Saturday, April 17, 2010

Monsters, Gods, and Youth Empowerment

I've loved teen fiction for a long time (also labeled as fiction for Young Adult or Young People, depending on the library, bookstore, or publisher in question).  I've been reading books written for teens before I was one, and will most likely continue reading them long after I've left my teenage years behind...

And a couple of days ago, I realized something interesting: in the specific sub-genre of teenage fantasy, the main characters are usually resourceful, very independently capable, yet also able to function well as a part of a group, brave, and just generally a person to respect.

This finally clicked with me after reading a wonderful book this past week, entitled Runemarks, by Joanne Harris.

Our heroine, Maddy, makes no effort to obey the arbitrary rules of her elders, or to follow the norms of the very controlling culture she's born into.  When at age 7, she finds someone she considers to be an appropriate mentor, she demands to be taught how to use her magic, and years later, at age 14, she goes behind the back of that same mentor to go on a dangerous journey in an attempt to save his life.

This book told a great story, but more than that, it was a perfect example of the respect for young people often showed in young adult fantasy fiction.  Not by any means always, but certainly often.  In how many young adult fantasy books do you find the (young) main characters being constantly shadowed and guided by their parents, teachers, or other guardians?  How an Adult Used a Teen As Their Puppet to Save The World wouldn't make a very engaging plot now, would it?

So this leads me to something else: if so many people can happily write about teens as such responsible, strong, and interesting people, and if so many adults can cheerfully buy these books for their teens, and if so many teachers can reccomend them, they must, on some level, realize that real life teens can be just as responsible, and strong, and interesting people as those in books.

Because even when set in the most fantastically unbelievable worlds, all good fiction has a feeling of authenticity to it.  Good fiction has to feel *real*.  If the idea of teens doing such amazing things seemed entirely unathentic, wouldn't people comment on it more?  Wouldn't the sheer impossibility of it turn people off?

I feel like the knowledge, the knowing, is out there, and adults just need to get past that block in their heads that causes them to think that, although *some* teens out there might be capable people,  the real life teens in *their* life certainly aren't!  At least there's lots of great teen fantasy novels out there getting the message out...



  1. i don't think the issue comes from disbelief, myself. i think the issue comes from the false belief that teens can be all these things while also being oppressed, judged, manipulated, condescended to, restricted and generally treated poorly. they want teens to take all of it with a big, fat smile on their face.

  2. I wanted to let you know that I am thrilled to find your blog!! My husband and I are on a journey to learning more about unschooling! It is very inspiring to find your youtube page and your blog!

  3. I've loved reading "teen fiction" for a long time. I think that some books that are categorized as such will be tomorrow's classics. Well written, good story lines and character development make for good reads!