Rationale is defined as a justification for doing something; a young adult literature rationale is my argument or justification for not just allowing teenagers to read young adult literature but [for teachers] to use it in classrooms as primary text sources. Young adult literature includes multiple genres and subjects. Most misconceptions is that YAL (Young Adult Literature) solely focus’s on novels dealing with teenage angst, but YAL has grown to include genres such as poetry, biographies, memoirs, informational texts science fiction and fantasy. As a student I was immersed in classics and bored out of mind. The language felt outdated and as a twelve year old and then later as a fourteen year old, I could not relate or empathize with the boys from Lord of the Flies, or the characters of Jane Austin or Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. “Part of the problem, as most teachers are fully aware, is that the classics are often too distant from our students.” (Gibbons, 56) Young adult literature appeals to adolescent readers for many reasons. It is written about characters with whom they can identify based on issues such as age, personal and external conflicts, and dealings within the world and society that surrounds them. Characters in YAL struggle with peer pressure, identity, changes in their lives, sexuality, abuse and more importantly teenagers read about how characters deal with these struggles which can give them the power to face these same issues. At the same time it can help improve the reading skills of students by allowing them to read more, it allows to teachers to create an adolescent centered curriculum, overall, yes, young adult literature can be a powerful tool towards creating citizens who are critical thinkers and life-long learners. We do not want the learning to stop outside our classroom doors.
“Literature for young adults is a literature of fluidity, conforming to the experiences of young people in specific contexts and shifting with changes in sociopolitical ideologies. For young adults, this literature is an escape as well as a comforting reflection of life, as it covers a broad landscape of topics while providing examples of how characters are able to cope and heal.” (Bittner, 31) Which brings me to the first young adult novel I will be mentioning, I Was a Teenage Fairy by Francesca Lia Block deals with tough issues of abuse through poetic prose and fantastical themes. It tells the story of Barbie Marks whom one day hopes to become a photographer and Mab her fairy best friend who doesn’t take any stuff. Mab tries to offer moral support to Barbie as she suffers through hardships from her parents and the world. Her mother forces Barbie into beauty pageants and ballet classes, her father doesn’t care about his daughter and eventually leaves the family. When Barbie is sixteen she meets Griffin who shares a common bond with having domineering stage-moms and holding dark past abuses. How often does sexual abuse or parental pressures come into conversation? “Literature for young adults is a literature of fluidity,” for any young adult that is dealing with any issue that they find difficult, literature is not only an escape but a way to cope and heal. Not everyone will have a fairy named Mab to speak up for him or her when they cannot but the book itself can be a “Mab.” Books can be that protective force as well as the thing that can open up discussions.
We are teachers and educators but can young adult novels really compare to the classics? Can YAL be an instrument in education, when we face current issues like civil rights and racism in the world? Richard Shaull, drawing on Paulo Freire pedagogies stated, "there is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of generations into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the ‘practice of freedom’, the means by which men and women deal critically with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world." The oppressed, in this case subjugated students must be their own advocates and schools must provide them with the tools and critical thinking needed to make changes in the world. Including novels like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, which tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation and dealing with identity, racism, and poverty. Junior decides to leave the reservation to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. The story chronicles the adolescent life of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live. The novel discusses issues that teachers or parents might find uncomfortable to discuss with teenagers about the social structure of people with power and without power. It opens up discussion to explore issues of race, socioeconomic statuses and transformation in the world. Yes, YAL can be an instrument in education, when we face current issues like civil rights and racism in the world. YAL offers sophisticated reading options for addressing core standards, and engaging twenty-first century young adults in lively discussions of literature and life.
One of my favorite parts in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is when Junior discusses how reservations were meant to be death camps. Indians (Native American’s) were not meant to survive or endure reservations. They were supposed to disappear. “I cried because so many fellow tribal members were slowly killing themselves and I wanted them to live. I wanted them to get strong and get sober and get the hell of the rez. It’s a weird thing. Reservations were meant to prisons, you know? Indians were suppose to move onto reservations and die. We were supposed to disappear. But somehow or another, Indians have forgotten that reservations were suppose to be death camps. I wept because I was brave and crazy enough to leave the rez.” (Alexie, 216-7) Junior realized that apart of surviving was leaving the reservation. It was the act of being a part-time Indian. Sometimes being “part-time” anything is difficult to deal with. Our students are going to deal with identity issues, in the same way, that we as adults have had to deal with the same, if not similar issues in our lives.
“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of generations into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the ‘practice of freedom.” (Shaull) New trilogy by Lauren Oliver offers sophisticated reading, while engaging twenty-first century young adults in themes and prose that is not only beautiful but deals with sociopolitical issues of government as well as redemption, transformation and sacrifice. A novel like Delirium is an instrument that facilitates conformity or brings about thoughts of liberty. What if we lived in a world that viewed love as a disease? Our government made the decision for us, to have us sterilized from contracting the disease. At the age of eighteen you stop feeling anger, hurt, happiness, joy, desire and love. Delirium deals with a dystopia novel that takes a simple notion of how we view an emotion and turns into a discussion about fear and how power in the wrong hands can lead us into another place.
“I don’t like to think that I’m still walking around with the disease running through my blood. Sometimes I swear I can feel it writhing in my veins like something spoiled, like sour milk. It makes me feel dirty. It reminds me of children throwing tantrums. It reminds me of resistance, of diseased girls dragging their nails on the pavement, tearing out their hair, their mouths dripping spit. And of course it reminds me of my mother. After the procedure I will be happy and safe forever. That’s what everybody says, the scientists and my sister and Aunt Carol. I will have the procedure and then I’ll be paired with a boy the evaluators choose for me. In a few years, we’ll get married. Recently I’ve started having dreams about my wedding. In them I’m standing under a white canopy with flowers in my hair. I’m holding hands with someone, but whenever I turn to look at him his face blurs, like a camera losing focus, and I can’t make out any features. But his hands are cool and dry, and my heart is beating steadily in my chest—and in my dream I know it will always beat out that same rhythm, not skip or jump or swirl or go faster, just womp, womp, womp, until I’m dead. Safe, and free from pain. Things weren’t always as good as they are now. In school we learned that in the old days, the dark days, people didn’t realize how deadly a disease love was. For a long time they even viewed it as a good thing, something to be celebrated and pursued. Of course that’s one of the reasons it’s so dangerous: It affects your mind so that you cannot think clearly, or make rational decisions about your own well-being.” (Oliver, 2-3) Young adult literature deals with themes and issues that mirror the interests of the society. We’re constantly reading news articles, watching news programs or listening to radio shows where people try to influence, lecture and feed us information about what is good for us. Whether these issues are about gun control, marriage equality, racial profiling or an injection we can take at eighteen to cure us from a love pandemic sweeping the nation, YAL does not shy away from issues. YAL presents the issues in a way that is digestible, entertaining, and relatable and teaches students to love books. This love of books can lead to greater literacy skills.
“As educators, we believe it is always important to uncover and assess students’ knowledge, preconceived notions, and personal biases about a topic before beginning to teach that topic… It is our responsibility as educators to help students unpack their backpacks; organize the contents within them; and then decide what texts, feelings, and thoughts are important to carry with them inside and outside of school.” (Sieben, 45) With these thoughts in mind another great young adult literature novel that can be useful is Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez, a novel about three high schools boys struggling with sexuality, identity and peer pressure. Ways in which this book is especially appropriate for students, is that every class will have an amount of students who identify with LGTBQ issues, are questioning these issues or know someone who is. I want might class to be a place where they can learn about tolerance and/or acceptance.
If I want my students to “unpack their backpacks” and to be tolerant or accepting they need to familiarize themselves with the issues and remove the fear with being unknown with a certain group. This book deals with self-esteem issues that have nothing to do with being gay. I have heterosexual and homosexual friends who as teenagers and emerging adults have made similar situations to the characters in the book. Nelson one of the main characters of the book decides to lose his virginity to a stranger and after the many lectures he has received from his mother and Saturday youth group he bargains with his life and safety and has unprotected sex. The entire time he knows he should ask about a condom but does not have the self-esteem to bring up the lack of condom dilemma. Everyone I know including myself has had self esteem issues where the right choice wasn’t made because it might cause embarrassment or we may receive negative judgments. This should be discussed with youth. The great thing about YAL is that it allows for an opening to discuss things that would otherwise be difficult.
This is my rationale for young adult literature, a powerful tool for creating citizens who are critical thinkers and life-long learners. As you have read YA literature is fluid, conforming to the experiences of young people, while creating a literary escape as well as a reflection of life and facilitating learning.
· Oliver, Lauren (2011-08-02). Delirium: The Special Edition (Kindle Locations 86-101). Harper Collins, Inc. Kindle Edition.
· Paulo Freire Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 2013. Web. 12 April 2013.
· Sanchez, Alex. Rainbow Boys. New York: Simon Pulse, 2003. Print.
· Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2009. Print
· Block, Francesca Lia. I Was a Teenage Fairy. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1998. Print
· Louel C. Gibbons, Jennifer S. Dail, and B. Joyce Stallworth. "Young Adult Literature in the English Curriculum Today: Classroom Teachers Speak Out." The Allen Review. Summer 2006. (2006): 53-61. Print.
· Bittner, Robert. "The Trouble with Normal: Trans Youth and the Desire for Normalcy as Reflected in Young Adult Literature." The Allen Review Winter 2010. (2010): 31-35. Print.
· Sieben, Nicole and Wallowitz, Laraine. "Watch what You Teach: A First-Year Teacher Refuses to Play It Safe." English Journal 98.4. March (2009): 44-9. Print.