Themes in Young Adult Literature

For my final exam, we had to identify five major themes in YA literature. This really got me thinking, for a number of reasons. One is that literary elements like themes and style are not particularly interesting to me, so it took some thinking to identify what might be a theme as opposed to any other element of a book. Another element is if there are themes that are unique to YA literature as opposed to works written for other ages? The final issue I had was with identifying works that represented these themes.

Once I started thinking about this, I had a hard time limiting my themes to only five, and an even harder time finding only a few books that could represent the wide varieties of books written within each theme. This was such an interesting question and exercise, so I thought I’d share my thoughts.

First of all–the themes that fill teen literature are the themes that are featured in all literature. Second, most works feature more then one, intertwined to illustrate how life is frequently complicated and difficult.

1. Self-Discovery
* This ranges fantasy where the main character discovers they have secret magical powers to teens who discover their own sexuality, and many more.
* Examples:
Criss Cross
Double Helix (Puffin Sleuth Novels) (Family/science search)
Incantation(historical-self discovery)

2. Quest
* Ranging from epic journeys in fantasy and history to realistic fiction tales of road trips and adventure quests to save the world.
* Examples:
Holly Black, Ironside: A Modern Faerie tale (Fantasy quest for answers into the world of Faerie)
Michael Cadnum, Blood Gold (Historical-quest for justice)
Annie Callan, Taf (Realistic, search for missing father)
Julie Chibbaro, Redemption (History search for religious freedom)
3. Survival
* Whether in the wild, a foreign time or land, or in your high school, the struggle to survive is a fundamental theme of YA novels.
* Examples:
Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak (In a modern high school)
Jerry Spinelli, Milkweed: a Novel (In the Warsaw Ghetto)
Peg Kehert, Escaping the Giant Wave (Environmental)
Susan Beth Pfiefer, Life as we Knew It (end of the world)
4. Relationships
*Teen books in all genres involve relationships—whether between teens and their parents, teens and their friends, and teens and their romantic interests.
Entire Gossip Girls series
Melissa Kantor, If I Have a Wicked Step-Mother, Where’s my Prince? (Parents and teens)
5. Isolation v Conformity
* Teens frequently are torn between the desire to be accepted and the need to chart their path. Rebellion against the establishment fit in here, as well as tales of the “popular girls” who exemplify conformity.
* Examples:
Patrick Jones, Nailed (isolation in high school)
Scott Westerfield, Uglies (to conform or resist in a futuristic world)
Karen Cushman, The Loud Silence of Francine Green (historical)
Walter Dean Myesrs, Shooter (school shooting)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s