The Future of YA

Adolescents face a difficult challenge in life; the confusion of not yet and already. They want the freedom of childhood, while longing for the privileges of adulthood. There is a desire to be grown up, but a fear of the responsibility. Literature gives the reader an opportunity to experience worlds not readily available. It also gives a real-life picture of what some adolescents and teenagers do face. VanderStaay is a reader, teacher, and writer, who states, “The fiction they read should flinch from none of this ‘reality.’ But it should also point to the possible, which is the purpose of YA literature” (52). Literature and film for adolescents should do what it does for all people: educate and entertain. And that is precisely what it does and will continue to do. YA literature will always entertain, while at the same time influence and impact the reader with the political or cultural agenda of the writer.

YA literature since its inception has been an extension of fiction literature for all other ages. It can cover all genres. YA literature can be most basically defined as literature written about teenagers, written for teenagers, and marketed to teenagers. It is an opportunity to see new worlds, visit far off and even fantastical places, learn new things, and be introduced to opportunity. In the quest to define YA and to differentiate between teen, New Adult, and crossover, Imogen Williams states, “To me, YA means challenge – encountering diverse protagonists and situations I’ll never experience myself (including being a teenager again) but which stretch me to empathize with and contemplate” (Williams). YA literature and film can provide the adolescent with the courage to face difficult circumstances like Ponyboy in The Outsiders, to stand up to one’s own beliefs even when different from his or her parents like Sam in My Brother Sam is Dead, and to learn that pursuing one’s dreams should not be put on hold like Louise in Jacob Have I Loved. Patrick Ness states it this way, YA is “finding boundaries and crossing them and figuring out when you end, who you are and what shape you are” (qtd. In Williams). The years of middle school and high school can be difficult as children discover who they are, face changes and challenges that are new to them, and answer the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Because of this, YA literature always has a main character that is a teenager. It is written with a first person perspective and does not always have a happy ending. It covers the topics that teenagers struggle with as they transition between childhood and adult responsibilities.

As culture shifted in the 1900s and the gap between child and adult grew, the need for YA literature seemed to follow. As adolescents grew too old for children’s books, but not quite ready for adult literature, writers began filling the need with books that covered hard topics but in an approachable manner. These books also managed to focus on the social and cultural issues of the time they were written. S. E. Hinton focused on the changing culture of the 1960s in her novel, The Outsiders, dealing with realistic issues including the uninvolved parents of the Socs and the social struggles of the Greasers. Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier wrote with an interesting twist of placing their novel, My Brother Sam is Dead, in the American Revolution, but still handling the tough topics of the complications of war for a generation that was conflicted over the Vietnam War. Jacob Have I Loved was written in a time when the individual and individualism was becoming more prevalent. Katherine Paterson connected with YA readers in that time as Louise struggled to find her identity on an island where everyone else seemed to have their place, passion, and pursuits.

In the 90s, there was a more prevalent turn to relative truth and the perception that life is what man believes it to be. At the same time, there was a patriotic duty as America was thrown into the Gulf War. Avi covered both patriotism and perceived truth in his novel, Nothing But the Truth. Philip’s perception of truth wreaked havoc on his local school while the outside world viewed him as the patriotic citizen he was not. His perspective that the world hates him and everybody is against him is the angst of every teenager. At the turn of the century and in the middle of concerns of Y2K and the end of the world, dystopian novels found their way into YA literature. The Giver and its sequels give consideration to the “what if” questions of teenagers. It ties in fantasy, special powers, life in community and the evils of mankind that allows the reader to escape real life and imagine for good or for bad what life could become.

YA continues to reach its readers with real life issues and non-storybook endings. Because YA literature does not always have a happy ending and often covers hard topics, parents and educators alike can be and should be cautious about the books they introduce to young people. The heavy topics of cultural issues, political differences, even religious beliefs will continue to flood the readers’ market with literature that can educate while it entertains.

Marketing of YA books shows that this category of literature will continue to grow. As VanderStaay states, “if sales of YA literature are any indication, our teenagers want to hear about the adult world in all its misery, joys, and temptations. They want the facts straight up. But they also want to learn how to enter into that world without being soiled by it, to swim amidst its degradation without degrading themselves” (VanderStaay 51-52). This does not mean that the only option for teaching novels in Reading and English is limited to The Catcher in the Rye or Lord of the Flies. True to life literature like Wonder by RJ Palarico (physical differences), Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman (mental illness), and Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (racial tensions) can teach about the real-life challenges. Historical novels like Jeffersons Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and Sophias War by Avi, are currently used in schools to educate middle schoolers and young adults in social studies classes. And in the category of Cancer Lit, books are popping up for every decade, including more recent Halfway Normal, by Barbara Dee, which tells the story of Norah Levy who “has just completed two years of treatment for leukemia and is ready to go back to the ‘real world’ of middle school” (front book flap). The explosion of literature for young adults has opened doors for even struggling readers.

As Solomon reminds his reader, “of the making of books there is no end” (KJV Ecc. 12:12). There will always be stories to tell and someone will write them down. Many should be read and shared and read again. Others, will gather dust and be pulled from library shelves and be forgotten. YA literature does not always become classic literature, but just like the stories it tells, it has possibility. Possibility that takes the reader to new knowledge and new places. Even children’s literature can teach us that “the more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go” (Seuss). However, not every place is worth going and not every book is worth learning from. When looking at the political and cultural topics that are showing up in YA today, one wonders whether literature influences the culture or if culture influences literature. They seem to go hand in hand and the path that both are taking can be scary to a conservative Christian parent, teacher, pastor or other influencer of young lives.

All reading should be done with discernment and through the lens of a Biblical worldview. Christian parents and educators alike should take the time to research the books their children read and should build a biblical foundation for these young people. Romans 12:2 reads, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (KJV). John admonishes, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 Jn 4:1). And Paul states, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col 2:8). Each verse is a reminder that God has called the Christian to be wise in consumption of knowledge from the world.

YA literature can be completely honest and completely false all at the same time. Therefore, readers must show discernment and be ever aware of the words of T.S. Eliot, “It is the literature which we read with the least effort that can have the easiest and most insidious influence upon us” (Eliot 204).



Works Cited

Avi. Nothing But the Truth: A Documentary Novel, Orchard Books, 1991.

Collier, James Lincoln and Christopher Collier, My Brother Sam is Dead, Scholastic Inc, 1974.

Dee, Barbara. Halfway Normal. Aladdin, 2017.

Eliot, T. S. “Religion and Literature.” The Christian Imagination, Waterbrook Press, 2002, pp. 197–208.

Hinton, S. E. The Outsiders, Penguin Group, 1995.

The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments. T. Nelson, 1977.

Lowry, Lois, The Giver, Houghton Mifflin, 1993.

Paterson, Katherine, Jacob Have I Loved, Thomas Y Crowell Books, 1980.

Seuss, Dr. I Can Read with My Eyes Shut, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, 1978.

VanderStaay, Steven. “Young-Adult Literature: A Writer Strikes the Genre.” The English Journal, vol. 81, no. 4, 1992, pp. 48–52. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Williams, Imogen Russell. “What Are YA Books? And Who Is Reading Them?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media Limited, 31 July 2014, booksblog/2014/jul/31/ya-books-reads-young-adult-teen-new-adult-books.


Literature and Life

Literature reflects life and reading literature from a specific time gives one a picture of the traditions, values, and morality of the society in that time. Through the literature of a variety of past societies, one can see an underlying connection. God created humankind for a relationship with Him, therefore a society’s writings will either reflect the benefits of that relationship or the consequences of no relationship with him.

In early American literature, the Puritans are deeply saturated in God’s Word. John Winthrop reflects this as he strives for community according to God’s principles. It makes sense then, that he encourages the ideal to live with both justice and mercy, which reflects God’s character. For Winthrop, justice and mercy go hand in hand and his beliefs are taken straight from the Bible. He believes it should be motivated by love, not duty and writes, “So the way to draw men to works of mercy, is not by force of argument from the goodness or necessity of the work; …but by framing these affections of love in the heart which will as natively bring forth the other, as any cause doth produce effect” (Winthrop 109). Living by example results in a community that dwells together with justice and mercy. Winthrop’s focus is Micah 6:8 which says, “to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God” (KJV). He explains, “For this end, we must be knit together in this work as one man” (115). Love fulfills the law and best reflects a relationship with God.

Jonathan Edwards also reflects a deep relationship with God that covers both justice and mercy. His sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” focuses on God’s justice, and also shows mercy through the restraining hand of God. Edwards states, “If God should withdraw his hand, by which they are restrained… hell opens its mouth wide to receive them; and if God should permit it, they would be hastily swallowed up and lost” (Edwards 280), and “There is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up” (285). God restrains sin and punishment because of his patience and mercy. His listeners and future readers are reminded, “here you are in the land of the living and in the house of God, and have an opportunity to obtain salvation” (290). Edwards goes on to say, “And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him and pressing into the kingdom of God” (290). God’s mercy gives mankind the chance to repent, turn from their sin, and enter relationship with God.

The transition from the time and writings of the Puritans into philosophical writing shows that society is moving from relationship with God to focus on relationship with self. Ralph Waldo Emerson has an unhealthy faith in self and man and seems to forget that man’s wisdom, knowledge, abilities comes from God. Emerson writes, “That there is One Man… that you must take the whole society to find the whole man. Man … is all” (Emerson 626). Without Scripture and the basis of God, there is no understanding that God created man for relationship with Him and with each other, to need community, and to find wholeness only in Him. Emerson shows his twisted beliefs about God and man when he states, “What is nature to him? There is never a beginning, there is never an end, to the inexplicable continuity of this web of God, but always circular power returning into itself” (627). Nature and creation, and therefore man, has no beginning or end. The power of man is to transcend into a god himself, in man’s own strength and abilities.

Following this philosophy does not result in the improvement of mankind, but instead is reflected in Herman Melville’s philosophy of man; the state of man is altogether hopeless. In his novel, “Bartleby the Scrivener,” Melville shares that Bartleby was shaped by life experiences and could choose no other path, “Conceive a man by nature and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessness, can any business seem more fitted to heighten it …?” (Melville 1093). Bartleby’s birth and life experiences result in a man of no emotion, no hope, and a lonely death. In addition, the lawyer sees no good in himself and comes to the conclusion that man is “predestinated from eternity … for some mysterious purpose of an all-wise Providence” (1086). Melville sees little opportunity for change or growth in mankind. This hopelessness shows his belief that mankind is destined to a life of complacency and boredom, a life without relationship with God, a life without purpose.

God created man with a longing for Him, a longing for more. In the period of the Publicists, William Cullen Bryant and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow each express this longing, but with different worldviews. Bryant finds a deep connection with nature, but fails to connect with the Creator of said nature. When Bryant states that nature “speaks a various language” (535), a Christian knows that God has revealed himself to mankind through nature and that man finds life in this connection to God. It appears that Bryant never came to this conclusion because he ends with death simply being sleep with pleasant dreams. There is no hope for life eternal or a relationship with God that transcends understanding. Longfellow, on the other hand, feels a deep connection to God in his soul. He realizes that his soul matters in the long run, and in “A Psalm of Life” he focuses on life and art and time, and how it is all connected through one’s soul. Longfellow writes, “Life is real! Life is earnest! / And the grave is not its goal; / Dust thou art, to dust returnest, / Was not spoken of the soul” (5-8). His admonition to work hard, “Let us, then, be up and doing, / With a heart for any fate; / Till achieving, still pursuing, / Learn to labor and to wait” (33-36), is not about gaining all you can while on this earth, but about walking in wisdom, redeeming the time, doing good for the soul’s benefit. In other words, it is about laying up treasure on heaven and not on earth.

A discerning reader should filter literature through the lens of Scripture and see that the values of a particular society are reflected in their writings. God created mankind for relationship and that is expressed through story.


Works Cited

Bryant, William Cullen. “Thanatopsis.” American Literature. American Literature, Edited by William E. Cain, 2nd ed., vol. 1, Pearson Education, Inc, New York, 2014, pp.  535-37.

Edwards, Jonathan. “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God.” American Literature, Edited by William E. Cain, 2nd ed., vol. 1, Pearson Education, Inc, New York, 2014, pp. 278-91.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “The American Scholar.” American Literature, Edited by William E. Cain, 2nd ed., vol. 1, Pearson Education, Inc, New York, 2014, pp. 626-41.

The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments: Authorized King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001.

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. “A Psalm of Life.” American Literature, Edited by William E. Cain, 2nd ed., vol. 1, Pearson Education, Inc, New York, 2014, pp. 711-12.

Melville, Herman. “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street.” American Literature, Edited by William E. Cain, 2nd ed., vol. 1, Pearson Education, Inc, New York, 2014, pp. 1064-93.

Winthrop, John. “A Model of Christian Charity.” American Literature, Edited by William E. Cain, 2nd ed., vol. 1, Pearson Education, Inc, New York, 2014, pp. 103–116.