Just because a novel is categorized as Young Adult, adults should not automatically dismiss it.
Take, for example, “The Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins or “The Book Thief” by Mark Zusak. All are as popular with adults as their intended, younger, audience.
We were all young once and when that youth novel puts us into a historical place, as does “For the Love of Pete,” (Ice Cube Press, 286 pages, $19.95) it becomes overwhelmingly easy for an adult to identify with the characters.
Pick up Ethel Barker’s first novel — she’s 77 and lives in Iowa City — and you’re whisked back to the 1880s, a time in Iowa’s early history when thousands of children involuntarily immigrated to the Midwest.
Pete is a 14-year-old New York City tough, an Oliver Twist-like pickpocket and con artist who still has a heart. He has a brief encounter with newly anointed street urchins — Iris, also 14, and her sister, Rosie, 7 — after they find their mother’s lifeless body in a tenement apartment and decide to fend for themselves.
Pete, Iris and Rosie wind up in the same orphanage and all end up on a journey to a strange land west of the Mississippi River where orphans are herded from the train like cattle and selected for their ability to provide labor.
Barker chose to tell this tale in the first person — Pete narrates one chapter, Iris another, then Rosie — so readers get into the heads of all three characters.
From working for no pay for a mean farmer to waiting hand-and-foot on an older couple, to living a life of luxury with the richest man in fictional Hartfield, Iowa, you learn how orphan train kids met a variety of fates.
That’s why “For the Love of Pete” works for readers of all ages.
It tells how people lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Children who wish they didn’t have parents to boss them around learn they might not have it so bad, after all. And, no matter how worthless your life has become, it can have a happy ending.