Teen-ager leaning against a "You must be this tall to go on this ride" sign.
At a Six Flags theme park. I was 19 years old.
One of my unpublished goals last year was to re-read a bunch of books by one of my favorite authors from my middle school years. One of her books I have re-read again and again and again over the years since, but there were a lot of her other books that I remember liking quite well that I haven’t read since my late teens.

While several of her books are grouped as series, she didn’t write them in chronological order. She would write stories about the children of characters from her earlier books, for instance, and then decide to go back and write a story about some of the original supporting characters before any of those second or third generation kids had been born. So I was also going to try to read the series in the order of the events depicted within the stories.

The first one was easy to read…

It was the award-winning book that I had read and re-read dozens of times in grade school. I had re-read it in middle school and been happy with it. I had re-read it late in high school and was pleasantly surprised at how well it stood up, and so on, coming back to it every four or five years and always enjoying it. So I whizzed through it, no problem.

Then I picked up the next book. The second book in the series had been written about 9 years after the first, and I had read it in middle school and quite loved it. I think I had only re-read it once since, in my late 20s. I had fond memories of it. When I re-read it right after re-reading the first book last year, I still enjoyed it, but I found myself chafing a little bit at the commentary on human society some of the characters were making. It was all “cities are evil, wretch hives of scum and villainy where crime is constant and all of the good is driven out of people.” Which, while being a very prevalent belief in our country, is factually not true (beginning with crime statistics, which show the opposite of what most people expect). Still, I enjoyed most of the story, and got through the book fairly quickly.

The third book was written 20-some years after the first. My friend, Julie, found it shortly after it was published, read it, and told me how happy she was that the author had returned to a time shortly after that first book. So I gave it a try. But I just couldn’t quite get into it at the time. But that was years ago. This time I was just coming off re-reading the two others, so I figured it would be better.

It wasn’t. I have been struggling with the book for months. What’s driving me crazy is that all of that anti-modernism is now front and center in the plot of the book. Not only that, since the book deals with a type of time travel, the book is riddled with a lot of ridiculous notions. Three thousand years ago, according to the book, the earth was geologically young, and therefore there are a lot more earthquakes and volcanoes. No, the earth being more than 4 billion years old was not “geologically young” a mere few thousand years ago. That like pointed at a 40-year-old person and claiming that they were literally an infant five seconds ago!

So I’ve been having trouble suspending my disbelief.

The books have often been described as allegories, but usually by the kind of people who don’t understand fantasy which doesn’t use the expected tropes—especially if there is any mention or hint at religious topics. These stories combine the tropes of hard science fiction with topics of socially conscious fiction, while mixing in characters and beings from Judaic-Islamic folklore. So of course people are going to label them allegories.

In an earlier draft of this blog post, I had a long digression about that, and how certain people don’t understand that fantasy and science fiction aren’t so narrow, causing them to become confused when a piece of fantastic fiction steps out of their expectations. It spiraled a bit out of control, but as I was writing it, I began to wonder if I hadn’t been giving the story a fair shake. Just because the characters repeat certain things that aren’t true doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the story. Just because I happen to know that the author wrote non-fiction which stated these things I know aren’t true as serious problems with society doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy her fiction. I mean, come on! I wasn’t getting all hung up on the rather silly way the two protagonists accidentally time travel, so why was I getting hung up on this other stuff?

A funny thing has happened this week: I’ve been reading a lot more of the book. And enjoying it more.

Maybe writing the earlier draft of this post allowed me to vent enough to let my issues go. Maybe I just needed to remind myself of all the other books by the same author I have enjoyed. Or, maybe it’s because the action has picked up a little in the book. I don’t know.

I had been worried that perhaps I had outgrown this author. It happens. Sometimes things we loved when we are younger are just cringe-worthy when we get older.

I hope not. I’ll let you know how I feel when I reach the end of the book.

4 thoughts on “Outgrown?

  1. I can give you the same clue I gave someone who asked me on twitter: “Newberry Award winner before you were born (if I’m remembering how many years younger than me you are correctly).” I plan to post a follow-up/review once I finish this one and cogitate on it a bit.

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