Birthday party favors, first snowflakes, first kisses. Learning how to pitch a ball, toast a marshmallow, ride a bike.
As much as we wax nostalgic about our wonder years, let's face it: most of us didn't have it that easy. The early joy of discovery and untamed enthusiasm sit right alongside the precariousness of being dependent on far-from-perfect grownups in a far-from-ideal world. The very same openness that can prompt million-watt smiles makes kids particularly vulnerable to cruelty, confusion, loneliness, and powerlessness (or what the young protagonist of my novel The History of My Body calls "the void").
Which is where the catharsis of fiction written for adults with child protagonists comes in--offering us a chance to revisit our early years with imagination and wisdom and see the world and our own lives with new eyes.
Whether the heroes and heroines of these books are precocious or tentative, suicidal or resourceful, disconnected or endearing, each of them bumbles along as we all did--as we all do!--without a handbook. Almost all of them suffer the mixed blessings of uniqueness and otherness, and a number of the current crop view life through the lens of autism--an apt metaphor in this age of preoccupation with iEverythings, where researchers are telling us our kids are losing the capacity to read facial expressions and social cues.
When these varied young protagonists lead us to a little piece of redemption, it's invariably through their flaws and woundedness, just as in fairy tales it's the fools who solve the riddles, save the kingdom, and find the way home. Here are seven very novel novels that turn back our clocks and lead us forward into futures we might never have imagined, capturing our hearts and stretching our minds along the way.