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Young Adult Fiction

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Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, The Catcher in the Rye, Twilight, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Speak, The Outsiders, Judy Blume, J.K. Rowling, Megan McCafferty, Meg Cabot.  Young adult fiction is one of the most interesting, constantly evolving genres of our time.  Appealing to readers from ages 12- 18, young adult fiction revolves around themes relating to one’s self and important issues adolescents deal with such as sexuality, drug abuse, relationships, etc.  With no exact definition, young adult literature is often referred to as “coming of age” novels and the “edgy” content and dramatic subject matter have been a regular topic of debate.  Young adult literature has existed since the early 1800s and includes some of the most well known novels of all time, such as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Catcher in the Rye, and To Kill a Mockingbird.  Today, we see young adult fiction almost everywhere as novels such as Twilight and Harry Potter have become staple trends in the literary world and reinvigorated a new generation of teen readers. This evolution and modern, edgy fiction is often viewed as controversial due to its emphasis on mature content, and, unknown, but potentially harmful, effects on future generations of readers.  Although young adult fiction published today also undergoes scrutiny for lack of structure and morals that made fiction of the past so significant, new teen novels have many benefits.  Young adult fiction has the power to provoke teens to read more and includes important life lessons that can positively influence adolescents during a difficult period of transition. 

One reason, in particular, why young adult fiction is beneficial to adolescents is because the prevalent themes of these novels are realistic and teens can easily relate and use them to help grow.  Although popular teen novels, such as the Twilight series with content about vampires and werewolves, are often critiqued for their success and strong following of readers/ young girls, Twilight is really successful because adolescents can find themselves in the characters.  No, there are not groups of vampires roaming Washington and fighting with native werewolves, but the deeper problems the characters deal with, such as “fitting in” and being accepted for who you are/ not letting other people’s judgments affect you, are important themes for young girls to learn.  Young adults face some of the most difficult situations in dealing with self discovery, social issues, school life, etc., and one of the best ways to help teach them how to deal with such dilemmas is through fictional characters going through the same thing.  Seeing how similar characters resolve their complicated circumstances can give hope and a sense of security to readers drowning in a seemingly endless stream of self- doubt and trouble.  It can provide an escape from real life and pure sense of comfort in absorbing someone else’s complex web.

Although young adult literature today is often seen as very different compared to fiction for teenagers in the past, these “coming of age” novels still carry the same themes and are able to reach audiences successfully.  The transition to a more modern set teen novel, written, for example, in all emails or about a group of high school socialites and their complicated relationships, was inevitable due to changes in trends and new cultural norms.  There are many factors that have contributed to teenage culture today, such as social network sites like Facebook, and just as television and film have adapted to meet the interests of this generation, in order for books to remain significant, they must include the new themes and accepted values as well.  Sex, drugs, popularity, bullying and teen pregnancy are just a few of the most common themes seen in young adult fiction through time, and while using such topics in the past almost always guaranteed a storm of criticism from concerned parents, books that include these themes today are widely accepted and praised for exposing teens to the truth about these issues.

Throughout time, young adult fiction has evolved in numerous ways.  Plots have grown more complex yet more realistic as adolescent culture itself has evolved and the teenage audience has gained much more attention.  If we compare novels of the early nineteenth century written with young readers’ appeal in mind, to the fiction on the designated young adult bookstore shelves today, we can see many interesting similarities and differences and gain important insight on why certain aspects have remained the same.  After The Outsiders was published in 1967, young adult fiction took a serious new twist and place in society due to its unique, real tone and exciting insight on young adult life as the author was a young adult himself.  Once publishers saw the response and success of such topics reflecting adolescent issues and experiences, the young adult genre grew significantly and continues to do so for the same reasons today.

 No matter what decade or how far into the future we live, young adult fiction will always be a successful genre and market.  People can always write about real life situations facing adolescents and there will always be new trends to inspire plot twists and controversial content.  Most importantly, however, young adult fiction will always thrive as long as authors keep introducing new characters that teenagers will be intently drawn to as they find themselves in the believable, familiar voices, and yearn for solutions to the stories they resonate with.