Young Adult Literature: YA Boundary Breakers and Makers Author(s): Chris Crowe Reviewed work(s): Source: The English

Journal, Vol. 91, No. 6 (Jul., 2002), pp. 116-118 Published by: National Council of Teachers of English Stable URL: . Accessed: 09/01/2013 16:52
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Young Adult Literature

Vincent van Gogh. Pablo Picasso. Georgia O'Keefe. Jackson Pollock. Andy Warhol. These painters, all incredibly famous now, were at one time on the fringe of the art world, creating their own kind of art, work that pushed back the boundaries of artistic conventions, broke traditional rules, and produced paintingsthat redefined "art." Their paintings are so well known now that it's easy to take for granted the impact these artistshad on the artworld, but their challenges to existing standardsand forms have had a lasting impact on modem art. Young adult literature has also had its share of people who have stretched-and brokentraditional boundaries of literature for children and adolescents, and their contributions have been instrumental in creating and shaping what we today know as young adult literature. It would be impossible to mention everyone who has had a significant effect on YAliterature,but I'm going to review a few of those people who are most familiar to me. Consider this article a starting point for a discussion or study of the foundations of YA literature. Then on your own you can fill in the gaps I've left unfilled and the names I've left unmentioned. Though I cannot bear to read the novel, I have to admit that Louisa May Alcott'sLittle Women (1868) had an immediate and lasting effect on books for young readers. Her story about the March girls appealed to teenage readers of her day and continues to interest many modern young adults. Of course there were popular novels before Little Women, but its success alerted publishers to the market power of books for young women. In the same year, Horatio Alger published Ragged Dick (1868), the first of his "ragsto riches"stories. Alger's novels would never reach the level of literary acceptance of Little Women, but the sheer volume of

his work made a lasting impression on young American boys in the late nineteenth century and on the publisherswho had discovered teen boys-and their parents-as a viable market. Near the end of the nineteenth century, Edward Stratemeyer published the first of his juvenile books, and its success eventually led to the Stratemeyer Literary Syndicate, which produced hundreds of novels and series books, including the Rover Boys, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, and the Hardy Boys over the next several decades. The books of Alcott, Alger, and Stratemeyer rubbed against some of the literarystandards of their time, but their popularity pounded a wedge into the wall of Literature, creating a permanent opening for writers who would follow them. The StratemeyerSyndicatechurned out novels popular with young readers but not with their teachers or librarians, and these pulp novels characterized many of the books for teenagers published in the early twentieth century. At the time, most authors and publishers of juvenile novels were more interested in selling books than in creating works of lasting literary quality. In 1938, however, the field took a step awayfrom its pulpy foundation with John R. Tunis'sIron Duke. Tunis was one of the first writers for young readers to successfully combine the elements of effective storytelling with good writing. His sports novels raised the literarystandardfor the writers of juvenile novels who would follow him. It was also in the 1930s that Dora V. Smith, a professor at the University of Minnesota, launched the idea of separatingbooks for teenagers from books for children. Her classes were the first adolescent literature courses taught in the United States. Smith's protege, G. Robert Carlsen, continued the tradition of teaching adolescent literature and in 1967 published Books and the Teen-Age Reader, one of the earliest books to focus on the interests of young adult readersand the literaturethat was most likelyto benefit them. Kenneth L. Donelson and Alleen Pace Nilsen, both former students of Carlsen, further solidified the study of adolescent literature with the publication of Literaturefor Today'sAdolescents in 1980. Their textbook,widely used in universityyoung adult literaturecourses, is now retitled Literature for Today'sYoungAdults and is in its sixth edition. S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders (1967) blew open the field. Hinton's remarkable narrativevoice capturedthe imaginationof millions of teenage readers and helped to establish the publishing category of adolescent literature.This debut novel, written by


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a teenagerforteenagers,is stillthe standard against whichmostyoungadultnovelsarejudged,andafter 1967 nearlyall major realizedthatignorpublishers wouldbe a costlymistake. In my ingteenagereaders YAliterature classes,I tell my studentsthatcontemYAliterature porary beganwith TheOutsiders.

It was also in the 1930s that Dora V. Smith, a professor at the University of Minnesota, launched the idea of separating books for teenagers from books for children.
AfterHintonhelpedto drawthe boundaries of the YAliteraturefield, a number of important booksfollowedthat expandedthose boundaries by introducinggenres adaptedto young adults.The success of Stephen Dunning'sedited collectionof on a Giftof Waterpoetryforteenagers,Reflections melon Pickle (1967), established a long-overdue niche for YA poetry. R. R. Knudson'sZanballer bookforteenagersthat (1972)wasthe firstmodemrn featureda female athleteas a protagonist. In 1974, Sandra Hardto Hear ScoppetonepublishedTrying with hoYou,a YAproblemnovelthatdealtfrankly Robin mophobia. Beauty (1978), McKinley'sreof and the Beast,"opened the door telling "Beauty forlaterYArevisions of classicfairytales.DonaldR. Gallopushed YAshortfictioninto the spotlightin 1984withhis Sixteen: ShortStoriesby Outstanding Writers Adults.In 1986,ArtSpiegelman's for Young Maus:A Survivor's Story introducedmanyyoung adultsand theirteachersto graphicnovels.Russell Freedman's Lincoln: A Photobiography (1987),won the 1988 Newbery Medaland remindedteachers, andreaders thatnonfiction is a legitimate librarians, form. Adults: From Nonfictionfor Young literary to Wisdom (1990) by Betty Carter and Delight RichardAbrahamson furtherjustifiedthe place of nonfictionin secondary schoolcurricula by making it clearthatteenagersread-and enjoy-nonfiction. Jon Scieszkaand Lane Smith'sThe StinkyCheese Man and OtherFairly StupidTales(1993) pushed

the YAboundariesa little wider by demonstrating that sophisticated and creativepicturebooksaren't just for children. The boundariesof a YAnovel'sform have alsobeen redefinedin recentyears.Virginia Euwer Wolff'sMakeLemonade(1993) breaksthe lines of the text into a formthat resemblespoetry,and it is calledpoetry,even thoughit'snot. Wolff frequently went against prose narrativetraditionwhen she chose to present the lines in a way that mimicked the rhythmof her narrator's voice. KarenHesse's Out ofthe Dust (1997),winnerof the 1998Newbery Medal,is a YAnovelwrittenin freeverse,effectively the literary tradition thatdefinesnovels challenging as prose narratives. WalterDean Myers's Monster Association's (1999),winnerof the American Library first PrintzAwardin 2000, pushed boundariesof the YAnovel formeven further.Myers's storyuses a multigenre blend of two prose forms, the personaljournaland the screenplay,to tell the story of a young man involvedin a murdertrial.Finally, J. K. Rowling's 734-pageHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), moved YAbooks into a new dimension.The heretoforeunimaginable success of all of Rowling's Potterbookshas,of course,brought unprecedentedattentionto booksfor childrenand teenagers,but Gobletof Fire will certainlychange the view publishers andwritershavehad of the appropriate length-around 200 pages-for a successful YAnovel. There have been other boundarybreakers and makers. Rudolfo Anaya'sBless Me, Ultinma a powerful, voiceto (1972)brought literary Hispanic
young adult readers. With M. C. Higgins the Great

(1974), VirginiaHamiltonwon the 1975 Newbery Medal,becomingthe firstAfricanAmericanto do so. AsianAmericanliterature had frequentlybeen but Laurence neglected, Yep's 1976 Newbery Honor Book, Dragonwings(1975) createdopportunitiesforAsianAmerican authors in YAliterature. MichaelDorris's Girl Morning (1992) is an important YAnovel because it is written by a Native American about Native Americans and because it was so widely read by American teenagers. John R. Tunis set an early standard for literary quality in books for juveniles; the standard was raised by Robert Cormier in 1974 with The Chocolate War Cormier's deft prose, complex plot, and dark realism elevated his book to something more than the standard problem novel. Bruce Brooks's 1985 Newbery Honor Book, The Moves Make the

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TheScrimmage Fifth Quarter: of a Football Coach'sDaughter, JenniferAllen (RandomHouse memoirabouther life asthe 2000).Allen's engaging of famous football coach George only daughter Allenwasn'twrittenfor a teenageaudience,but YA males and females will relate to the tensions and longingsthat grew out of her difficultrelationship with her father. TheGiftof Reading,DavidBouchard (Orca Books2001).Thisbookis one thatteachers of young adultsshouldread.Bouchard, a formerteacherand now full-time writer,had been a nonreaderas a child, but, thanksto his eighth gradestudents,he became an avid readerand an activepromoterof reading.This book presents Bouchard's personal journey from nonreaderto reader and provides on how to promotereading. plentyof suggestions Discoveries: New or Overlooked YABooks Kevin Brooks (The Chicken Martyn Pig, Worth Reading House/Scholastic 2002). When fifteen-year-old Testa Maria (Candlewick Becoming Joe DiMaggio, MartynPig's abusive, alcoholic father dies accilinkedpoems,thisversenovel dentally,Martyndecides, with the help of a good2002).In twenty-four tells the storyof a youngItalianAmerican death boy,Joe lookingneighborgirl,to concealhis father's aunt.The Paul, growingup in the yearsimmediatelybefore ratherthanbe sentto livewith a dreadful WarII.JoeDiMaggio andafterWorld andJoePaul's twisting,surprising a is plot delight. grandfather providesteadyrole modelsfor him. SavingJasey, Diane Tullson (Orca Books Before Wings, Beth Goobie (Orca Books 2002).Becauseof his rottenhomelife, Gavin spends Adrian a brain most of his time with the familyof his best friend, has survived 2001). Fifteen-year-old burdenedby the Trist.Severalmembersof Trist's but is now emotionally familysufferfrom aneurysm keenawareness of herown,perhaps morwith imminent, Huntington'sdisease, tragic results. When In an effortto breakher free fromher depres- Jasey, Trist's oldersisterandthe objectof Gavin's aftality. sion, her parentssend Adrianto workat her aunt's fection,beginsto fearthatshe mighthaveinherited summercamp,where she discovers love and some the disease,shebeginsto actoutin destructive ways. secretsabouther aunt.Thisis a poignant Streets of Gold, Marie Raphael (Persea coming-ofBooks 2001). In 1901, the Bolinshi familyleaves age novelwith a touch of fantasy. TheBooksofFell, M. E. Kerr(HarperCollins Polandfor whatthey expectwill be a better life in Fell mystery America. threewonderful When they arriveat Ellis Island,the fam2001).Here areKerr's novelsin a singlevolume.JohnFell is a teenageprep ily'syoungest daughteris denied entranceto the United States,so she andher parentsreturnto Euschool student turned amateurdetective in these YA andher olderbrother, and Stefan, entertaining mysteries. rope,leavingMarisia lively thoroughly in start New Yorkalone. Leavitt Deer to their lives The Dollmage,Martine (Red Press2001).In thisfantasy This Side of Paradise, Steven L. Layne novel,the wise personof the communityis called the Dollmage, a woman (NorthStarBooks2001). In this YAversionof The is movedfromhis realwho is ableto influenceandprotectthe lives of vilWives,JackBarrett Stepford comlife to a world her wants to dolls. "perfect" corporate juniorhigh lagersthrough YoungAnnakey his father's be the next Dollmage,but someone else has been munity owned by Eden Corporation, in he discovers lands Once chosen. When their village is threatenedby outParadise, employer. Jack siders,it'scrucialthatthe correctdecisionbe made. thatevil lies beneathEden'sperfectsurface.

Man (1984) reinforcedCormier's literarystandard with a storythatboth rewards and challengesgood YAreaders.And FrancescaLia Block's WeetzieBat a introduced (1989) compressedlyricqualityto YA aren't the These prose. only fine writersin the YA business,but their firstnovels in the field showed readersand other writersthe positive effects that careful,polished, sophisticatedwritinghave on a good story. Like adultliterature, YAliterature will continue to evolveandimprove,but regardless of how the field developsin the future,it will always owe a debt of gratitudeto the influenceprovidedby the makers andboundary breakers of litearlyboundary eraturefor teenagers.


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