Young Adult Literature: Major Works & Their Cultural Impact

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Young adult literature is designed to appeal to young readers. This lesson will discuss some major works of young adult literature along with their cultural impact. We will end with a brief quiz to see what you have learned.

What Is Young Adult Literature?

Think about the books you read in middle school. How did they compare to the books you read in high school or even college? More than likely, the characters and events that you found interesting in the books changed as you got older. This is because most readers want to be able to relate to the characters or stories in some personal way. Being able to understand the experience of the character makes the book more interesting and engaging, doesn't it?

Young adult literature is a genre of writing that is designed to appeal to individuals who are between the ages of 12-18. However, many readers, no matter their age, find young adult literature appealing due to its content.

Young adult literature usually features adolescent characters who face some immense societal or cultural struggle or challenge. The stories presented in this genre are very relatable to readers of this age group because adolescence, a time that marks the transition from childhood to adulthood, and young adulthood are times of great change and growth for most people. In other words, young readers see themselves in the characters and events depicted in young adult literature.

This intense connection to the material resonates deeply with readers and can often spark change in their lives and in the societies in which they live. For example, the Harry Potter series of books by J. K. Rowling center around a young wizard who must constantly negotiate good versus evil. This contemporary series has blossomed into a subculture of Harry Potterisms within society that include conferences, sporting events, and even a theme park with a land dedicated to the events, characters and places presented in Rowling's series.

Now that we have a solid grasp on what young adult literature is and how it can impact culture, let's take a closer look at specific works that have done just that.

Major Works and Their Cultural Impact

Earlier in the lesson, we mentioned the Harry Potter series of books as examples of young adult literature that resonated with readers and impacted their culture. Now let's focus on four classic works that have also made a profound impact on young readers and society at large.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain was published in 1885. This novel follows Huck, the teenaged main character, on his adventures and misadventures along the Mississippi River. Twain's controversial work made its mark by tapping into racist themes, attitudes, and culture of the time.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

Anne Frank was a young girl of just 13 when she went into hiding with her family in Amsterdam in 1942. As individuals of Jewish descent, Anne and her family were targets of Adolf Hitler under his reign in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. This haunting diary sheds light on the human side of these horrific events through a view of Anne's feelings, emotions, and adolescent desires. The cultural impact of this work that was published in 1947 will likely resonate for eternity as we continue to face war and oppression throughout the world.

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