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YA Lit

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Young adult literature is anything that readers from the age of 12 -18 choose to read, not necessarily something they have been assigned to read.  It is often referred to as "YA" literature so as not to sound condescending (i.e.  "here is a book that was written for you kids..."),  Some think of it as  literature written for and published specifically for young adults. Whether or not they have read it on their own purely for enjoyment, or have been assigned to read it in a class, makes no difference. 

During the last half of the 20th century, young adult literature has developed as a distinct unit of publishing. There is a market for stories especially written for youth. There is also doom and gloom talk of young people no longer reading like they used to, that there are too many other interests, including the media and the Internet, that take time away from reading activities. 

There is a wide variety of literature for young adults.  The late sixties saw distinct changes in publishing for young adults with the publication of The Pigman, by Paul Zindel, in 1968, and The Outsiders, by S.E.Hinton, in 1967.  

Seven Characteristics of Young Adult Literature:

  1. YA authors write from the viewpoint of young people
  2. "I want the credit." In many YA novels the parents or other authority figures are absent. The characters are forced to confront their problems on their own.
  3. The literature is fast-paced, the stories told as a frantic pace with emphasis on powerful images.
  4. YA literature involves a variety of genres and subjects, with about half being contemporary realistic fiction.
  5. It iincludes stories about characters from many different ethnic and cultural groups. The characters are no longer all white, middle class characters. There are fewer taboos about what can be included.
  6. YA books are basically optimistic with characters making worthy accomplishments. The characters are faced with challenges, which earn the reader's respect, even if they don't succeed. The characters show change and growth.
  7. Successful young adult novels deal with emotions that are important to young people.

Developmental Tasks and Needs

In 1972, Robert J. Havinghurst published Developmental Tasks and Education, in which he outlined eight developmental tasks young people are experiencing.  These tasks should be kept in mind when reading YA lit.  

bulletAcquiring more mature social skills.
bulletAchieving a masculine or feminine sex role.
bulletAccepting the changes in one's body, using the body effectively, and accepting one's physique.
bulletAchieving emotional independence from parents and other adults.
bulletPreparing for sex, marriage, and parenthood.
bulletSelecting and preparing for an occupation.
bulletDeveloping a personal ideology and ethical standards.
bulletAssuming membership in the larger community.

An alternative point of view is provided by The Center for Early Adolescence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  They list seven developmental needs (instead of tasks) of young adults.  They also provide a framework to better understand the YA genre.

  1. Physical activity
  2. Competence and Achievement
  3. Self-definition
  4. Creative expression
  5. Positive social interactions with peers and adults
  6. Structure and clear limits
  7. Meaningful participation

Stages of Literary Appreciation

It is thought that personal attitudes and reading, listening and watching skills are all part of literary appreciation and that this appreciation is developed in stages -- that readers continually add on to them, but do not drop any previous stages.  This is another important framework to consider when looking at YA literature.  

Understanding that pleasure and profit come from literature.

  1. Learning to read.
  2. Losing oneself in a story
  3. Finding oneself in a story
  4. Venturing beyond themselves
  5. Reading widely
  6. Aesthetic Appreciation

Genres of YA Literature:

bulletRealistic Fiction, Problem novels
bulletAdventure, Sports, Mysteries, Supernatural, Horror
bulletFantasy and Science Fiction
bulletHistorical Fiction 
bulletNonfiction, Biography, Poetry, Drama, Short Stories

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