Was it Cringe?

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By Shanuka Kadupitiyage

Teenage fiction is an interesting genre to explore. It’s not easy to write a book that caters to teenagers. Within the age group are a number of different kinds of readers. An exciting story, some clever dialogue and writing, a touch of drama, a tinge of angst and maybe even a somewhat believable romance B-plot for good measure; teenage fiction authors need to play a clever balancing act to keep their readers engaged. 

Although writers of this genre might not always get the credit they deserve, they do play a major role in the future of literature. Although such authors may not stand as equals against the likes of Hemmingway or Arthur C. Clarke, teenage fiction writers are able to instil the joy of reading in young teens, guiding them to such great authors as their tastes mature. 

My love for science fiction was the result of a single long-running series of science fiction novels made for teenagers; Animorphs. More than a decade later, I recently recalled my many memories of rushing to the library each week, hoping to find the next book in the series in order to see what happens next. I was hooked. 

But how good was the Animorphs series of books? Was it genuinely a good read? Or was it cringe?

The barebones plot 

The premise was pretty straightforward for a teenage science fiction series. A bunch of teenagers ‘accidentally’ discover a crashed alien spaceship and the dying alien pilot gives the group alien superpowers to literally morph into the animal of their choice before perishing. There are a few conditions to the ability as well as a number of risks of course. 

But the friends have no choice. They soon find themselves caught in the middle of a secret invasion of an alien parasitic species who have infiltrated almost every part of human society. Being the only ones aware of the ongoing invasion that no one is aware of, and no idea who in leadership is a part of the invasion or not, the friends have no choice but to become what may be Earth’s only defence against the invaders.

Things escalate as the story progresses, and soon the friends realise that the threat expands far beyond what any of them could fathom. 

Only for teens?

The premise itself has all the elements you would need to create an interesting teenage novel series. Mystery and danger at every corner, plenty of action, teen drama and angst as well as the power of friendship. 

But K.A. Applegate (the author), isn’t afraid to bring out a few serious topics to the forefront either. Maybe the parasite aliens have their own reasons for invading planet after planet. Maybe all of the aliens aren’t that bad. Maybe the fate of your species against a secret alien invasion and constantly facing death, taking the lives of others and putting your life at risk is not good for your mental health. 

Of course, the story doesn’t always delve too deep into such topics. Quiet introspection happens in the moments of silence, before all hell breaks loose. 

You can’t escape the cringe

Even so, sadly Animorphs isn’t immune to a level of cringe. It doesn’t appear all the time, but you will notice it raising its ugly head every now and then, reminding you that you are reading a book for teens that began its publication almost 26 years ago. 

But does it hold up as a work of teenage fiction? I think it does. 

It is a thrill ride that sparked an interest in telling interesting stories, and continues to have a special place in my life for successfully keeping my eyes glued to the pages of Animorphs books throughout my early teenage years. Do I feel old when I pick up a book from the series today, absolutely. Am I still excited to read one? Not really, but maybe that’s what getting old is all about.

There’s nothing wrong with indulging in a little cringe, especially in your teenage years. You won’t get another chance to do the same again. If you like a story that others think is ‘cringe’, pay them no heed as you turn the next page and continue on with your story. And enjoy every single second of it.