What is the purpose of young adult fiction? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve debated this question with colleagues, discussed it with parents, and pondered it myself. I teach in a world that resides between two very distinct worlds. I teach eighth grade. Eighth graders are not quite high schoolers, but they often loath the middle school label. In a sense, they live in a limbo of sorts. While they are still eighth graders, we focus much of their instruction on high school preparation. The may feel, and rightly so, as though they have one foot in the present and the other in the future. That’s their academic life.
Lonely Hearts Club epitomizes the faith I have in young adult fiction. It contains a slightly older protagonist, high school junior Penny Lane, who almost makes a horrific life decision showing the love of her life exactly how much she loves him, but she recovers to make very thoughtful decisions and learn from the situation. If you had her over for dinner, you would say, “This is the type of young lady I want my daughter to emulate.” But the first fifteen pages might scare you. Don’t be. Read this novel with your son or daughter and discuss the potential ramifications of Penny’s actions. Discuss how one could wind up in a situation like hers. Discuss why she makes all of the right decisions – and how she’s better for them – after almost making one that could have changed her life forever.
Author and teacher Kelly Gallagher (Readicide and Reading Reasonss) calls young adult literature a vicarious rehearsal through which readers are better prepared to face similar circumstances. I couldn’t agree more. We all made mistakes as teens. Our teens will, in all likelihood, make some of the same mistakes. Reading good young adult literature does a better job of playing those mistakes out in realistic situations than our please-don’t-make-the-same-mistakes-I-made discussions could ever do. Novels like this are too valuable to be scared off after 15 pages.