Presentation on theme: "Coming of Age, Then and Now: The Truth Remains the Same The foundation for all good YA literature is honesty about the identity crisis of the teen years."— Presentation transcript:
Coming of Age, Then and Now: The Truth Remains the Same The foundation for all good YA literature is honesty about the identity crisis of the teen years. What about the identity crisis theme has evolved, and what about the search is a constant?
Presented by Moderator: Lee Ann Spillane Panelists: Selene Castrovilla Shannon Delany Beth Fehlbaum Ellen Hopkins Christine Kohler Jeri Smith-Ready
"These themes are intrinsic to human nature, and if we're writing the truth of the contemporary teen landscape, there is no way to avoid them. Instead, it behooves us to represent them well." --Ellen Hopkins We will attempt to answer the question, “What about the identity crisis theme has evolved, and what about the search is a constant?” by discussing classic and present-day YA novels and considering them in the context of The Search for Self and Significance and Alienation/Mistrust and the Desire to Belong
The Search for Self and Significance: The Catcher in the Rye Holden has a Savior Complex but he cannot save himself. He feels lost. He experienced loss and death through his brother but has not experienced grief in a healthy way. He continually seeks connections with people, only to push them away. Holden experiences the quintessential adolescent identity crisis, which asks the question whether we define our selves according to the way others see us or according to some self we are trying so hard to build from inside. He vacillates between the two extremes, constantly searching for companionship while simultaneously rejecting or denigrating those who offer it.
The Search for Self and Significance: The Outsiders Pony is trying to figure out where he fits. He’s in a greaser gang, but he doesn’t see himself as a hood or a thief or a murderer. He tries to figure out social order in economic class, educational differences, expressed in clothing styles and justice/injustice. He wonders how he will fit into society on a larger scale, and later in life. Ponyboy’s identity crisis is more thoughtful and less reflexive than Holden’s. Even as he’s learning/defining who he is as an individual, he’s extremely other-oriented and focused on the needs of the group and his family (“family” is a very porous concept for him, since he’s closer to several of his non-blood brothers than he is to Darry). Perhaps because of his economic situation, he’s exquisitely aware of human interdependence; whereas Holden seems to still believe he can be an island unto himself.
The Search for Self and Significance: Speak Melinda Sordina hides in the school closet, cutting herself off from her peers. She can’t face them, and can’t face herself because she can’t face what happened to her. Through art, Melinda discovers her place in a larger context, one that might last through her lifetime.
The Search for Self and Significance: You Don’t Know Me John not only has a very low opinion of himself—he believes his dad named him after a toilet—but he doesn’t believe anyone else could possibly know him either. He sabotages efforts for people to get to know him by not speaking up and thinking negative imaginations about people. Music helps him see what he could become, do in a larger social setting and long-term.
The Search for Self and Significance: The 13 to Life Series Jessie struggles after the death of her mother to find and define herself in ways her mother valued (like by being tremendously forgiving—perhaps to a fault) and not losing herself by being completely lost as a result of her growing relationship with the intriguing new boy, Pietr. Pietr is trying to find himself and come to terms with his own transformation and evolution in a frequently more literal way as he is a werewolf.
The Search for Self and Significance: The Weather Witch Series In the Weather Witch series Jordan and Rowen are pulled quickly out of their comfortable and established settings and thrown into situations where their search for self is forced (because they would have been content to be stagnant if so allowed). Jordan is forced to become a Weather Witch through brutal means and must come into her own powers (magickally and personality-wise) in order to not only survive but also hold onto some shred of sanity. Rowen, an unlikely hero, struggles to decide if he can survive a heroic journey (and a journey of self-discovery) or if he is better off remaining the reluctantly obedient son of an overbearing mother.
The Search for Self and Significance: Ellen Hopkins’ Books Every single one of my books has one or more characters searching for self, from Pattyn in BURNED, who is looking to define herself beyond gender, to Kaeleigh in IDENTICAL, who has lost her personal identity to the inner ghost of her twin sister. But every teen is searching for self in one way or another, so why wouldn't every well- written teen character be solidly on this journey? Significance? We find that in our sense of self, don't we? PERFECT probably explores this best, wrapped within the overpowering need to please someone else, regardless of the ultimate cost. An artificial "perfection" doesn't make a person significant, but that's hard to see when your window of perspective is narrow.
The Search for Self and Significance: No Surrender Soldier Kiko is reluctant to grow up. He likes going to the beach with his friends, fishing, reef-walking for seafood, treating livestock like pets, playing baseball. But responsibilities are thrust on him— helping out at the family tourist shop, taking care of his grandfather with dementia, slaughtering the pig for fiesta. Kiko finds his way into the larger community, sees himself growing up and running the family business; taking his place as the one to raise and slaughter the sacrificial pig for fiesta to celebrate his brother’s homecoming; keeping the light/homefire burning till his brother comes home; becoming a worthy man spiritually and in the Church; behaving like a gentleman respectful to women and treating them all as he would Madre Maria.
The Search for Self and Significance: Big Fat Disaster Colby sees herself as others do: as just "The Fat Girl." She must learn that she is more--and that even when others cannot love us as we need them to, we can still survive.
The Search for Self and Significance: This Side of Salvation David travels through several stages of identity building during his adolescence, the years of which coincide with his mourning his older brother’s death in Afghanistan. First he acts out with violence and vandalism. Then when his family joins a new church, he becomes the good boy, the reformed sinner. When that turns sour as his parents become involved with an End Times cult, David is forced to define himself in a more nuanced way. He’s no longer the bad boy or the good boy, but just a boy, one who finds it harder and harder to keep his parents happy without hurting his own future.
Consider this… The teen-age search for self never changes. Is Romeo killing Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet all that different Johnny stabbing Bob in The Outsiders? Both Romeo and Johnny have been pushed into the role of killer as a result of their crisis of identity and desire to fit in. Both boys are forced to “prove themselves” and both are filled with guilt. Older versions of these boys would’ve acted differently under these circumstances, but this is a crisis in coming of age themed stories: the desire to belong, and therefore find one’s place outweighs reason and good judgment.
Alienation/Mistrust and the Desire to Belong: The Catcher in the Rye The quintessential teen novel about alienation and the desire to belong. Holden literally and mentally journeys from location to location looking for connection and honesty. Holden sees the world as filled with phonies (even his brother, D.B.), with the exceptions of his sister, Phoebe, who represents the pure innocence of youth to Holden, and his brother, Allie, who is dead. In his search for connection to others, he pushes people away and drinks to anesthesize his pain. Holden wears a read hat (his siblings had red hair); he smokes as his mother does, and no matter how lame or boring he claims the clubs or movie theaters are, he goes to be with people. He's joined a fraternity.
Alienation/Mistrust and the Desire to Belong: The Outsiders The desire to fit in is painfully exhibited here, with horrible consequences. The greasers feel alienated in school and in society. Ponyboy sits with Cherry at the movies even though she is a Soc. Ponyboy’s alienation is more with society at large, rather than those around him. But his triumphant moment at the end is his attempt to forge a connection between that larger society and his small segment of it, by making people understand what they go through.
Alienation/Mistrust and the Desire to Belong: Speak Though different in theme, this book could be compared to The Outsiders in that both contain “gangs” (though the ones in Speak are cliques and don’t literally fight, the segregation and resulting desire to fit in somewhere definitely plays heavily. Melinda’s ostracization after calling the police at the party is a direct cause of why she can’t/won’t speak. She feels alienated, is alienated, and alienates herself after the drunken party the summer before this school year. Her classmates are still mad at Melinda for calling the cops on the party without knowing why she did it. It’s interesting how Melinda’s extreme alienation allows her to construct an identity separate from others. She shows no interest in belonging to a group because she knows herself well enough to know she won’t fit in (with the Marthas, for instance). It also gives her a keen eye for details around her, since she’s set herself apart as an uber-observer. But her continued speechlessness, as David points out, is not as empowering as she thinks. She must express her pain, through art and eventually through a real scream that others can hear, before she can begin to grow into herself.
Alienation/Mistrust and the Desire to Belong: Big Fat Disaster Colby Denton does not fit in to her family, which her senatorial candidate father calls "the whole package". Her mom is a former Miss Texas and her sisters are carbon copies of Mom. She finds herself gorging on chocolate cupcakes when life is overwhelming, and life is overwhelming a lot. Colby's struggle is not just with her weight: it is the need to be loved unconditionally.
Alienation/Mistrust and the Desire to Belong: You Don’t Know Me He is alienated in that even when someone acts like a friend, he mentally makes fun of their physical features (nose) or personality quirks or names. He thinks of them as “a friend who is not a friend.” John wants to date the prettiest most popular girl in school, and does eventually go out with her once. (Chapter 7 Torture Island is classic teen angst of insecurity and uncertainty when asking a girl for a date.) John goes to the mall with two guys from school. He saves another guy from the death-question by pointing out that the math teacher made a mistake. He is self-conscious about how he dresses. John also had a desire to belong to an intact family consisting of his mother, his birth father and himself. He created this fantasy of his father coming back to them with a UFO excuse as to why it wasn’t his fault that he had abandoned them and couldn’t return. In Chapter 8 “Father Fantasy” pg. 76 his dad says to John, “Son, you’re now part for the fraternity.” And on Pg. 77 John expresses a desire for his father, as fathers have been doing for centuries, to pass on the secrets of how to become a good man. John’s alienation comes through most insidiously in the way he negates everything in his life by describing them as “X that is not an X.”
Alienation/Mistrust and the Desire to Belong: The 13 to Life Series The 13 to Life series is filled with characters who appear trustworthy until their motives are revealed and their true selves show up. Everyone wants something and fights to get it in the course of the series and a great deal of distrust blossoms as a result. Cliques and popularity are obvious issues in Jessie’s teenage world at Junction High and she identifies herself as an intelligent outsider, though the allure of Derek (her crush of several years) tempts her to conform with what she thinks matters to him. Jessie doesn’t worry about “belonging” except in a way, perhaps, to Pietr.
Alienation/Mistrust and the Desire to Belong: The Weather Witch Series Weather Witch deals heavily with an unfair social strata where people hold power in society based on the jobs they do and the families and alliances they have brokered. The Witches seem at first to exist beyond the normal societal structure until Jordan is forced to become a member of their ranks and realizes they have less freedom than traditionally sold and traded slaves. Mistrust runs deep in Weather Witch as Jordan finds herself in situations with unscrupulous and selfish (or desperate) people who judge her as a pawn. Belonging equates to success in society—everyone has a rank and station from birth and my protagonists are generally comfortable in theirs before the action truly happens.
Alienation/Mistrust and the Desire to Belong: Ellen Hopkins’ Books I think most teens feel like outsiders at some point. If they don't, they probably have an inflated sense of ego most of their peers don't share. TILT, IMPULSE, TRICKS…. all are character studies of kids on the fringe, and it's a place I know well, having been that teen myself. That is every single one of us, no? The CRANK trilogy is centered around Kristina, the geeky straight-A teen who chose the road to hell, all out of the need to belong.
Alienation/Mistrust and the Desire to Belong: This Side of Salvation David’s parents ask him to give up all worldly concerns to get ready for the Rapture, even labeling the final forty days the “Abandoning.” But David balks at giving up his groups of choice--his baseball team, his friends, his classmates--in order to join his parents and their chosen group. David’s sister, Mara, takes the path of indifference and alienation from her family. Out of self-preservation, she disconnects emotionally from her parents, ready to leave them forever the moment she turns eighteen. But when the parents themselves disappear on the night they believe the Rapture will happen, she has to redefine herself as part of a family who needs her.
Alienation/Mistrust and the Desire to Belong: No Surrender Soldier Kiko alienates himself with his silence and sullenness, then in his anger. Kiko wants to stay with his intact family, in fact, that’s partly why he resists changes due to changes within his family (dementia, brother MIA). He wants everything to remain the same, not change. But his desire to be a part of his family even during the roughs times stronger than his desire to disengage. He desires to belong to a team with his male friends, shown through playing baseball even if they are down to only 2 on the team. Kiko desires to have a girlfriend, and some day a family. If not he would disengage and isolate himself by becoming a monk. He desires to belong to his spiritual church family and the overall Guamanian community. He desires to belong to a larger world community by reaching out to the Japanese straggler at the hospital.
We believe… The teenage human condition never changes (which is why all honest YA will always remain relevant), the settings and exterior circumstances do. Technology has entered the picture, big time. It helps (connection) and it hurts (cyber bullying.) For writers it has become more complex to add these things, but the heart of the story has not changed at all. Teens are all about truth, and all good YA stories tell the truth about teens. As our title indicates: The truth remains the same. YA books do not provide answers but open discussion and show us that we are not alone at being alone.
Resources 1 CNN article: A Brief History of Young Adult Literature fiction-evolution/ Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak. ISBN: Selene Castrovilla, Saved By the Music. ISBN: Selene Castrovilla, The Girl Next Door. ISBN:
Resources 2 Shannon Delany, 13 to Life, the first book in the 13 to Life series : ISBN: Shannon Delany, Weather Witch, the first book in the Weather Witch series : ISBN: Beth Fehlbaum, Big Fat Disaster. ISBN: S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders. ISBN:
Resources 3 Ellen Hopkins, Smoke, one of Ellen Hopkins' many best-selling novels : ISBN: David Klass, You Don't Know Me. ISBN: Christine Kohler, No Surrender Soldier. ISBN: J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye. ISBN: Jeri Smith-Ready, This Side of Salvation, ISBN:
Resources 4 Your Presenters’ Websites: Lee Ann Spillane Selene Castrovilla Shannon Delany Beth Fehlbaum Ellen Hopkins Christine Kohler Jeri Smith-Ready