to go back. Most of the books in your stack I taught from in high school English, and that made them interesting in a different way. Anyway, you are absolutely right about the narrator.
Haha. I used to think I was so mature. Looking back, I clearly was very immature for my age.
LOL just looked up the publishing date on “Wrinkle” and it was 1962 ( I was 12) So that explains why I didn’t read it when I was younger…. Gosh I must be OLD!
You’re just ripening into the age of perfection, but not quite there yet.
To Kill a Mockingbird will remain an eternal favourite for me. I used to believe it was so because of when I was first introduced to it i.e. during my teens. But I’ve since re-read the thing countless times and it loses none of its luster, if anything it gets better.
For me too! It’s a fabulous book, and Scout resonates with me so much–still, after all these years! Thanks for chiming in here, thoughtlife!
Wow – throw “Animal Farm” and “Fahrenheit 451” on that pile pictured and that’s my list. My favorite has always been “To Kill a Mockingbird” and I was tempted to name my daughter “Scout” (lost out in favor of family names). The narrator’s voice makes all the difference. Lovely post!
Fahrenheit 451 is a fabulous book. Animal Farm, too, but not so much one of my favorites. 451 also reminds me of Lois Lowry’s “The Giver,” another wonderful book. Scout would make an incredible name for a daughter!!! Thanks for adding to the discussion, Michelle!
I LOVED Flowers for Algernon. Such a beautiful, sensitive book. When the movie came out, I thought that Cliff Robertson was the perfect choice. But I was devastated by the movie. In my reading of the book, Algernon became so real, such a vital part of the story, that I was heartbroken to see he was a little Hitesh mouse!