Monday 15 April 2019

Pushing Boundaries in Young Adult Novels

Young adults are constantly trying to break but also to establish boundaries that adults set for them. Novels written for them need to reflect that.
However, because teachers, educationalists and librarians rejoice when young people read, even if it is material that has made the adult squirm, they will often accept the edgy material.
This material then is not edgy enough for the dopamine charged brain of the young adult – so the writers have to be come even edgier.        


The teachers’ and librarians’ dilemma

Teachers and librarians want young people to read. However, books are in fact works of art.
Yet, from Kindergarten right up to university level, students are taught to dissect books.
Why do we read?  Is there an expectation that we’ll learn something about life from books?
Books are used in schools:
         For the teaching of reading
         For checks on understanding through comprehension exercises
         For the teaching of grammar and English usage
         As models for children's own writing
         To provide supportive evidence in other subjects, e.g. History, Science. 
         For the teaching of English literature as bonuses in personal growth, e.g. 'not being the only one’ (PSHE)
         And 'understanding others’ (citizenship)
Note, the young adult has already had eight years of this in school.


Losing the art of reading for pleasure

Children often read in a fragmentary way at school because of the way English is taught. There are also other distractions for the growing teenager. Boys particularly go for factual reading. Young Adult literature may help to get young people to read for pleasure again.   


The circle

The writer produces something edgy and shocking. The reader enjoys this. The concerned adult – teacher, parent, librarian is pleased. The book is no longer “cool” because the adults like it. The next one must become even edgier.   



Adults- parents, teachers, librarians as well as publishers and booksellers still stand between the book and the reader, perhaps more so because the young adult is not reading outside of school.  So, GCSE and A-level books tend to be labelled as “young adult”.  


Pictures of the world

Margaret Meek and Jürgen Habermas recognise that we gain pictures of the world from what we read. Fantasy reorders the world. Note a preponderance of fantasy and science fiction in texts for young adults. The young adult is often seeking identity. 

Market forces

Imprints across the world have different definitions for the age range for young adults. Some start as young as 12 and some go on to 17.  On average, young adult is 14-17.  
Who defines the books?
     Young adults.


Some edgy topics that have now become almost commonplace

Young Adult texts often contain:
         Drug addiction
         Sexual abuse
         Extreme violence
         Near futures

Other ways of pushing boundaries

Interaction with Social Media 

Other types of books produced for young adults

  • Chicklet-lit which is like chick-lit but for younger reader. These contain a lot about make-up, boys, rebelling against parents and there is usually much humour.  However they are slightly more serious than the chick-lit produced for adult readers. There is also “Staglet-lit” that does the same for boys. A lot of this is produced in Canada.  Writers include: Cathy Hopkins, Louise Rennison, Judy Blume and  Christine Nöstlinger
  • Books that look like adult books.
  • Books that look like children’s books
  • Both of these become young adult because of the age of the characters.
  • Some graphic novels.
  • Some “hi-los”


Exercise on Pushing Boundaries

Make notes / write scenes on the following. 
1.      Look at you plot outline – is there anywhere where you could have a scene that pushes boundaries? Write that scene!
2.      Does your story lend itself to an experiment with form?
3.      Can you use experimental language?
4.      OR: is your novel more of a chicklet-lit / staglet-lit novel? Or like a children’s or adult novel?  Write a scene showing this.      

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