The golden age

The moment a regular customer switches from prefacing reading queries for their child with “she/he is an awfully advanced reader” to “is the content age appropriate?”, I know that little Hermione or Harry is ready to make the leap from children’s reading to Young Adult.

Here at West End Lane Books in north London, our YA books live on the shelves above their younger cousins, the logic being that after years of browsing your Blytons and Rowlings, our young customers’ gazes will naturally drift upwards sooner or later.

Happily, there’s also a natural blurring of the boundaries when it comes to certain authors—Gaiman, Collins, Green and plenty of others—which means that many YA titles will also be found among our adult fiction, so with particularly sensitive young people—a decent bookseller will always be able to sense these things—we don’t necessarily have to lead them past the Tintins and Asterixes to find what they’re after.

It’s not much of a system, but it works well enough here where, despite rumours to the contrary, we do sell books to teenagers on a regular basis . . . and some of them are even boys!

We’re deeply impressed with the YA output of imprints such as Electric Monkey and Chicken House as well as (and sometimes more than) the bigger players. In fact, we feel a golden age could be upon us, so that when young Hermione or Harry’s mum finally lets them browse the upper shelves, we can take them aside and gently reassure them that “it’s not all vampires and zombies, honest” . . . although we know that some of those are really rather great too.

And we can smile to ourselves and say “job well done” when a teenager begins to shop here independently. It’s always a real joy to welcome young adults for a quiet browse/chat and purchase. And we’re lucky enough to have a regular bunch who like to have an après-school nose around the shelves.

The day I was asked to write this, I spotted someone in the street wearing one of those Parental Guidance T-shirts. In a previous professional incarnation I worked in the music industry, where we all noted the huge uplift that the miserably intentioned stickers had on music deemed to be edgy by a nervous US industry. Now there’s a thought . . .

Danny van Emden is the deputy manager and children’s buyer at West End Lane Books in north London