The “Best” Age To Read a Book

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!

4 responses to “The “Best” Age To Read a Book”

  1. Allison Avatar

    I think there are many that I read as a kid that wouldn’t have the same punch now: The Secret Garden, Little House on the Prairie, Tuck Everlasting.

    I’m actually reading a middle-grade novel now called Wolf Hollow that is blowing me away. It’s a great story with amazing writing that I appreciate as an adult, but what I’m seeing is how it would have affected me if I’d read it as a kid.

    Books you read as a kid just seem to stick with you in a particular way, and I feel like they play more of a role in helping us define ourselves than the books we read as adults. I frequently forget the endings of books I read now, but most of those kids books I remember in detail.

    1. Kristen Avatar

      I loved Wolf Hollow! I also wonder what it’s impact would be have if I’d read it when I was younger… There are a few students of mine who are rising 6th graders who read it last year. I should talk to them about their thoughts.

  2. Gayathri Avatar

    I totally agree. I recently read the ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ since I had friends who adored it as a child and I felt left out. And it didn’t end up well. Since then I have been reconsidering the books I had shelved in GR as to childhood memories and to be re-read. Is it worth spoiling the pleasant memories attached to them?

    Gayathri @ Musings Over Nothing

    1. Kristen Avatar

      That’s a good question! I feel like I’d probably enjoy a reread of a book I’d loved as a kid just because of the nostalgia it would bring. I’ve reread Anne of Green Gables multiple times as an adult and still love it and it makes me remember my experience reading it when I was young (it makes me think of being on a train because I read a huge of chunk of it on a train trip in Taiwan!)

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