Young adult literature is written not for someone to understand teenagers, but for teenagers to feel understood. This new golden age of young adult literature is marked by the realization that teens experience more than just heartbreaks and drama. We have seen the revelation of books addressing sexual issues from identity, to rape, to abuse; home lives from Norman Rockwell paintings to broken homes and homes in extreme poverty. These novels are not written just to entertain teenagers, but to comfort them by showing them realistic examples of their lives. Heartbreak and drama are still very real issues that need to be explored, but it’s time we look past the cliché girl-meets-boy, boy-hurts-girl storyline.
I remember learning about the birth of the teenager in the decade after WWII my junior year in American History. Growing up with my nose in every book I could find, watching all of our teenage fantasies play out in John Hughes movies and thoroughly enjoying my high school experience, I could not imagine a society sans teenagers. As the fifties and sixties introduced a new age group, authors began to write for them. Think of how fun it must’ve been to write a whole new genre, a new frontier of literature. That doesn’t mean that these authors were the first ones to write young adult literature, they were just first ones to know they were doing so. My favoritest author, Laura Ingalls Wilder, wrote YA books before it was even an existing category! I read and reread her books over and over, shaping my likes and dislikes in literature.
Some of my favorites books have always been the Little House on the Prairie series, The Baby-Sitter’s Club books, pretty much anything by Judy Blume and any historical account of teenage girls in America from the Pilgrims to the mid-1900s. As I got older, I reveled in cheesy teen romances. I was fascinated by how many different ways love stories could (or couldn’t) work out. Every time I step into a book store or library or any other book heaven, I don’t just see colorful spines and intriguing title – I see all the ways people have taken the same 26 letters and rearranged them to make so many different stories.
Yet, through all this reorganizing, there seem to be very few teenage romances aimed at male teens. Up until recently, romance was strictly a feminine topic, a girly storyline. Maybe now in the new golden age of YA literature, we will see a rise in young adult romances focused at boys.
Most of the time novels are the easiest, most direct and enjoyable ways to take in a story, but if we introduce adolescent literature in a more elements, then we can appeal to a larger audience and perhaps plant an interest for a different sort of literature in teens. Poems, prose, epics, graphic novels and plays can all tell of the struggles of being a teen.