I've just finished Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (thanks for the rec, Jill). It's a good book. I enjoyed it and can recommend it. But I doubt I'll read it again.
So now I have another, newer test for YA literature: does it not only make me live more intensely for the reading of it, but does it make me want to live/read it again?
Kelley and I had another lunchtime chat about our responses to YA. She brought up an interesting point: she reads YA fiction in part to reconnect with the feeling of encountering the emotions/experiences usally encountered for the first time in adolescence. I realised two things. One, bad writers try to engender those feelings in their readers by reproducing the mannerisms and speech patterns of young adults (their characters are blithe and ignorant and inarticulate, shudder). And, two, that's not why I read YA. I read for the clarity and brilliance and excitement of fictional (v. important point, that) young people's experience of the world. I want to feel wholly involved with and experience the world as though the world were new, not as though I were.
One of the things I really liked about Alexie's book was his narrator's announcement, right up front, that he wasn't going to write things down the way he spoke. In other words, Alexie didn't open door #1. I nearly split my face grinning when I read that. I wanted to shake his hand.
He did, however, open door #2 (which is more a matter of reader taste than writer mistake). This novel will be mind-expanding, vibrant and enlarging (I believe) for many young people. For me, though, it is best described as a good read, the kind of book that makes me nod in recognition, 'Yes, how true,' but not understand something new, and not yearn to experience it again. Perhaps if I hadn't read Alexie's other fiction I would have learnt a great deal about growing up on the rez--but I have already read his other work; I have heard him speak (and very good he is, too).
Whatever I search for in a novel (and I imagine I'll be trying to articulate that on some level for the rest of my life, sigh), I didn't quite find here. But a few years ago I might have done. It's a question of timing.
This is a very, very good book. Go read it.