Terry Pratchett is one of my favourite authors. I am old enough to have followed his career from his first book, and have read everything he has put in print. I started reading him as a teenager, and always thought of him as a really accessible author in terms of his appeal for both children and adults. I am speaking now of his Disc World novels, his book; The Carpet People, The Johnny and the Dead series and The Bromeliad trilogy were always aimed squarely at a young market. I was quite surprised that Pratchett’s Discworld books were always marketed as adult fiction.
It was quite interesting to see him start to write (or market) specifically to a teen Y/A audience a few years ago with his spin off Disc World books, firstly Maurice and His Educated Rodents, and then the series about the young witch Tiffany Aching. I never really got that they were for teenagers. The Tiffany Aching books in particular are superb no matter what age you are, and there really isn’t anything to choose between these books, and his earlier, adult Disc World novels.
He has always had a knack of making the complex things in life seem incredibly simple, and his books, as well as being funny and fantastical and sharp, are also about what it is to be human, and humane.
This year sees his first non Disc World offering for the teen market, in the form of Dodger, a book about a young street urchin in Victorian London, whose journey takes him from the sewers to the stars.
There are, sadly, problems with Dodger.
Firstly it is derivative. It is knowingly derivative, but I still found it annoying. If you are looking for a more modern version of Oliver Twist, with a bit more street cred and humour, then this is the book for you. If you prefer to just jump in with Oliver Twist, that would be fine too.
Secondly, it is clumsy, and this is something Pratchett’s writing rarely is. Because this book is essentially historical fiction, set in Victorian London, Pratchett seems intent on ladling large dollops of history lessons in with the plot. The history lessons and the plot do not always sit well together, and it makes the pace of the book rather lumpy and ineffectual.
Thirdly, because of the space the history lessons take up, the plot is rather less careful than usual and I found it annoyingly inconsistent and holey. The action moves forwards in fits and starts, and it makes the book very easy to put down.
I just don’t understand why he didn’t take the story and translate it into the streets of Ankh Morpork and turn it into what could have been an exceptionally funny and appealing piece of writing, instead of something which really doesn’t do him much credit.
I can’t recommend this to the under twelves because there is quite a lot of sexual innuendo, rather a lot of violence, and an inordinate amount of slang for men’s genitalia in it. As such it is definitely for thirteens and up, although it is not very risque, and everything in the book is dealt with in a slightly pantomime, light way that means that a lot of the violence and innuendo, despite being unsuitable for children, also loses its adult edge and sort of porridges about in a middle ground where it is mostly unsatisfactory for everyone.
If you want to start your YA/Teens on Pratchett then I suggest trying them with Maurice and His Educated Rodents, or indeed the Tiffany Aching series, or just launching them straight into Disc World with Equal Rites and the Colour of Magic.
These would still only be suitable for older readers due to the fact that there is the odd juicy swear word in there, but mainly because a lot of the concepts Pratchett deals with are perhaps too sophisticated for younger readers to truly appreciate. It’s not that they won’t understand what they’re reading, because they probably will, if they’re that confident a reader. It’s just that they might not properly enjoy them until they get to their mid teens, because they need to know a little bit more about the world before they grasp the Disc World nettle.
For younger readers The Bromeliad is still an excellent series. Johnny and the Dead and the subsequent books are also good, although perhaps more dated.