Introduction (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
A distinctive literature about childhood has existed since the Victorian era, but not so about adolescence as a stage of life with its own integrity, concerns, and distinct problems. Teachers, librarians, and parents argue that the classics of world literature are accessible to reading teenagers. These classics include the work of Edgar Allan Poe, who is a lasting favorite with young people, as with adults. The romances of the Brontë sisters, Rudyard Kipling’s exotic adventure tales, and the picaresque novels of Mark Twain feature youthful characters appealing to a wide range of readers. Young readers also seek out the novels of Jack London, Zora Neale Hurston, George Orwell, Pearl Buck, Ernest Hemingway, Harper Lee, Kurt Vonnegut, Chaim Potok, and others. Even though many classics endure as a type of literature for youth, a distinct junior or juvenile literary category did not emerge until the 1930’s.
Rose Wilder Lane’s Let the Hurricane Roar (1933) is widely credited as the first serious novel written specifically for young adults. Its story of hardscrabble family life on the Dakota plains, in which harsh problems are surmounted, set an optimistic tone for youth reading that was to dominate the field for many years. Publishers loosely defined young adulthood as ages twelve through twenty.
Less than ten years after Lane’s groundbreaking novel, Maureen Daly published her own work of young fiction, Seventeenth Summer...
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Characteristics of young adult fiction (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Publishers identified several characteristics of successful young adult fiction. First, protagonists were almost always young, and often through first-person narratives, their point of view prevailed. Second, plots dealt with adolescent dilemmas, such as Should one accept family expectations or fulfill personal goals? Was it better to “fit in” with high school cliques or assert one’s individuality? and, Should employment, further schooling, or marriage be the choice for one’s future beyond high school? Disappointment in love and friendship was another common theme. Third, problems were usually optimistically resolved by the end of a book. Fourth, stylistic experimentation was rare, even though many fine literary craftspeople were beginning to write works of young adult fiction.
With compulsory education extending through high school, publishers came to recognize the existence of a vast audience of those euphemistically referred to as “reluctant readers.” Even though teachers and librarians promoted quality literature, many gradually concluded that any reading was preferable to none at all. This opened library shelves to books previously regarded as subliterary, including many formula Westerns, romances, and the previously scorned series books.