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Okay, in reading the new issue of Booklist I started to see something really odd among several of the new adult titles. Take a look at this:

Huge by James Fuerst, Crown. (Starred Review): "The name is "Huge," or so Eugene Smalls insists. But folks persist in applying the diminutive, since the 12-year-old is the smallest boy in his sixth-grade class. Small but mean. And tough. And hard-boiled. Just like his hero, Philip Marlowe. The wannabe detective is thrilled when his grandma hires him to find out who has defaced the sign at her retirement home. But Huge has, ahem, huge problems—anger management being only one—and his investigations may take him to dark places he'd rather not visit."

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
by Alan Bradley, Delacorte. (Starred Review): "Sweetness introduces a charming and engaging sleuth who is only 11 years old. Flavia is one of three precocious and extremely literate daughters being raised by English widower Colonel de Luce in 1950. Flavia's passion is chemistry (with a special interest in poisons). She is able to pursue her passion in the fully equipped Victorian laboratory in Buckshaw, the English mansion where the de Luce family lives. The story begins with a dead snipe (with a rare stamp embedded on its beak) found on the back doorstep. This is followed by a dead human body in the garden and, later, by a poisonous custard pie. Revelations about the mysterious past of Colonel de Luce complicate matters. Others supporting players include the housekeeper, Mrs. Mullet, and the gardener, Dogger, who suffers from shell shock. When Colonel de Luce is arrested for murder, it's up to Flavia to solve the mystery. "

The Earth Hums in B Flat
by Mari Strachan, Canongate: "Every night in her dreams, Gwenni flies high above her Welsh village, looking at the lives unfolding beneath her and hearing the earth's melodic hum. The sky is her sanctuary until one night the 12-year-old sees something puzzling and deeply disturbing. The very next day Ifan Evans, the chapel deacon and husband of Gwenni's teacher, mysteriously goes missing. Intrigued, Gwenni decides to turn detective and determine the man's whereabouts."

The Selected Works of TS Spivet
by Reif Larsen, Penguin (Starred Review): "The son of a laconic Montana rancher and a noted, if absentminded, coleopterist, 12-year-old prodigy Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet draws diagrammatic maps (e.g., zoological, geological, topographical) as well as maps of people shucking corn or chopping wood, drainage patterns, and a city's electricity grid usage. The Smithsonian has been accepting illustrations, schematics, charts, and maps from T. S. for some time when Mr. Jibsen calls him to say that T. S. has won the prestigious Baird Award for the popular advancement of science and is invited to D.C. to give a speech. Thus begins T. S.'s odyssey, and a surreal, mind-bending one it is, for sure."

So does anyone see a pattern here? Each one of these books (three of them starred reviews!) were published for adult readers. It used to be that we talked about teen protagonists crossing over to adult readers (Hello Blue Van Meer) but this - this is really interesting. What is it that makes eleven and twelve year olds so suddenly appealing to adults? Is it just the assumption that sex or romance won't be part of the plots and the authors can focus on other things? I'm reading T.S. Spivet right now and enjoying it quite alot but so far I can't see why the protagonist has to be twelve - he could just as easily be sixteen. (I'm thinking the Smithsonian would be just as freaked to find out a high school kid was making their art.) I understand authors are writing the books that they want to write and not worrying so much about audience when they write them and choose their protags (I do believe Colson Whitehead on that score) but am I missing something or is there a serious juvenile trend going on here? I mean YA/adult crossovers are one thing but MG/adult crossovers? That's getting weird.

I mean really.

I"m not saying that adults can't enjoy a book with a child protagonist - we all know and love Tom Sawyer and Scout and all those other classics that have stood the test of time and that's great. But this whole teen trend thing that seemed such a big deal with Special Topics in Calamity Physics is starting to look like vamp novels look in YA. In other words these preternaturally smart children are starting to crop up everywhere and I wish I knew why. Do we really need 12 year olds to solve crime now? I know there are some wickedly smart kids out there (they show up later as adults commenting on blogs with claims that they read Lord of the Rings when they were like five) but most of the ones I have known are overly concerned about having the right shoes, watching their favorite shows and whining about everything. Lately my eleven year old niece cares only about texting her friends and asking them what they are doing. No one is ever doing anything but they still feel compelled to ask each other constantly. (And she can't even go to the local Fred Meyers alone so solving crime seems a bit beyond her capabilities.)

I would not want anyone in her group to be responsible for clearing me of murder charges.

I guess what you have here are characters that are deemed by someone to be too smart for readers their own age, apparently not sexy or smart assed enough for readers a couple of years older, but so quirky they endear themselves to adult readers who want to reminisce about the child they think they were. For the record I like TS Spivet because I am a big fan of maps and illustrated novels. (See Barbara Hodgson's titles for more examples.) I am not pursuing my literary childhood ideal. I swear. Really. (REALLY!)

But what the heck is everybody doing reading these books? And who decides that liking these books makes you literary but admiring Gilda Joyce makes you an adult who refuses to grow up? (There's a new Gilda novel out next week by the way - The Dead Drop. I haven't heard a thing about this one until I saw it in Booklist where it got a very positive review.) I don't even care who they are written for anymore, now I'm more into the marketing. It's like the dumbing down of America's juveniles or something - all the really smart kids have to be in books written for adults.

Okay, that's not true but still, I wish I knew how child protags for adults vs child protags for children are chosen. It almost makes me want to read all of these books just to see what they've got in common. Almost but not quite. Maybe I'll just wait and see what wunderkid novels show up in the next issue of Booklist. There better not be any seven year olds...I have one of those of my own and believe me, it won't work, I don't care how quirky the kid is.

comments

BINGO: adults enjoy reading about the children they imagined they were. Just as there will never be a shortage of children's books proving how much children need adults, there will never be a shortage of adult books mistily reminiscing on some bizarrely idealized childhood. Lies, lies, lies, and not necessarily good fiction.

I should amend that with "SOME adults." I prefer reading Gilda Joyce, Theodosia Throckmorton and the Enola Holmes books and just plain enjoying how they figure things out.

I loved Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, its on the lines of Gilda Joyce and Kiki Strike. The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet came into the bookstore yesterday. That book would be difficult to read on the go, its pretty big.
One other thing these 12yr old protagonist have in commmon except one is they're English. Where are these books placed in their home country?
I got a good laugh out of adult/MG crossovers and the five years reading LOR line, thanks.

I'll readily admit that I really like the Kiki Strike books because I wish my middle school years had been like those as opposed to the loathsome time I spent at Lyndon B. Johnson Jr. High having my brain drained of all creative thought and my soul sapped by the extreme difference between the rich and the not rich (me being one of those).

Exploring abandoned buildings and stopping crime would have been WAY better!

"Sweetness" does sound very good from the review and I think "Spivet" is great so far. Heck, all of these could be fantastic. I just wonder why we need them so much and why it is adults in particular they are aimed at (rather than kids). I know they could and will crossover (I'm reviewing "Spivet" for my YA column after all) but it's just interesting to me that this is the direction a big part of publishing is moving in these days. I guess it makes sense - didn't they decide that a ton of the "Twilight" fans are adult women? (S Meyer was in Vogue recently after all.)

I do wonder how Britain shelves the books - need to check into that!

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