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Literature for Adolescents
Coming of Age

Literature for Adolescents
  • Barry Lyndon (by )
  • The Turn of the Screw (by )
  • 'Captains Courageous'' (by )
  • Dracula (by )
  • Emma/By Jane Austen (by )
  • Emma/By Jane Austen (by )
  • Heart of Darkness (by )
  • The Time Machine (by )
  • Jane Eyre (by )
  • A Room with a View (by )
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (by )
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom ... (by )
  • The Red Badge of Courage : An Episode of... (by )
  • Lorna Doone (by )
  • Little Women (by )
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Articles discussing children’s literature tend to focus on the under-12 crowd, which leaves a vast swath of teenagers searching for something suitable to read. Writing literature that caters to a teenager’s growing independence yet doesn’t cross the line into adult literature involves a tricky balancing act for authors and those who recommend literature. Treat teens as naive or innocent and they’ll think you’re patronizing and out of touch; however, in most instances those same teens aren’t yet ready for the burdens and complex moral quandaries of adulthood.

Nineteenth century Western society saw a shift away from a tradition of marrying off girls in their early teen years, giving those girls a chance to mature. The burgeoning field of psychology and observant physicians eventually recognized mental and emotional differences between adolescent and mature bodies and brains in both boys and girls. These new discoveries precipitated adolescent literature.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott endures as a popular book for teenage girls, although the author herself considered it boring and vapid. The story takes place in New England and focuses on the lives of four sisters as they mature from innocent--and occasionally rebellious--teenagers to women.

Author Anna Sewell, a Quaker, died shortly after the publication of her famous novel Black Beauty. This story tells the life of a carriage horse and highlights the gaps between social classes in England and focuses strongly on animal welfare.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë captures the moody, headstrong nature that teens live and lets them wallow in their angst. A dark, even depressing novel, it follows a doomed love triangle between genteel teen Catherine and her two swains, Heathcliff and Edgar.

Considered the epitome of 19th century romantic literature, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë tracks the childhood and coming of age of a strong willed orphan who eventually becomes the governess of a gentleman’s daughter and falls in love with that gentleman--who’s already married. This is melodrama at its finest, perfectly suited to teen angst.
Rounding out the 19th century classics is A Room with a View by Edward Morgan. Forster relates the story of a young woman at the turn of the century coming to grips with passion within the constraints of repressed Edwardian society.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain bring a young man’s  humor and adventure with sharp social criticism that remains pertinent today.

Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage of a young soldier dreaming of glory. The story  explores the horror of combat without devolving into an anti-war manifesto. The book undermines the supposed glory of war by focusing on the honor of a single soldier.

Henry James’ novel The Turn of the Screw makes the reader wonder whether this haunting book is a ghost story or the story of a young governess going insane.

Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling testifies to the determination, grit, and spirit of a teenage boy who proves himself aboard a fishing boat with the crew who rescues him.

After nearly two decades of vampire television series and movies, one might fear that vampires have gone out of style. Fear not. Teens remain enamored of the paranormal and no one caters to that as well as the original, Dracula by Bram Stoker.
Returning to the timeless themes of class, romance, and self-awareness and imbued with the author’s famous wit, Emma (vols. I and II) by Jane Austen relates the tale of a young gentlewoman who fancies herself a matchmaker.

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness explores the parameters of sanity and madness as the civilized explorers turn the Congo into a horrifying nightmare. The novella traces the main character’s childhood fascination with “blank spaces” on the map to his adult horror.

H. G. Wells anticipates today’s medical miracles and ethical conundrums in The Island of Dr. Moreau with this horrifying tale of human-animal hybrids created by a mad scientist. His book The Time Machine still disturbs readers with the consequences of a time traveler’s machinations.

Sort of a more modern version of Shakespeare’s doomed lovers in Romeo and Juliet, R. D. Blackmoore’s novel Lorna Doone puts together the daughter of a once-noble family with a farmer who father was murdered by the Lorna’s grandfather.

In Barry Lyndon, author William Makepeace Thackeray reveals the foibles and and failings of a social climber who seeks to purchase himself an English title. Young adults can relate to the main character’s desire for acceptance into the society of those who are popular, powerful, and influential.

By Karen M. Smith

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