Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden


I have been wondering. Wondering why it sometimes happens that a novel will be published here as an adult novel and elsewhere as a young adult (YA for readers anywhere from 12 to 16 years old)) novel. The first time I noticed that was when the bookThe Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time came out. Here in the U.S. it was published as an adult novel and in the U.K. and Australia it was initially published as an YA novel. After it's well deserved huge success it was repacked in all 3 countries for both markets and why not? If there is a chance you can sell the book from two locations to separate audiences that's good business and I'm all for that but why the difference in the first place? Why wasn't it published for both age groups from the get go?

What has taken this issue from the archives of my brain file and put it back into my everyday thoughts area is the book The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant. Vanishing has recently been released here by Random House as an adult novel. Prior to this it came out in England and Australia as a YA novel. I was drawn to Vanishing because of it's absolutely stunningly beautiful cover. Upon reading the synopsis I wanted to read it because of my interest in fairy tales. I had no idea that was labeled a YA outside of the U.S. Would that knowledge have influenced my decision? Absolutely. I would have passed on it. I would not have bought it for me and I would not have looked for it in the library. I might however have purchased it for my 14 year old niece who is also a lover of fairy tales and retelling of fairy tales.

So? Is it a YA? It sure is. Did I enjoy it? I did. It was thin on plot but it had interesting characters and was well written and imaginative. Grant did a good job creating an atmosphere of darkness and menace that has been sanitized out of the traditional fairy tales we read these days. The book is about ten year old Pia Klovenbach the "potentially explosive schoolgirl". It's a cold, dank winter in Bad Munstereifel (umlauts would come in handy right now) and little girls of the town are disappearing. When the lovely Katharina Linden disappears after being Snow White in the parade, Pia and her only friend, the equally unpopular "StinkStefan", take the case. Pia has been brought up on a steady diet of haunted woods and evil spells stories and is convinced the solution to the mysteries lies in the supernatural.

There seem to be a lot of mystery solving teens around the bookshelves these days. You don't have to be Nancy Drew to know that's nothing new in YA literature, but adult books? There was Curious Incident and more recently: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, The Earth Hums in B Flat, etc. All three of which I thought very highly of at my current 14++ age and would have been wild about and treasured as a 14 year old. And. All three of which can be easily classified as YA books despite being identified by their publishers as adult novels.

Where the author is most successful with Vanishing is in writing about Pia's scary first steps into adulthood. Like the coming of age heroines of classic fairy tales, Pia's trials are courage testing, self sufficiency building and life changing. Grants uses these experiences not only to move the story forward but also to highlight the pettiness of Pia's school yard world and village life. Like most YA novels the adults in the book are for the larger part depicted as self absorbed, not too bright and lax in protecting their children.

My niece thought this book was great. She read it in a flash, talked about it for days afterward and wanted to pass it on to friends. Yea! I have to say that although I did like it while I was reading it, after I finished it I was left with nothing. Then when I discovered that Vanishing was selling as a YA across the oceans I felt duped. I'm not a part of that adult fraternity who are mad for YA books. I need more subtlety, more character development, more plot and writing that allows me to discover and interpret to be sated by a book.

So? Why did Random House decide to sell The Vanishing of Katharina Linden as a hardcover adult novel in the U.S.? I read it and I couldn't tell you. I'm looking forward to seeing how they sell it when it comes out in paper.


P.S. Curious about the YA covers for Vanishing? England is on the left, Australia on the right.  Good, but the U.S. cover is far better this time around.

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