One of the things I really despise is people who turn their noses up at children's or YA literature. But if older characters really made better books, then Great Expectations or The Catcher in the Rye wouldn't have sold a single copy. All genres of fiction tend to be similar. There's some bad, some good, and some absolutely fantastic works in each. Just because a book is written at a 9th grade or even 5th grade reading level doesn't mean it's not written well. In fact, large amounts of literature for children and young adults is written extraordinarily well --something that surprises newcomers to the genre, over and over again. And it's not just the classics.
Since the growth of children's literature began in the 1960s, the explosion caused by the popularity of Harry Potter in the 90s, and the resulting boom in the comparatively new YA market, there's been some fantastic stuff published. And I really love discovering it. This one was a gift from my friend Anna, and I'm passing it onto you.
Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede is a pretty fantastic find. The chapter titles alone are enough to hook anyone with a sense of humor (the first one is "In Which Cimorene Refuses to Be Proper and Has a Conversation with a Frog"), and they're only the tip of the iceberg.
The novel's protagonist, Cimorene, is a princess who despises the conventional. She wants to be useful, to do real things, and so behind her parents' backs she convinces various staff in the palace to teach her fencing, magic, Latin, economics, and cooking. When they finally arrange a marriage for her with a prince (who will not be rescuing her from a giant or an evil spell), she runs away and volunteers to be the princess of a dragon, which just isn't done.
But for Cimorene, it's the perfect position. For the first time in her life, she's not bored. She gets to do new things and meet interesting people. She makes excellent desserts, cleans the treasure hoard, organizes the Latin library, befriends an unconventional witch, and discovers a way to fight wizards, all while exasperatedly talking down from the ledge princes who have come to rescue her.
The writing is clever and occasionally sarcastic. In a fantasy world where everyone accepts their fate and their role, Cimorene refuses to concede because her way "just isn't done." It's a fairy tale that defies fairy tales every step of the way, and it's delightful. You should buy it or check it out of the library, and read it with no shame. Especially because these days, you're not alone. 55% of YA books are bought by adults.