Other people grew up on Harry Potter. I grew up on Artemis Fowl.
Artemis Fowl among about a hundred million other Middle Grade and Young Adult books, but still. Artemis Fowl was a stand out.
Eion Colfer was one of those authors who really impacted me as a child. His books were intelligent, fast paced, and just plain fun to read.
This past Christmas my sister, who knew I was looking to add a Steampunk to my line of books, gave me a gorgeous, shiny copy of The Airman by Eion Colfer. And this past month I finally got to reading it.
I have to admit I was a bit nervous. I loved Colfer as a kid, but I haven’t really read much of his work since. I listened to an audio book of his a few years back, and reread Artemis Fowl about two years ago. But I hadn’t picked up something brand new for a while. One of the occupational hazards of being a writer is that you learn the “rules” of writing and spotting bad plot and prose is much easier. I didn't want to loose that idealistic view I had of Eion Colfer's writing from my childhood.
Thankfully, Colfer’s work ages well. The Airman was a charming little book with gorgeous prose, an inventive premise, and a lot of fun twists and turns. I loved seeing how Colfer used the restrictions of the MG age category to really build a more fulfilling and inventive world. And how he used the complications of the story to set up exciting payoffs that I just had to keep reading to get to.
Sure there were a few small complaints, but every book will have them. I mean, I even have them when I read my own books. And I’m the quintessential “write what you want to read” author.
I was thinking about boundaries a lot lately. MG books have a lot of boundaries. There is very little blood or violence. No sex or swearing. And the plot has to remain relatively simple. Info dumps are even more dangerous than in a typical adult book. And inner monologue is rare, with the focus instead on the action and the plot. Most MG books I’ve read, especially those of my generation, have a clear narrator and use a “omniscient” voice, very similar to the Classics, but with a much more whimsical and entertaining feel.
A good MG book, like The Airman and Eion Colfer’s other works, will use these boundaries as a shelter to build an inventive, engaging, and powerful story that can be enjoyed without reservations.
I think we as human beings don’t like having boundaries placed on us. We don’t like to be told when something is dangerous, or harmful, or painful. Even if those boundaries are just for a time. Even if those boundaries are given to us by someone who loves us or sometimes, by ourselves. But while some boundaries can become like the prison walls of Little Saltee as described in the book, sometimes boundaries can be like the walls of a good home. They can create a safe place for us to build a powerful, fulfilling life without being beaten down by mistakes and bad choices.
Do you read Middle Grade books? Or maybe there is a Middle Grade book you remember well from your childhood. Comment below and let me know what you’ve read!