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Young-adult fiction or young adult literature, often termed as YA, is fiction written, published, or marketed to adolescents and young adults. The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) of the American Library Association (ALA) defines a young adult as someone between the ages of twelve and eighteen. Authors and readers of young adult (YA) novels often define the genre as literature as traditionally written for ages ranging from sixteen years up to the age of twenty-five, while Teen Fiction is written for the ages of ten to fifteen. The terms young-adult novel, juvenile novel, young-adult book, etc. refer to the works in the YA category.
The subject matter and story lines of YA literature are typically consistent with the age and experience of the main character, but YA literature spans the spectrum of fiction genres. YA stories that focus on the specific challenges of youth are sometimes referred to as problem novels or coming-of-age novels.
The history of YA literature is tied to the history of how childhood and young adulthood are imagined. Beginning in the 1920s, it was said that "this was the first time when it became clear that the young were a separate generation" (Cart 43); yet, multiple novels within the YA category had been published long before. One early writer to recognize young adults as a distinct group was Sarah Trimmer, who, in 1802, described "young adulthood" as lasting from ages 14 to 21. In her children's literature periodical, The Guardian of Education, Trimmer introduced the terms "Books for Children" (for those under fourteen) and "Books for Young Persons" (for those between fourteen and twenty-one), establishing terms of reference for young adult literature that remain in use today. Nineteenth century literature presents several early examples that appealed to young readers (Garland 1998, p. 6) including: The Swiss Family Robinson (1812), Waverley (1814), Oliver Twist (1838), The Count of Monte Cristo (1844), Tom Brown's Schooldays (1857), Great Expectations (1860), Alice in Wonderland (1865), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Kidnapped (1886), The Jungle Book (1894), and Moonfleet (1898).
A few other novels published around the start of the 20th century include Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Heidi by Johanna Spyri, and Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, published in 1938, and Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, published in 1943, although not specifically written for a younger demographic, are read by many adolescents today at that level.
In the 1950s, shortly before the advent of modern young-adult publishing surrounding the teen romance market, two influential novels drew the attention of adolescent readers: The Catcher in the Rye (1951) and Lord of the Flies (1954). Unlike later fiction classified as YA, these novels were written with an adult audience in mind and were not initially marketed to adolescents.
The modern classification of young-adult fiction originated during the 1950s and 1960s, especially after the publication of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders (1967). The novel featured a truer, darker side of adolescent life that was not often represented in works of fiction of the time. Written during high school and published when Hinton was only 17, The Outsiders also lacked the nostalgic tone common in books about adolescents written by adults. The Outsiders remains one of the best-selling young-adult novels of all time, and S.E. Hinton is often considered to be one of the founders of the genre.
As the decades moved on, the stormy[clarification needed][opinion] 1960s became the era "when the 'under 30' generation became a subject of popular concern, and that research on adolescence began to emerge. It would also be the decade when literature for adolescents could be said to have come into its own" (Cart 43). This catapulted discussions about adolescent experiences and the new idea of adolescent authors; 1967 sparked the production in growth of this now thriving genre. In the 1970s, what has become to be known as the "fab five" were published. "For the record, the fab five are: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou; The Friends by Rosa Guy; The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath; Bless the Beasts and Children by Glendon Swarthout; and Deathwatch by Robb White" (Cart 77).
As publishers began to focus on the emerging adolescent market, booksellers and libraries, began creating YA sections distinct from either children's literature or novels written for adults. The 1970s to the mid-1980s have been described as the golden age of young-adult fiction—when challenging novels began speaking directly to the interests of the identified adolescent market.
In the 1980s: "the 1980s contained a large amount of Young Adult publications which pushed the threshold of topics that adolescents faced such as rape, suicide, parental death, and murder." Also in the 1980s, "teenagers seemed to want to read about something closer to their daily lives-romance novels were revived" (Cart 99). In the 1990s, Young Adult Literature pushed adolescent issues even further by including topics such as "drinking, sexuality, drug use, identity, beauty, and even teen pregnancy" (Lubar). Also in the 1990s, it seemed as though the era of Young Adult Literature was going to lose steam but "due in part to an increase in the number of teenagers in the 1990s the field matured, blossomed, and came into its own with the better written, more serious, and more varied young adult books published during the last two decades" (Tomlinson and Lynch-Brown 5).
Young Adult Literature has become a genre which covers various types of text including: novels, graphic novels, short stories, and poetry. Much of the literature published consists of young adult fiction which in itself contains several different types of text. The genre also contains other various types of non-fiction such as biographies, autobiographies, journal entries/diaries, and letters. Memoirs are also popular forms of Young Adult Literature. Another common genre within young adult fiction is Bildungsroman, a coming of age story that showcases the process of "growing up". The genre itself has been challenged due to its seemingly mature content by critics of Young Adult Literature, but "other converted critics have embraced Young Adult so dearly that they have scoured the canon for any classics they could adopt into the YA family" (Stephens 2007).
Young Adult Literature uses a wide array of themes in order to appeal to a wide variety of adolescent readers. Some of these themes include: identity, sexuality, science fiction, depression, suicide, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, familial struggles, bullying, and numerous others. Some issues discussed in Young Adult Literature include: friendship, love, race, money, divorce, relationships within families. "The culture that surrounds and absorbs young adults plays a huge role in their lives. Young Adult Literature explores themes important and crucial to adolescence such as relationships to authority figures, peer pressure and ensuing experimentations, issues of diversity as it relates to gender, sociocultural, and/or socioeconomic status. Primarily, the focus is centered around a young lead character and the reader experiences emotions, situations, and the like through this character and is able to see how these problems/situations are resolved. It also needs to play a significant role in how we approach this group and the books we offer them to read" (Lesesne 14). Reading about issues that adolescents can relate to allows them to identify with a particular character, and creates a sense of security when experiencing something that is going on within their lives. "Whether you call them archetypes or stereotypes, there are certain experiences and certain kinds of people that are common to adolescents. Reading about it may help a young person validate his or her own experience and make some kind of meaning out of it" (Blasingame, 12). In a paper written by April Dawn Wells, she discovers seventeen common traits of young adult novels. These include: "friendship, getting into trouble, interest in the opposite sex, money, divorce, single parents, remarriage, problems with parents, grandparents, younger siblings, concern over grades/school, popularity, puberty, race, death, neighborhood, and job/working".
Young adult literature contains specific characteristics that are present throughout the genre. These characteristics encompass: "multi-themed story, tension versus shock effect, memorable characters, accurate facts and details, memorable voice, authentic dialogue, effective/clear writing style, sense of humor, widespread appeal, intriguing openings and memorable closings" (Cole 61-65). Other characteristics of Young Adult Literature include: "(1) Characters and issues young readers can identify with; those issues and characters are treated in a way that does not invalidate, minimize, or devalue them; (2) Is framed in language that young readers can understand; (3) Emphasizes plot above everything else; and (4)Is written for an audience of young adults" (Blasingame 11). Overall, Young Adult Literature needs to contain specific elements that will not only interest readers of this genre, but elements that relate directly to real situations adolescents in all generations may encounter, and contain believable, empathetic characters.
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Research suggests young adult literature can be advantageous to reluctant student readers by addressing their needs. Authors who write young adult literature have an adolescent’s age and interests in mind. The language and plots of young adult literature are similar to what students are accustomed to finding in reality, television, movies, and popular culture (Bucher, Manning, 328-332).
The following are criteria that researchers have come up with to evaluate the effectiveness of young adult literature in the classroom (Bucher and Manning, 9-10).
Young Adult Literature has been integrated into classrooms in order to increase student interest in reading. Research has been performed on what type of impact the introduction YA Literature has on students, particularly adolescent males and struggling readers: "Researchers have shown that introducing YA Literature to males improves their reading ability. YA Literature, because of its range of authors and story types, is an appropriate literature for every adolescent male who needs compelling material that speaks to him" (Gill). Research shows that not only adolescent males have been labeled as reluctant readers, struggling readers use reluctance as a coping mechanism. Young Adult Literature has been used to open up the door of reading literature to these readers as well: "When voluntary reading declines, the problems of struggling readers are only aggravated. By allowing adolescents to read good young adult literature, educators are able to encourage independent reading, which will, in turn, help adolescents develop the skills necessary to succeed." (Bucher and Manning)
Another reason that Young Adult Literature has been incorporated into classrooms is to be paired with classic texts that are traditionally read in classrooms, and required by many schools curricula. Using YA Lit alongside a canonical piece of text can increase a students comprehension of the common themes the various texts have, and make reading a classic text more enjoyable: "Young adult literature can spark interest in the classics and vice versa. Although it's clear that young adult literature is more accessible, that doesn't warrant denying the classics to struggling readers. The classics shouldn't be reserved for exceptional students, and Young Adult Literature shouldn't be reserved for at-risk readers." (Cole 513).
The classic canon in high school literature classes can often be too overwhelming and far removed from the everyday life of an adolescent. Sarah K. Herz and Donald Gallo suggest using archetypes from traditional literature to "build bridges" to the classics through young adult literature. Young Adult Literature offers teachers an effective way to introduce the study of archetypes in literature by grouping a variety of titles around archetypal situations and characters. Herz and Gallo suggest before or after studying a traditional classic or contemporary novel it is a good time to introduce the concept of archetypes in literature. Based on the Jungian theory of archetypes, consider a literary archetype as a character type or theme which recurs frequently in literature (Herz and Gallo, 64-66). Recognizing archetypes in literature will help students build the foundation for making connection among various works of literature. Students can begin to grasp and identify the archetypal images and patterns that appear in new forms. Archetypes also help students become more conscious of an author’s style and to think about and recognize the way in which a particular writer develops a character or story (Herz and Gallo, 66).
A partial list of classic situational literary archetypes as comprised by Herz and Gallo in two separate editions of their book, From Hinton to Hamlet: Building Bridges between Young Adult Literature and the Classics. The Young Adult Novels are paired with Classic Novels based on situational archetypes.(Herz and Gallo, 66-70).
Presents the main character in a conflict. Through pain and suffering, the character’s spirit survives the fight and through a development of self-awareness the main character is reborn. Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn / Hamlet by William Shakespeare
The protagonist takes a journey, either physically or emotionally, that brings meaning in their life. The Crazy Horse Electric Game by Chris Crutcher / The Odyssey by Homer and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.
The main character experiences growth and change; he or she experiences a transformation. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, Permanent Connections by Sue Ellen Bridgers, Dancing on Dark Waters by Alden Carter, and Driver's Ed by Caroline Cooney / The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane and The Color Purple by Alice Walker.
In order to exist in an unbearable world, the main character accepts that life is "absurd, ridiculous, and ironic" The Giver by Lois Lowry / Catch 22 by Joseph Heller and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr..
The protagonist deals with parental conflict by rejecting or bonding with parents. Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume, Midnight Hour Encores by Bruce Brooks, Ironman by Chris Crutcher, and The Runner by Cynthia Voigt / Ordinary People by Judith Guest, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, and The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams.
This figure protects or assists the main character in facing challenges. Phoenix Rising by Karen Hesse, Memoirs of a Bookbat by Kathryn Lasky, Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson, and Remembering The Good Times by Richard Peck / To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
The main character leaves his or her community to go on an adventure, performing actions that bring honor to the community. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher and Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff / A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand.
The protagonist is willing to die for a belief; the main character maintains a strong sense of morality. Harry Potter by J K Rowling, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins,The Chocolate War and The Bumblebee Flies Anyway by Robert Cormier, Divergent by Veronica Roth / Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, and Antigone by Sophocles.
Recognition of the noun young adult and its punctuation as an adjectival modifier are inconsistent. Some dictionaries recognize young adult as a noun (Random House, 2nd 1987), while others do not (Webster's International, 3rd 2002). When recognized (as by Random House), young adult is treated as an open compound noun, with no hyphen.
When the noun young adult is placed before another noun (such as fiction, novel, author), however, the use of a hyphen varies widely. For example, an Internet search (of the Web or of news articles) using the key words young adult fiction shows widespread inconsistency in hyphenation. Although the Chicago Manual of Style falls short of declaring the omission of the hyphen as grammatically incorrect, it clearly addresses the issue in "Compounds and Hyphenation", sections 7.82-7.86: "When such compounds precede a noun, hyphenation usually makes for easier reading. With the exception of proper nouns (such as United States) and compounds formed by an adverb ending in ly plus an adjective, it is never incorrect to hyphenate adjectival compounds before a noun."(Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition 2003, p. 300) The Writer's Digest Grammar Desk Reference is a little more forceful on the subject: "The most complicated business conducted by hyphens is uniting words into adjectival compounds that precede nouns. Many writers neglect to hyphenate such compounds, and the result is ramshackle sentences that often frustrate the reader." (Writer's Digest Grammar Desk Reference 2005, pp. 274–275) The Wikipedia Manual of Style also addresses the issue of hyphens for compound adjectives.
Although none of the sources cited above list young adult as an example, each clearly expresses a preference for hyphenating compound modifiers. With that in mind, young adult is a noun (without a hyphen) as defined by Random House. But when the noun young adult precedes another noun, it becomes a compound modifier and warrants a hyphen, as in young-adult fiction, young-adult author, young-adult novel, and so on. Because the sources do not declare the absence of a hyphen as grammatically incorrect, widespread inconsistencies in the punctuation of young adult are likely to continue, either out of ignorance or as conscious choice of style.
The category of YA fiction continues to expand into other mediums and genres: graphic novels/manga, light novels, fantasy, mystery fiction, romance novels, even subcategories such as cyberpunk, splatterpunk, techno-thrillers, and contemporary Christian fiction. New formats such as ebooks make it easier[opinion] for teens to access these online.
Recently the term "problem novel" has been applied to works that deal exclusively with an adolescent's first confrontation with a social or personal problem. (See also the Social novel and Social protest novel). The term was first used this way in the late 1960s with reference to contemporary works like The Outsiders, a coming-of-age novel by S. E. Hinton, first published in 1967. The adolescent problem novel is rather loosely defined. Rose Mary Honnold in The Teen Reader's Advisor defines them as dealing more with characters from lower-class families and their problems and as using "grittier", more realistic language, including dialects, profanity, and poor grammar, when it fits the character and setting. Sometimes, the term problem novel is used almost interchangeably with "young adult novel", but many young adult novels do not fit these criteria.
S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders (1967) and Paul Zindel's The Pigman (1968) are problem novels written specifically for teenagers. However, Sheila Egoff notes in Thursday's Child: Trends and Patterns in Contemporary Children's Literature that the Newbery Award winning novel It's Like This, Cat (1964) by Emily Cheney Neville may have established "the problem novel formula." Go Ask Alice (1971) is an early example of the sub-genre and is often considered an example of the negative aspects of the form (Although the author is "Anonymous", it is largely or wholly the work of its purported editor, Beatrice Sparks). A more recent example is Adam Rapp's The Buffalo Tree (1997).
The distinctions among children's literature, YA literature, and adult literature have historically been flexible and loosely defined. This line is often policed by adults who feel strongly about the border. At the lower end of the YA age spectrum, fiction targeted to readers age 9 to 12 is referred to as middle-grade fiction. Some novels originally marketed to adults have been identified as being of interest and value to adolescents, and vice versa, as in the case of books such as the Harry Potter series of novels.
New-adult fiction (also known as post-adolescent literature) is a recent genre of fiction aimed towards post-adolescents and young-adults ages 18 to 30. The term is believed to have been first coined by St. Martin's Press in 2009. The genre tends to focus on issues prevalent in the young adult genre as well as focusing on issues experienced by individuals between the area of childhood and adulthood, such as leaving home for university and getting a job.
Various young-adult-fiction awards are presented annually, and mark outstanding adolescent literature writing.
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