Young adult literature is often thought of as a great abyss between the wonderfully exciting and engaging materials for children and those for adults--just as young adults are often ignored in planning library facilities and services. There is, however, a wealth of fiction created especially for teens that deals with the possibilities and problems of contemporary life as experienced by this age group. These contemporary problem novels reflect the troubled times in which young readers are coming of age, but young people also need to laugh at themselves and at their world and to escape that world in flights of fancy.
With greater freedom in both content and form, young adult literature is moving into a closer connection with adult literature, and fluent readers in this age group may read primarily adult books. Societal changes and the mass media have, in some ways, pushed young people to an earlier maturity, or at least a facade of maturity. What might once have been thought appropriate for a fourteen-year-old is now appropriate for a considerably younger reader. Often, however, what is perceived as knowledge or maturity is only at a surface level, and young readers need a great deal of time for the distancing and reflection possible through literature. Nicole St. John wrote about teenagers as "inexperienced adults," and literature provides a safe haven to accrue experience.
Through story a reader can confirm one's own life experiences, illuminate and gain insight into those experiences, and vicariously expand and extend them. Although each of us must walk alone, authenticate our experiences, and make our own meanings and sense of truth in the world we know; there is always that tension between the uniqueness of the person and the commonalties of the human condition. This tension is evident in everyday life but revealed most fully in story. Story has always been a very powerful way of venturing beyond the scenes we know to connect with people, places, ideas, and events beyond our normal range.
Those committed to an understanding and appreciation of young adult literature should be able to:
The Young Adult and SocietyIn order to work successfully with young adults, we must read widely to acquaint ourselves with the best and the most current thinking about young people and their literature from a variety of perspectives.
Young Adult Problems and ConcernsProbably one of the best means to explore young adult problems and concerns is to read the books created especially for this audience. This literature may also be useful in opening a dialogue between adults and young adults.
Young Adult Literature and Reader-Response CriticismReader-response criticism with its sensitivity to the meaning-making of the individual reader is an essential aspect of study for those interested in young people.
Young Adult Literature and Feminist CriticismMuch of feminist literary theory, as well as historical and other forms of research, lends itself to the examination of young adult literature.
Focus on Specific Works and/or Authors in Light of Feminist CriticismIt is useful to read female coming-of-age novels to explore the nature of this growth process. It is also worthwhile to engage with books that provide background for this exploration. Male-coming-of-age stories are listed that particularly reflect a multicultural world.
Traditional Literature for Young AdultsIn recent years, there have been many full-length novels based on traditional folk and fairy tales both for adult and young adult audiences.
Biographical & Informational Works for Young AdultsBiographical and other forms of information books and materials are important as a means of learning about self through the lives of others and about the world we live in.
Periodical Literature for Young AdultsNew and exciting periodicals are available for young people, and many teens who are not comfortable with books read these magazines.
Website Resources for Young AdultsNew and exciting websites are available for young people, and many teens who are not comfortable with books read these websites.
SCILS, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey