A Revolution in Reading for Coming of Age
by Bonnie Calhoun
Young Adult (YA) fiction is the important link bridging the reading desert between childhood and adulthood. Until the last couple of years, the gap between middle grade readers and adult readers lay devoid of relevant characters and situations that teenagers, dangling their toes over the edges of the adulthood pond, could enjoy without jumping headlong into the waters of adult fiction.
Young adults today are much more media savvy than past generations and, therefore, more inclined to read. And they’ve developed a voracious appetite for fiction—fantasy fiction, science fiction, romantic fiction, dystopian fiction, practically any genre of fiction when the characters are easily identifiable as themselves.
Young adults really do understand the world we live in. What do the young adults see? What do they feel?
On a daily basis, one half of our country is screaming at the other half. People bemoan the end of civilization as we know it because others won’t subscribe to their form of understanding…and people are dying! People are dying from violence, hunger, wars, disease…and even from their own hands. Sadly teen suicide has seen an upsurge from young people who see little cause for hope. They see no one dealing with their kind of problems, and no amount of adult cajoling can bring them out of this malaise.
As my grandmother used to say, “Little ears gather as much sound as half gallon pitchers.” Children are not immune to the state of our world; and most of the time, they heap more problems on their own shoulders than necessary. That’s where YA fiction has entered the conversation.
YA fiction today has crossed into the themes of realism, focusing on the trials of youth and the things that are imprinted on their lives—teen suicide, bullying, just not being good enough—all the things that deflate young spirits. The most recent runaway hit in YA fiction, which garnered a film adaptation to go along with the book, has been The Fault in Our Stars. It is a dramatic and phenomenally profound story of teens with cancer learning to live and love with one foot in the grave. There are not enough adjectives to describe how this YA fiction has affected its readers, challenging the writers of YA fiction to give youth the proper tools to deal with life.
A conversation about Young Adult literature would not be complete without expounding on the fact that each generation has its own dystopian treasures.
Now granted, dystopian novels are not normally for the faint of heart. Why? Because they touch on the real side of life, the gritty everyday, read the horrors of the news, and see the triumphs of the human spirit. They are not the sugar-coated fairytales of romance stories, or the soft side of Amish or historical living. They are not fiction written the way we wish life existed. Dystopians portray life as it is and can be if we continue on certain paths, warts and all.
Lord of the Flies is a 1954 YA dystopian about a group of boys from Britain who are stranded on a deserted island and try to govern themselves, with some of the results bordering on disastrous. It also has several film adaptations. Fahrenheit 451 is a 1953 novel by Ray Bradbury where books are outlawed and burned at will. I remember as a youth thinking it was so much science fiction, that we could never get to such a time. I could never have imagined times such as we have now.
The 1970’s brought us Logan’s Run, Soylent Green (my personal favorite), and Mad Max. While the 1980’s brought The Running Man by Stephen King using the pseudonym of Richard Bachman, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card that has recently enjoyed a resurgence with the movie adaptation. The 1990’s brought The Children of Men by P.D. James, The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, and The Giver by Lois Lowry (which is also seeing a resurgence in both the books and the film adaptation with Jeff Bridges).
But the hottest and latest series are the Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and the Divergent series which have all garnered film adaptations. Why do these books touch the heart of our youth? Because they offer hope on the other side of adversity. Yes, they are gritty and sometimes violent…but so is the world we live in.
You figure most dystopian literature hinges on some kind of totalitarian life or society that has suffered a total collapse. Youth look at our world today and generally think we are doomed. The one thing I can emphatically say about each and every dystopian book or movie adaptation is that they offer that kernel of hope. To young adults, that hope is what springs eternal in the soul, what lights the fire to push them onward.
Dystopians don’t have cardboard heroes that ride off into the sunset. They have broken battered people who have learned to survive and overcome the circumstances and impediments thrown their way. They deal with an exploration of the human condition. Where is our humanity? How far are we willing to go to protect it? Reading dystopian literature can instill powerful lessons of morality and respect for technology and human life. But the better take away is that we’re fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). No weapons formed against us can prosper (Isaiah 54:17).
Whether it is a straightforward story, or an allegory, there needs to be hope in the darkness, spoken in the language our children understand and speak. I pray that all YA fiction will supply that speck of light to illuminate the dark places, because we know whom that light will lead to…Jesus Christ.
Bonnie S. Calhoun is Owner/Director of Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, owner/publisher of Christian Fiction Online Magazine, Northeast Zone Director for American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), and the ACFW ‘2011 Mentor of the Year.”
She loves to write, but it doesn’t make her happy unless there are the three B’s…body count, blood, or blowing things up. She also has mad skills at coding HTML and website design. And she lives in a log cabin in the woods with fifteen acres and a pond full of bass, though she’d rather buy fish at the grocery store. Bonnie shares her domain with a husband, a dog, and two cats, all of whom think she’s wait staff!
Her latest YA Dystopian series with Revell is Stone Braide Chronicles. The first book is Thunder, published in Oct 2014. There is also a digital prequel to the series titled Tremors.
Her sites are:
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