You may recall that I mentioned Jay Amory's The Fledging of Az Gabrielson after I saw an item on The UK SF Book News Network website about the role of adults in YA fiction. It took me several months to get hold of a copy of the book, but the library bought it in the end and I read it about 10 days ago. I'll give you my thoughts on Amory's contention about adults in YA novels in a moment, first the book.
Az Gabrielson is a member of the Airborn race - who evolved centuries ago from ordinary humans after a climatic change that left their world covered in dense cloud. The winged Airborn race now live in "sky cities" which perch on top of vast columns that stretch hundreds of feet above the perpetual cloud. But beneath this cloud lives another, less fortunate race, the Groundlings (who are generally believed by the Airborn to have become extinct). The Groundling's society largely revolves around keeping the supply elevators which take everything that the Airborn need up to the sky cities. (Most Airborn believe this process is automated.) The procedure for keeping the supply elevators full and running is overseen by a group of Deacons who are the upperclass of Groundling society. The Deacons are a cross between religious leaders and factory overseers. They organise the collection of supplies to the Airborn from the Groundling people and in return, they promise that Groundlings will be resurrected as Airborn after death.
Unfortunately some of the Groundlings believe this is just pie in the sky when you die, and they organise themselves into a group called Humanists and start to plan a revolution. They begin picketing the supply depots, which leads to supplies to some of the sky cities falling off. The Airborn notice this and decide they'll have to send someone to investigate. Enter Az, who is a misfit amongst the Airborn as he has never developed wings. He's recruited by an agent of the government to go down to the ground to establish, if he can, why the supply elevators are coming up empty. So Az goes off and gets caught up in the unrest and events unfold pretty much as I expected...
So, what about Jay Amory's criticisms. Does he uphold his argument that adults shouldn't let teens go off alone to deal with complicated situations ? Well no, not in this book at least. Amory complained that:
[Adult characters are] only there to be ignored. They introduce the young protagonist into the action then step back and play no further part, except maybe at the end.
And that's exactly what happens to Az. He's recruited by the Airborn leaders and sent off to investigate totally ill-prepared and ill-informed. He nearly dies more than once because he lacks sufficient knowledge to deal with the situation he finds on the ground - and yes, OK, the Airborn adults are more or less suffering from the same ignorance themselves, but that doesn't make it right that Az is sent off with so little preparation, given Amory's insistence that such a situation is wrong! Some of the Airborn leaders believe that the Groundlings do still exist, but Az is only given a veiled hint of this instead of being told outright. Amory was particularly vocal about Albus Dumbledore's habit of leaving
Harry to stumble and bumble along and get into dreadful, life-threatening scrapes for several hundred pages
- but I'd argue that Dumbledore generally gives Harry just enough information to work most things out for himself - and then expects Harry to use his head and do just that. And yet Az is left literally stumbling around on the ground, trying to figure out how to deal with the situation into which the adults have dropped him - and he doesn't have any magical powers to help him as Harry does.
So if you're looking for a book that involves adults in YA adventures, you won't find it in The Fledging of Az Gabrielson. This is the first in the "Clouded World" series, and Amory says that the adults will be more involved in later books, but so far, they're not so much.