Reasons for Using and Teaching Contemporary Realistic Fiction
Why use contemporary realistic fiction in a classroom or add it to a library collection? Perhaps because the genre developed as a didactic moral tale, many critics attempt to link realistic fiction with morality by examining a realistic novel in light of the messages that it delivers (Aronson, 2001). Thus, they focus on whether the novel “teaches” a lesson or provides a positive role model that young adults can emulate. However, Aronson (2001) maintains that “realism is not concerned with morality; it is about verisimilitude” (p. 80). While morality shapes beliefs or behaviors and does provide role models, realism reflects life and focuses on the conflicts that young adults face. Young adults do not want “predigested morals and fake realities” (p. 83). What they do want are works that will force them to confront their own beliefs, to identify their own messages in the story, and to grow in their own way (Aronson, 2001). Thus, some contemporary realistic fiction novels are uncomfortable to read while others raise more questions than they solve.
It is important for young adults to be exposed to books that reach and move them because, as Aronson notes (2001), “it can affect them as at no other age” (p. 81). Rather than looking for books that are contrived or didactic, young adults seem to be looking for novels that speak to them and about them in an honest and realistic way. These books will range on a continuum from lighthearted, even romantic, stories to more dark and disturbing examinations of the frustrations, events, and challenges of the real world in which contemporary adolescents live. Realistic characters are not always comfortable to know. As author Paul Zindel (2002) said about the protagonists he created, they are ornery, troubled, and “have an irksome itch. They always demanded a realistic story that was more than a comfortable grocery list” (p. 30).
There are many values of contemporary realistic fiction. Young adults can:
- Identify with characters who have similar interests and who must deal with similar problems.
- Realize that, while their problems and challenges are difficult, they are shared by other adolescents.
- Extend their horizons and broaden their interests.
- Better cope with grief, fear, and anger as they read about other young adults or characters who have dealt with adversity.
Aronson (2001) believes that good realistic fiction has the potential “to touch readers deeply so that, in the struggle with it, they begin to see and to shape themselves” (p. 119).
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