I recently amazed myself by reading a couple of books within a week's time. They were Young Adult books, though, so perhaps I shouldn't be so amazed. But they were both good books. One is titled Leviathan, by Scott Westerfield, and is the first in a series.
This steampunked alternate history begins in 1914 at the onset of World War I. The Germans and the Austro-Hungarian empire are known as Clankers because they've built up an army of metal war machines, while the English and their allies are Darwinists because they've taken evolutionary principles several steps in their own direction and created a living war technology from hybrids and specialized animals. An example is the flechette bats, creatures who are fed sharp metal bits embedded in their fruit and then sent flying over enemy craft, where they literally have the crap scared out of them on cue. The undigested metal bits fall onto the Clanker aircraft and shred them - and sometimes the pilots - to pieces.
The story is told from two different points of view: that of Alek, who is the orphaned son of Archduke Ferdinand and who must escape from Austria in a Clanker machine because the powers that be don't want him making any kind of claim on the throne, and Deryn, an English girl who disguises herself as a boy so she can join the Royal Air Navy and ends up serving on the Leviathan, a kind of flying whale/airship. There's lots of action and intrigue, and the story builds to a satisfying conclusion leading in to the next installment.
Not only is Leviathan a fun story to read, but the book is a work of art. The design on the cover is all steampunk, there's a fantastic map on the endpapers that deserves careful scrutiny, and there are wonderful illustrations inside evocative of how books were illustrated a hundred years ago.
There's also a website for the book and a pretty cool trailer (see below).
The other book I read is called When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead.
I chose to read it because I read in a review that it had recently been awarded the Newbery medal and that it was touching and thoughtful and had similar themes to Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, to which the characters in When You Reach Me refer a number of times.
Well, I love A Wrinkle in Time. It's one of my all-time favorite books, so I thought I'd give Stead's book a go. It was pretty good, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had been younger. It's written rather simplistically (with reason, because the narrator is a 12-year-old girl), and it's one of those "time to grow up" stories, though not a horrid one like some coming of age books are, and I knew almost from the beginning what the big reveal would be at the end. I even guessed the reason for one of the recurring, seemingly random incidents in the book. So for this reason I say that I would have enjoyed it much more if I'd been younger, because it all seemed pretty transparent to me as an adult.
The curious thing is, I never read A Wrinkle in Time until I was in my twenties. I don't know how I missed it in my childhood. I feel to ask myself (like Dinah Shore), "Where was I?" I must have been busy with Classics Illustrated comics and Nancy Drew. Sometimes I really wish I could have experienced A Wrinkle in Time as a child, but even so it had a great impact on me in my twenties. I can still remember the sensation of mixed delight and eeriness I felt when I read Mrs Whatsit's statement that "there is such a thing as a tesseract." Children's books don't often do that for me. Well, and why should they? I'm an adult, after all.
Nevertheless, besides A Wrinkle in Time, there are a few other Children's books I missed out on in my adolescence, and didn't read until I was in my twenties or thirties, that turned out to have affected me deeply regardless of my age when I read them; consequently, I count them among my favorite books ever:
The thing is, I don't think I would have appreciated The Matchlock Gun and The Wind in the Willows the same way I did as an adult if I'd read them first as a child. On the other hand, I feel like I really missed out on something not having read the others when I was young.
So, how about you? Are there any Children's or Young Adult books, originally published when you were a child, that you didn't read until after you were 18 years old and that had a profound effect on you anyhow?
By the way, if you happen to have a first printing of When You Reach Me, don't let any kids near it. Keep it safe instead and put the dust jacket in a protective cover. Apparently the first printing was very limited, so first printings are kind of scarce. And if you can get your copy signed by the author, so much the better: I've seen signed first printings of that title going for over $300 and up! There's more than one reason to love a book.