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Today’s YA novel that shaped me and countless others in the pre-Harry Potter days is 1995’s Sabriel.
In high school, I had a wonderful English teacher. No matter how much you disliked a book from the summer reading list or complained about it with your classmates, you left her class appreciating that book. Then there were the non-reading list books you read for fun, that you’d prefer to spend your time with instead and couldn’t wait to get back to.
Sabriel is in both those categories for me.
As a kid voraciously reading it, I loved the interesting world with just enough horror to creep me out but not keep me up at night. A disdainful talking cat? A magic book? Yes, please! It was unlike anything I’d ever read. But that was where the trouble started: the ending.
Without spoilers, I will say that I read to the end, a part I usually savor, and thought, What?! That’s it?!
It was so abrupt, it left me feeling cheated after all that excitement. But that was the thing: I’d never read a book that didn’t wrap things up pretty neatly at the end. I didn’t know where the characters ended up, if they ended up together, how things worked out…no happily ever after, or ever after mentioned at all.
To top things off, the sequel, Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr (I think that was the original title) didn’t come out when expected. I kept searching each time I went to the bookstore, because young people didn’t and probably couldn’t look for books on the internet then, you see, and each time nothing was there except Sabriel and Shade’s Children. Where was it?! What happens next?!!!!
And that, right there, was the mark of an excellent book. For all my grumbling I wanted more, perhaps because of the way it ended but mostly because of the experience of reading it as a whole. I loved Sabriel. I still think of it as one of my favorite books, because of the book itself and because it changed reading for me. Even for a Goosebumps fanatic (that link there is to the first one of those I read), it opened up a whole new kind of world.
Sure, there were some growing pains for me. But Sabriel has stood the test of time, not just as a popular read and YA book of legend, but in my own memory.
Years later, I finally met Lirael and the Disreputable Dog. And while that is one of my favorite books, too, Sabriel is special. It’s not just the first, but one of a kind.