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Three factors go into recommending or choosing literature for young adults. First, the literature has to be written on a language level accessible to new readers, in terms of sophisticated vocabulary, syntax, abstraction, etc. If the piece is daunting in these regards, the young reader may get lost or discouraged, or spend too much time “translating” the text to actually follow the plot and character development. Second, the text should relate to the young student in theme, mise-en-scene, characters, etc., so that there can be “identification” of the reader with the story. Finally, the piece of literature should be morally and ethical instructive and supportive of the student’s cultural values. While Anna Karenina is a very good piece of literature, it probably would not be comprehensible at first read to a teen-ager. Its vocabulary and sentence structure is quite complex (in available translations); its characters live in an entirely foreign environment from today’s youth, both in time and social class. Finally, the moral value of infidelity, and the ethical question of suicide are not instructive as models for young developing minds. So this classic piece of literature should probably not be on a young person’s reading list just yet; Melville’s Moby Dick is borderline in terms of language sophistication but appropriate otherwise (cf. Bartleby the Scrivener). Bildungsromanen, on the other hand, by definition fictionalizing the difficulties of growing up, are more appropriate; the more popular ones—Lord of the Flies, or Catcher in the Rye, for example—not only relate to the young reader but also are written on a fairly accessible language level; whether the moral/ethical “lessons” are appropriate must be determined by each teacher. A fairly recent addition to the list is Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, suitable to even younger teens (the “heroes” are not even teens yet) because the language is accessible and the ethical “lesson” is peaceful, even though the action is somewhat combative.
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