Young adult literature can help teens navigate difficulties of adolescence

By Chelsea Miles

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 16 2011 5:40 p.m. MDT

Young writer Evelyn Burdette, 19, of Kansas City, Kansas, has penned seven self-published books for young adult readers.

Kansas City Star/MCT

Enlarge photo»

Young adult literature has become synonymous with fantasy novels. It is almost impossible to walk into the teen novel section in a bookstore and not see a complete section dedicated to teen fantasy. In Barnes and Noble stores, for instance, there is even a paranormal romance section.

These fantastical stories have not always been the bread and butter of young adult literature. They have become even more popular with the help of Stephenie Meyer’s "Twilight" Saga. The prospect of being young forever and never changing can be intriguing to teens facing the many changes of adolescence. But these stories tend to be written purely for entertainment instead of to facilitate growth and learning. Meyer herself has said many times that her books are merely written as fun stories and nothing else. There are, however, more substantial novels written especially for teens that contain problems they face day to day.

Authors have had the lives of their young adult readers in mind for years. In the 1970s, what became known as the “problem novel” came onto the scene. These novels addressed certain societal issues of the time, such as the use of drugs and alcohol, rape, suicide and abuse. They were called “problem novels” since the protagonist usually faced one or more of these issues. When these protagonists were written as teenagers, the young adult genre was born.

The characteristics of the “problem” young adult novel are simple. The characters should be the between the ages of 12 and 19. The characters should be facing some sort of problem in their lives, such as divorce between parents or the suffering of unpopularity in high school. These novels need to be fast-paced and relatable to the readers.

Reading novels in which characters are dealing with familiar stresses and trauma is appealing to teens. Seeing characters overcome life trials can be helpful for struggling teens; it can help them see their problems are conquerable. Young adult author Laurie Halse Anderson has said these novels need to be “honest in order to connect to the teen reader.” When teens read about the details of these issues, they can better understand what is happening to them and what is happening in the world around them.

Having honest young adult novels usually means issues are presented that can go against the values parents are attempting to instill in their teens. Parents may oppose their children reading these books, since the characters may do things that go against parental values. These novels may even give readers ideas about certain behaviors. Anderson said the world can be a scary place to raise children and teenagers. It is understandable that parents would want to protect their teens from reading material that delves head-first into those scary places.

Most teens face worse problems just within the hallways of their schools than are ever presented in young adult novels. No matter how much their parents try to shield them, teens will eventually face these problems. They can be ignorant of the consequences of certain actions, depending on how well their parents have educated them. Reading a novel written specifically for their age group about these problems could help them swim through the overwhelming waves of adolescence.

Instead of completely forbidding their teens to read these novels, parents can try to help their teens sort through the novels. They can read the novels with their teens, talking with them about the issues presented. They can explain the necessary morals and values that can help teens when faced with similar situations. Not only is this a good way to get teens reading, it is also a chance for parents to spend time with their children and teach them those values that are important to them.

There are substantial young adult novels on bookshelves that have nothing to do with magical worlds or shape-shifting humans. These novels deal with the angst and pains of adolescence. By reading young adult novels, teens learn how to overcome the woes of adolescence.

Chelsea Miles grew up in Holladay and is studying English education at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS