I’ve been reading pretty much nonstop since the early 1970s, and I always thought books were books. I would read anything when I was a kid: Nancy Drew, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Somerset Maugham. (Though I’ve never figured out why my mother thought Of Human Bondage was a good choice for a fifth-grader.) Sure, the library separated children’s books from adult books and had a shelf of the then–newly emerging Young Adult titles in between, but I never thought about whether a book was a mystery, a fantasy, a “problem” book (hello, Go Ask Alice and Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones) or something else. In eighth grade, everyone was reading Judy Blume’s Forever and Danielle Steele’s The Promise without regard for labels.
There’s been a lot of debate recently about whether adults should feel ashamed of reading teen books and whether commercial fiction is taken as seriously by critics as literary fiction, which is now seen as a genre of its own. I’ve been trying to escape the debate by burrowing into a book, as usual, and Jo Walton’s Among Others has been just the thing. Walton’s heroine, Morwenna Phelps, grew up in the Welsh valleys with a mother who may be a witch; when she’s sent to boarding school in England, she finds refuge in a stack of science-fiction books she gets through interlibrary loan. This book combines many genres and subgenres—fantasy, coming-of-age, British boarding school—and it’s the perfect reminder that it doesn’t matter how a book is classified as long as it’s good. In addition to telling an enchanting story, Walton provides a crash course in classic sci-fi through Mori’s reading list, which should keep me happily occupied for some time to come. –Laurie Muchnick
Laurie Muchnick is the fiction editor at Kirkus Reviews.