The particular sadness of YA fiction

This Christmas has been a difficult one. My mum passed away in April this year, so this has been our first christmas without her. It was simultaneously better and worse than I was expecting. It was good to be at home with my Dad, siblings and nephews – the family dynamic has completely changed without Mum there, but I guess this is just the new reality that we all have to adjust to.

Mum has been on my mind an awful lot in the run up to christmas, unsurprisingly really. As time has moved on and the loss starts to feel, if not less painful, than at least a bit less raw, I’ve started to notice some of the things that bring her to mind more often. One of those things, for me, is not being able to talk to her about books we’re both reading. It hits me with every book I pick up, but more so with Young Adult (YA) titles.

For 30+ years, Mum taught English at secondary school. She had a real passion for literature, and for reading, that she passed on to all of her daughters. Working with 11-16 year old kids, she always had an eye out for good books aimed at this age range. When we were teenagers, recommendations for books got passed back and forth between me and my sisters, and the kids at Mum’s school, via my Mum. When I was about 14, I remember her coming home with two books for us that all her kids had been raving about: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I believe that series went on to do quite well…

Through Mum, I learned that some of the best, most creative and most gripping fiction is written for teenagers; and that there is no upper age limit on these books. Every time I read a good book, I want to pick up the phone and talk to Mum about it: to find out if she shared my opinion, or to pass on the recommendation. It hurts every time.  For YA fiction, it’s even harder, because I know how excited she got about discovering new books, new authors that she could use to get the kids she taught excited about reading. Just before christmas, I read the Hunger Games trilogy. They were fantastic, and I’d planned to write a review post about them, but when I came to try I couldn’t get any words down. Reading these books was bittersweet for me because I knew, as soon as I started reading them, just how much Mum would have loved them. I couldn’t find the words to write a review because I hadn’t been able to talk to her about them, to get her opinion and hear her articulate, in her own inimitable way, just what made them such good books.

Not sure where I’m going with this post really. It’s just been on my mind, and it seems to help to put it down in words. I don’t intend to stop reading things that will remind me of Mum: as much as it hurts, it does make me feel closer to her. My love of reading is a gift that Mum passed on to me, and it seems a fitting way to honour her memory.

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