Teen fiction go!

I’ve discovered a disappointing truth about myself.


teen fiction display at a bookstore

A teen fiction display at Barnes & Noble and a lady walking by.

Go ahead, judge me. I deserve it. But it remains a fact that I’m drawn to the roller coaster of emotions as bildungsromans and world-questioning and budding relationships that is the world of teen fiction. There’s something that makes teen fiction easy to sink into. It evokes a whirlwind of lively emotions and often vents frustration of the flaws of the world and people around us. Every person – whether they figure this out when they’re a teen or earlier or later – has to go through a process of figuring out what matters to them and what their contribution to the world will be. The world does have problems – big ones. We need teens to recognize the world’s flaws and realize their personal potential to work to fix them.

Teen fiction posits that teens know best. Look at Hunger Games – Katniss fights back against society and inspires the benumbed adults to foment a real revolution for change. Look at Divergent – Beatrice isn’t categorized into one of the 5 factions (reminiscent of the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter, anyone?) so she aids a rebellion against the adults’ societal structure. Ally Condrie’s “Matched” series has a young gal named Cassia and her pal Ky to resist the sordid practice of the government deciding who was to marry whom based on statistics. In the “I Am Number Four” series, John is one of a handful of teens endowed with special abilities who secretly battle against aliens infiltrating the earth.

What themes do you see in those examples?

  • resistance/rebellion/uprising against societal structure
  • teens know more or can do more than the adults who are stuck in their ways

No doubt there are more themes out there, and also there are teen fiction books that break the mold. But these themes are present in the books that are tip-top of the reading charts right now.

And they aren’t new – when I was a teen, the Animorphs series was hot hot hot. I read as many as I could, voraciously absorbing the battles and drama between teens with secret abilities to change into animals to defeat an insidious alien race. Even earlier and in the non-sci fi genre, the Nancy Drew series inspired teen gals to take charge of murder investigations and scoop the adult detectives. Harriet the Spy worked much the same way.

But there’s a core theme throughout recent mainstream teen fiction which I struggle to reconcile with my own worldview. Something’s changed with teen fiction, especially in the sci fi/fantasy arena. It’s become epic. Teens must now destroy society to fix its flaws rather than working within its confines.


What is it with teen fiction feeling the need to destroy society in order to fix it?

Why aren’t there teen books out there that seek to improve society through its channels, rather than overturning the entire kit and kaboodle?

In high school and college, I was inspired by kids my age who got involved in political campaigns. Kids who worked with nonprofits to go overseas and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, preach to the hopeless. These are kids who were actively working on solutions THROUGH society, rather than wrecking society in order to fix it.

Do we really need to teach teens through literature that the only way to fix society is to destroy it and rebuild? Are there teen fiction books out there about remodeling the current structure by collaboration and building upon the wisdom of other generations?

Nancy Drew mostly worked within society, as did Harriet the Spy. But lately, the teen heroes and heroines, the Johns-Cassias-Katnisses-Beatrices and others, must topple the government in order to resolve its issues. In short, this says that the government is so corrupt and malformed that it must be entirely obliterated.


Could this mostly be an American issue?

In its roots, our nation has celebrated the power of the people to change their government. The thirteen colonies revolted against English rule to establish their own rights to make or modify or break their own societal rules. Over time, individuals in the government have reworked and rewritten and re-interpreted the rules to (ideally) support and prosper American citizens.

We’ve got a framework that has worked since 1776. But in light of recent disastrous issues, such as the looming danger of insolvency and extremely low participation in politics, are we discovering that the framework is hopelessly broken or in need of repair?

Is teen fiction a reflection of a widespread concern over our government’s ability to function? Can we fix it within its current structure, or do we wipe the slate clean?

My personal feeling is that we ought to work with what we’re given, recognizing that our government is doing some things right. I’d like to see some teen fiction that works along the same lines with the fictional societies that are there. Because otherwise, we’ll have a whole crop of teens who were weaned on revolutionary, anarchist attitudes. 


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