In literature, stories of teenage or adolescence are defined as coming-of-age. This genre focuses on the issues characters have to deal with while they grow up. The roots of this narrative theme can be traced back to some German novels of the late eighteenth century. While there is agreement about the working definition of such stories, the elements of these stories are highly debatable. The age of the main characters in such fiction is another aspect upon which a unanimous consensus has not yet been achieved. While some people believe the ideal age group of readers to be between 12 and 18 years, the period between 15 years and early 20s has also been proposed for the same. The story lines and themes have a typical consistency with the experience and age of the protagonists. Another noteworthy fact, if one goes by studies, is that women writers outnumber their male counterparts by a steep margin when it comes to coming-of-age fiction.
Distinction between Children’s, Young Adult, and Adult Fiction
Integrating these kinds of novels into classrooms has contributed greatly to increasing the level of interest students express in reading. Research indicates that the introduction of these stories is quite beneficial for youngsters while they sharpen their own reading skills. The wide range of reading material available in various forms is enough evidence to establish its popularity. These can be used as stepping stones by struggling readers who wish to unlock the doors of all other literary material for their own selves. The distinction between literature for children, young adults, and adults is loosely defined besides being known for its flexibility. Adults who hold strong opinions about the issue police this line with ferocity. At the lower end of the spectrum of age, middle-grade fiction remains targeted towards readers between nine and twelve years. Some novels which were originally written for and subsequently marketed to adults now hold the interest of teenagers. This is so due to the gradual decrease in one’s biological age at which intellectual maturity is achieved. Middle-grade novels are targeted for those between eight and twelve years. Their readability level is five and above. Even their word count is larger besides having more mature content.
Main Characteristics of Young Adult Literature
Like all other genres, this one has its own typicalities too. Since romance is an integral part of growing up, readers would come across the depiction of love as it blossoms between the protagonist and the opposite gender. Disagreements with parents and subsequently leaving their nest with no intentions to return is another plot or subplot used quite often. The death of the protagonist’s mentor is a cliché used as the justification of the maturity they suddenly gain. Such characters may often be used as tools to bring out key information. Some examples of this are the acquisition of some powerful weapon, or the realization of being equipped with a supernatural ability, or even when someone gains knowledge about their dark or mysterious past. Though such characters may rise much higher than they were shown at the onset of the story, there are still some limitations to what they can become. The numerous tribulations and hardships faced by them bring the maturity of the main characters much earlier than what is appropriate for their age. Happy endings do not find a place in such fiction. The progression towards adulthood brings with it its own set of new challenges.
Exploration of Identity in this Genre
In most cases, people feel an identity crisis of sorts in their teenage years. Middle-graders are no longer children but are yet to step into adulthood. They are expected to fulfil the responsibilities as grown-ups but when it comes to exercising their rights over certain privileges, they are admonished for trying to wear shoes which are too big for their feet. Due to this, teenagers cannot be blamed when they feel as if they are in no man’s land. There are three main areas of focus in such stories: moral growth, the formation of oneself, and the movement towards social success and self-realisation. Writers mainly concentrate on the common experiences, tensions, awakenings, and realisations forming the whole process of growing up. When the main character psychologically loses his or her innocence, their confrontation with adults becomes inevitable. Some of the moral challenges they face include their physical appearance and even the search for their own identity. Contemporary stories depict the pressures of parental expectations besides one’s peer group. Such literature takes on issues which vary from survival through cancer and its endurance to becoming entangled in religious cults. These serve as mirrors to what many youngsters go through in our society.
Despite the common belief that reading to take a backseat as a hobby for our techno-savvy generation, lovers of the written word keep their loyalty firmly in place. In books such as Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick, Somebody Please Tell Me Who I Am by Harry Mazer, and Something Like Normal by Trish Doller, teenagers struggle to find a purpose in their lives. Some other names which come to mind include Waiting by Carol Lynch Williams and See You At Harry’s by Jo Knowles. The List by Siobhan Vivian provides some insight into the experiences of eight girls as they discover the definitions of beauty-and even ugliness. Catch & Release by Blythe Woolston goes into the exploration of how diseases which mar one’s physicality can seriously damage the inner self. Then there are The Girls of No Return. Written by Erin Saldin, it revolves around what it means to have secrets which haunt our inner selves and even whether or not one can ever overcome them. Adolescence has always been notorious as a troublesome period of life. But a supportive environment at school and a loving family can work wonders in making one’s teenage years emotionally secure.