What is Young Adult Literature?

>This post is in response to this prompt for ENGL 363: What is young adult literature? What are the concerns/themes of young adult literature? In other words, what is this literature about? How do these stories relate to the fairy tales we read?

What is young adult literature? Just like television shows like Dawson’s Creek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Felicity and Popular were geared toward a teenage audience, such is the nature of young adult literature. Nancie Atwell, in her teacher’s text In the Middle, that the same way adults use novels to see the “universalities of our condition” (Atwell, 1998, p. 36), so can young adults “find their perspectives reflected and explored in a body of fiction of their own, books that can help them grow up and books that can help them love books” (Atwell, 1998, p. 36).

I tell my reading students that for them, in my class, fiction will be one of two things: a window, or a mirror. And that’s essentially what young adult literature is. Young adult literature provides an avenue for adolescents to explore issues and situations that mirror their own lives or the lives of people around them, allow them to make a text-to-self connection, thereby working through the painful issues of adolescence. Young adult literature also provides an avenue for adolescents to explore issues that they are not familiar with, a window into other worlds.

It is difficult to narrow a genre of literature, a growing body of work, into a short list of concerns or themes that interest young adult readers. Some major concerns or themes within this body of literature, those hit close to home for many readers are self-identity/self-discovery, family issues, overcoming adversity, sexuality, and violence.

The two specific major themes from young adult literature that are present in the fairy tales we read are sexuality and violence. Throughout many of the fairy tales we witnessed violence against children, namely in the form of neglect. We’ve also seen parents’ sexuality come into question in the form of lust after their own children. The voice used in The Rose and the Beast (Block, 2000), is decidedly adolescent throughout all of the stories.

See also, “Characteristics of Young Adult Literature” on BlogForLiteracy

Atwell, N. (1998). In the Middle: New Understandings About Writing, Reading and Learning. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers.
Block, F. (2000). The Rose and the Beast. New York: Joanna Cotler Books.

One comment

  1. >well then, if you want to recommend a book to your young readers to read, written precisely in a young adult voice, looking at precisely the kinds of issues of which you speak, taking a critical look at the "adult world" from a young perspective, you may want to check out the debut work by a guy named Eugene Kachmarsky, called Let Slip the Dogs of Love. you won't be sorry you did, and neither will your students. they'll be thinking and talking about it for a long time. check out http://www.eloquentbooks.com/LetSlipTheDogsOfLove.html.


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