Enid Blyton–>Carolyn Keene–>Agatha Christie/P.G. Wodehouse–>Ayn Rand –>Sidney Sheldon.
Show me a person who’s followed that reading trajectory, and I’ll show you a middle-class, English-educated, child-of-the-seventies Indian.
I moved straight from children’s books to adult fiction. Young Adult books–works specifically written for readers between twelve and eighteen–were absent from my literary world. I did read ‘cross-over’ authors like Gerald Durrell and James Herriot and Tolkien, but the only books I recall being blurbed as suitable for teens are the miserable Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series.
When I was around twelve, I began on my parents’ book collection. My mother judged the suitability of a book solely by the extent of its sexual content; I was allowed, for instance, to read Aldous Huxley and Leon Uris, but not Philip Roth. (The floodgates opened when I read Rage of Angels at fourteen.)
I discovered Young Adult literature when I was in college, with Anne of Green Gables. I loved Anne Shirley (and still do), but sometimes, reading Lucy Maud was like sucking on an Everlasting Gobstopper of pure maple syrup. Where were characters who spent their summer vacations gazing at the bathroom mirror and feeling misunderstood? Teens who wondered about periods and puberty rather than the purple glories of a sunrise? The mean girls who made Lord of the Flies look like Noddy’s adventures with his Toyland pals?
I’ve since realized there’s a planet of YA literature out there, dealing with real-life issues, written by authors who never underestimate or patronize their young readers. The knowledge of course comes too late for me; how I wish I’d known about these books when I was thirteen, instead of spending my time dreaming about George Michael and our future daughter Ayn… Some of the best YA novels I’ve read over the past fifteen years include Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole series, Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, and Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea.
For a great list of YA ‘coming-of-age’ titles, check out Colleen Mondor’s YA blog Chasing Ray. Her comprehensive list is divided into helpful categories such as “Mysteries/Thrillers That Include Characters Coming-of-Age” and “Books GLBT YAs Will Identify With Strongly”. The list includes old faves like Little Women and modern classics such as His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, and most important: excludes excrescences like the Sweet Valley High series. Also featured in the list are some multi-cultural works such as Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier.
I can’t, alas, think of names to add to the list of South Asian YA authors. I’ve read Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy, Bapsi Sidhwa’s An American Brat and Ardeshir Vakil’s Beach Boy, all of which deal with coming-of-age themes, but none of them were written specifically for a YA audience. If you have suggestions for South Asian YA-themed authors/books, do write in!