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Qualities of Young Adult Literature

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on May 5, 2014

Although some children’s and adult’s books appeal to young adults, literature written primarily for young adults should reflect several criteria.

  • It should reflect young adults’ age and development by addressing their reading abilities, thinking levels, and interest levels.
  • It should deal with contemporary issues, problems, and experiences with characters to whom adolescents can relate. This includes topics such as dealing with parents and other adults in authority; facing illness and death; dealing with peer pressure, specifically relating to drugs, alcohol, and sexual experimentation; and facing the realities of addiction and pregnancy.
  • It should consider contemporary world perspectives including cultural, social, and gender diversity; environmental issues; global politics; and international interdependence.

Characteristics

Young adult literature reflects the changes that adolescents are experiencing. Making their first excursions into adult territory, adolescents are learning to take responsibility for their own actions. Thus, young adult literature reflects their experiences with conflicts, focuses on themes that interest young people, includes young protagonists and mostly young characters, and has language common to young adults (Vogels, 1996). Rather than being watered down in content of style, it is often sophisticated, artistic, and compelling (Christenbury, 1997).

Although young adult fiction no longer shies away from plots that center on topics once considered only for adults, authors of young adult literature use less graphic details while still conveying the reality of the situation (Vogels, 1996). However, the literature is not boring in subject matter or in its appeal to young people. Rather, it contains exciting and intriguing plots and characters (Christenbury, 1997). Also, young adult fiction usually has a concise plot with a time span of 2 months or less, as well as a focus on the present and future in the life of one central character (Vogels, 1996).

Purposes

Young adult literature serves a number of purposes. It:

  • teaches adolescents about diverse peoples and the world beyond their community,
  • provides pleasure reading,
  • demonstrates the range of human emotions and allows adolescents to experience them as a result of reading quality literature,
  • reveals the realities of life,
  • provides vicarious experiences,
  • focuses on “essentials” that make order out of chaos,
  • depicts the functions of institutions of society,
  • allows readers to escape into the realms of fantasy,
  • introduces readers to excellent writers and writing, and
  • increases literacy and the ability to analyze literature.

Of course, young adult literature cannot provide these benefits unless adolescents actually read the books. In Connecting Adolescents and Their Literature 1–1, Patrick Jones (2003) provides a different idea on purchasing young adult literature.

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