If you read my August “What I’ve Been Reading” post, you’ll know that I recently read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith and truly enjoyed it. However, you’ll also know that I felt like I would have loved it exponentially more if I’d read it earlier in my life.
I’d heard over and over from trusted readers that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was one of their absolute favorite books, and my follow-up question should have been: How old were you when you read it? My guess is that they were either tweens or in high school, which just so happens to be main character Francie’s age for most of the book.
But does that mean you have to be the age of the protagonist in order for a book to resonate? Based on my experience, the answer is a resounding no. I mean, I totally fell in love with Ove from A Man Called Ove, and he’s a grumpy old man from Sweden!
I just think there are certain books — mostly middle grade and YA — that pack the most punch when readers pick them up during their tween and teen years. Adolescence is a time of so much personal exploration and expression that reading a book with an engaging character of a similar age can have an incredibly strong impact. Young readers can actually put themselves in the characters’ shoes and “try on” a different kind of a life for a while without being judged by their peers.
For me, the best example of this kind of reading experience was with Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery, which I read during the summer between 5th and 6th grade. Anne is eleven years old at the start of the book, and I felt such a strong connection with her. We had some things in common — doing well in school, loving beautiful language, fiercely loving our friends — but it was our differences that really drew me into her story.
Anne walking the ridgepole of a roof. Anne shattering a slate on Gilbert’s head. Anne saving Diana’s sister with medical know-how on a cold, wintry night. I was a shy and careful kid, who never would never have done any of those things! But to read about someone my age having the pluck to do them was exhilarating, and it encouraged me to think outside my box and entertain the idea of taking a little risk someday.
I’m sure I would have liked Anne of Green Gables a lot had I read it for the first time as an adult, but my love for dear Anne probably wouldn’t have been as strong. So, I am VERY glad I read the book when I was eleven!
It’s a bit of a shame that I may have missed the peak time to read certain books. Titles that come to mind are Emily of New Moon, by L.M. Montgomery; Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink and A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. But just because they might not have the same emotional impact for me as an adult, I’m not going to shy away from reading them. I want to make sure that I can recommend these wonderful books to all the children and young adults in my life at the ideal ages they should read them.
Emily of New Moon is actually the November selection for the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club, so I’ll be picking that one up soon. Will I adore it the same way I adore Anne of Green Gables? We’ll see! But if not, I’ll still be very happy, since I’ll have another wonderful title to put in the hands of a young reader.
What books did you read as a tween or teen that wouldn’t have been as impactful if read as an adult? Share in the comments below!
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