I have a confession to make. I didn't like "The Goonies."
The first time I ever saw it, I was twenty and went with a friend to a Free Campus Movie Nite. She was well-nigh swooning at the thought of seeing this marvelous movie from her childhood, assuring me that I would love it. I was surrounded by people who were all in a fever of joy at the thought of this apparently defining moment in their cinematic experience, and let me tell you, it's quite something to see a frat boy enraptured by non-Hobbitized Sean Astin. Me? I kept waiting for the marvelousness to start.
When it ended, she turned to me and said, "Well? Wasn't it great?"
"Um. It was okay." I watched her face fall and quickly added, "I would have loved it when I was ten! Seriously!"
I said that mostly to keep her from trying to explain to me how awesome it was. But the more I consume stories, especially stories written for a different demographic than my own, the more that thought has come back to me. "Oh man, I would have loved this when I was (insert age here)."
For instance--and if you need to pretend you never knew me after reading this, I understand--if Twilight had come out when I was fourteen, I would have eaten it up, sparkly vampire and all. Oh, I might have recognized the flaws. But I would have loved it so hard. I would have written fanfiction and worn "Edward" t-shirts and had passionate, hour-long discussions about whether he was right not to have vamped Bella the first time she asked for it. (And yes, if you noticed, I would have been Team Edward. What can I say?)
But I wasn't fourteen, I was twenty-five, and I read Twilight with an "Okay, well, I guess I see the appeal but I'm not really feelin' it." (My withering disdain for Bella Swan didn't really get off the ground until New Moon, with the empty pages after Edward dumped her. Good god, girl. The first month I understand, maybe. Somewhere before the fourth, you should go get a makeover and jump the hot werewolf.)
There's a feeling that Art is great or not-great on its own merits--that the people who love it or hate it, depending on the opinion of the learned elite, are totally wrong-headed. But that leaves out the other half of the equation, the reader, and all they bring to the book. It's a particular consideration for those of us who love kid's and teen books. We're not the target audience, so when we review a book, we have to think about two things: 1) What did I think of it? 2) What would a kid think of it?
This is not saying that all children's or YA lit has a sell-by date, or even that the sell-by date is the same for everybody. I'm still nutty about Harry Potter, and I know there are people older than me who know every word, backward and forward, of Twilight. Clearly it's still saying something to somebody. But I'm not the same person I was at fourteen (thank God!), so it makes sense to me that a book could simply miss its target. The trick is in understanding when that target might have been in my life, and using that knowledge when I write about it.