Friday, October 25, 2013

A History of Young Adult Literature

Recently, we enjoyed reading a chronology of young adult literature by CNN's Ashley Strickland that was full of both facts and insights. Some highlights:
Photo: (Duncan) via Flickr, modified
  • 16- to 29-year-olds check out more books from libraries than any other age group.
  • The first book considered to be written specifically for teenagers, Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly, hit the shelves in 1942.
  • In the early days, most books for young adults centered around two themes: sports (for boys) and romance (for girls). This changed in 1967 with S. E. Hinton’s gritty classic The Outsiders, which provided teens with a less rosy, more dramatic and realistic story.
  • Through the 1980s and most of the 1990s, most books for adolescents covered the joys and pains of adolescence (romance, heartbreak, divorce, drug abuse, fitting in, being misunderstood, finding one’s place) in similar ways. All that changed when Harry Potter flew onto the scene in 1997, opening the door for more fantasy like the Twilight series. 
This seems to be the era of dystopian novels. Lois Lowry’s The Giver is probably the best-known early offering in this genre, though it came out in 1993 and didn't inspire too many imitators – at least, not right away. Now, however, series like The Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner, and Uglies are flying off the shelves. What is it about this style that young people find so appealing? Perhaps it’s the genre’s ability to blend the fantastic with the realistic. CNN's Strickland postulates that young people prefer books that feel “real,” and dystopian novels can capture the imagination while still presenting characters and situations that feel relatable.

The article also states that theme of transformation and change will always be a hallmark of successful young adult books because it reflects the issues teens confront in their own lives. Young people, it seems, can find comfort in the chronicles of characters also struggling to navigate their changing landscapes. Despite the dark themes in many young adult books, nearly all of the heroes emerge victorious in the end, if somewhat battle-scarred by their journeys. These triumphs, perhaps, give young people confidence that they, too, can be successful.

We’re thrilled that teenagers have so many appealing books to choose from. We’re also happy that so many of them star bold, admirable female heroes. In fact, though there are certainly plenty of new books more likely to appeal only to girls or to boys, an increasing number of novels seem to be equally popular with both genders. We love this unifying trend in literature – the line between men and women’s roles in our culture is becoming increasingly blurred, and it seems appropriate that books are echoing this drift.

Engaging adolescents with compelling young adult literature is a wonderful way to cultivate a love of reading that will last into adulthood. And studies show that reading widely and frequently improves vocabulary, builds background knowledge, enhances empathy, and exercises higher thinking skills. There has never been a better time to be a reading teen!

No comments:

Post a Comment