My Favourite Author Of Teen Novels, by Elizabeth Wein
My favourite author of teen novels is Hilary McKay. Her writing and subject matter aren’t remotely like mine – she writes family oriented, contemporary books in modern settings. But her writing style, elegantly plotted stories and quirky, multi-dimensional characters deeply appeal to me. They appeal to my teen daughter, too and we share McKay as a favourite.
Interestingly, I think that McKay’s intended readership has aged since she first started writing, in tandem with her growing expertise as a writer – almost as though she needs older characters in order to put into play her more ambitious style and plot. As well as featuring younger characters, McKay’s early books are shorter, and the prose is less complex (though just as entertaining and accessible). But with The Exiles series McKay established herself as one of the great classic teen novel writers of this generation, moving on from there to the incredible wonderfulness that is the Casson family of Saffy’s Angel, Indigo’s Star, Permanent Rose and other titles, most lately Caddy’s World.
McKay has got her finger on the pulse of her teen readers. For several years McKay also kept a blog for her character Rose Casson in real time:
As of January 2012, ‘Rose’ quit blogging and moved to a Twitter account, which ‘she’ keeps very sporadically:
The careful reader will observe that blogging for a made-up character is a huge time suck. McKay’s early entries for Rose’s blog are carefully crafted stories in themselves, referring to the Casson family series but accessible to the casual reader. Twitter is a much easier and more accessible medium for breathing life into an imaginary personality – it requires less work, but it’s still wholly believable for a teenage heroine.
It’s a weird thing, the fine line between the real and the imaginary. The amorphous reality of McKay’s characters makes my daughter and me talk about them as if they were real people – listening in on our book discussions, for a while my husband actually thought they were real people. It became an inside joke – the Cassons became our cousins. My daughter’s reviews of McKay’s books reflect this.
I think that McKay’s ability to create such realistic and accessible characters, characters teens can relate to so well, is remarkable and enviable – something akin to magic.
Indeed, McKay’s earlier books make obvious use of unrealistic coincidences and the supernatural. The Amber Cat is a ghost story and Dolphin Luck also has supernatural elements. This element has disappeared from her recent fiction – or has it? As McKay has become a more subtle and nuanced storyteller, she has replaced the supernatural in her fiction with a kind of timeless undercurrent of myth. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Permanent Rose, which has Arthurian legend as an underlying theme (Le Mort d’Arthur and TH White’s The Once and Future King both figure in the plot).
Yet McKay’s books are funny. They are some of the most hilarious novels I’ve ever read, and I think it’s this that makes her timeless and elegant prose style so accessible. I wish that I could distill McKay’s tone and style into an essence I could drink, so I could be able to repeat it in my own writing.
In sum – if you’re looking for someone who writes for teens with flair and ease, for realistic situations that somehow transcend the everyday and ordinary, and for difficult situations that end happily somehow – read Hilary McKay.
Elizabeth Wein’s author website: www.elizabethwein.com
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