In my recent post, Summer Reading Suggestions for Boys, several people responded with questions about finding adult literature for their teenage boys to read. I came up with some suggestions myself, as did others. And I stand by my position that teens can and should be introduced to adult literature! However, let’s not disregard adolescent lit altogether just yet. 

Adolescent Literature: A Too Often Ignored Category 

Adolescent literature is one category of lit that is often neglected. We all know about Caldecott Award-winning books for young readers, Newbury Award-winning books for elementary school-aged kids, and of course the Pulitzer or National Book Awards for adult literature. As I sat and thought, I could not think of one major award handed out to authors who have written dynamic and interesting young adult fiction. 

Why, exactly, is that?

The Specific Role of Young Adult Literature

Young adult literature plays an important, specific role. The teenage years are unique. Suddenly, young men are inundated with hormones, responsibilities, and knowledge that they never had before. They are in a precarious holding pattern: not quite adult, but not really a kid anymore. 

High school can be a tough place to be. Some thrive, some flounder, some just stick it out until they are able to graduate and be done with it all. (I’m so very glad I’m through with all of that.)
Adult fiction writers are writing to adults. Therefore, often the themes and the storylines are ones that teens can certainly comprehend, but may not relate to because they’re just not there yet.
Adolescent lit writers, on the other hand, write to adolescents. I love this list of teen’s developmental tasks and needs taken from a book Robert J. Havinghurst, entitled Developmental Tasks and Education.  He published the book in 1972; the eight tasks he addresses are relevant 37 years later. Teen issues remain the same, no matter what the decade. These “tasks” are often the major themes that drive the plots in most young adolescent lit:
  • Acquiring more mature social skills.
  • Achieving a masculine or feminine sex role.
  • Accepting the changes in one’s body, using the body effectively, and accepting one’s physique.
  • Achieving emotional independence from parents and other adults.
  • Preparing for sex, marriage, and parenthood.
  • Selecting and preparing for an occupation.
  • Developing a personal ideology and ethical standards.
  • Assuming membership in the larger community.
I just finished the extremely popular book The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Adolescent lit, like adult lit, comes in all sorts of genres. The Hunger Games is a post-apocalyptic tale that would probably fall into the science fiction/ fantasy category. Even though it is a part of this specific genre, it dealt with at least seven of the eight tasks listed above. 
Young adult authors are writing about what teens are interested in. The topics in YA novels are ones that teens can relate to because they may be living it on a day to day basis.
As a female, my experiences with YA lit I’m sure differ than a male’s experiences. I learned A LOT from Judy Blume. Judy helped me through my parent’s divorce (It’s Not the End of the World.) I commiserated with the girl who was last to get her period in the classic Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? One of my favorite books of all time is another YA classic by Katherine Paterson. I empathized with its characters’ intense sibling rivalry in Jacob Have I loved.
Of course, girls are easily enticed by a good YA read. However, the FIRST important book to be classified as YA lit was S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, about a group of… boys.

Bridging the Gap Between Youth and Adulthood 

In the seventies, eighties, and nineties, a bulk of YA lit tended to be “coming of age stories” geared toward a female teen audience. Boys’ interests were left in the dust. Things have definitely turned around.  Publishers are recognizing that boys, too, need books that they can relate to. There are now more and more titles with teen male protagonists who are struggling and facing issues that are directed at the adolescent male teen audience. 

Now, more than ever before, educators are advocating the use of adolescent literature as reading curriculum in the classroom. One book that promotes the distribution of YA lit in schools is entitled From Hinton to Hamlet by Sarah H. Kerz and Donald R. Gallo. In Chapter 2, they write that “YAL has proven to be an effective means to motivate adolescents to read all kinds of literature, including classics. YAL is not a stepchild of the classics or of contemporary literature. Furthermore, if our students want to read, discuss, and write about YAL, don’t their opinions warrant consideration? If we hope to help students become lifetime readers and to help them realize the importance of literature in relation to the complexities of their world, don’t we need to use all the resources available to us?”
YAL can indeed be used as a bridge between teen fiction and classic literature. For instance, the themes from The Hunger Games were most surely inspired by classic stories like Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” or “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell. Connecting themes and discussing other literary devices would come easily when comparing these works.  
Boys already have a higher rate of losing interest in reading when they hit their teen years than girls do. Jumping suddenly from elementary school novels to classic literature can often deter them from reading further. As parents and teachers and librarians, we should definitely educate ourselves about the excellent YA lit options there are out there for the boys in our lives. 
I really enjoyed The Hunger Games. It was one of my most enjoyable reads of the year, and I read a lot. Take the time to delve into some quality adolescent lit.  It may open up doors of communication you didn’t even know existed. 
Some Resources:

Question for Discussion: 

Do you have a favorite YA book directed at male teens? Why is it your favorite? Do you think YA lit has a place in the classroom?


Posted in: Content

{ 14 comments… add one }

  • Nancy Hammerslough

    As a publisher of y-a books(Brown Barn Books),I heartily applaud your web site, and immodestly, would like to recommend three books we’ve published in the past couple of years. All three have had great reviews (from SLJ, et al), but also from boys, from about 10 up.

    THICK by Colin Neenan is an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers and is an edgy, sometimes violent novel about a very good kid in major trouble.

    BAXTER MOON, GALACTIC SCOUT by John Zakour (a sometime writer for Nickolodeon as well as the comic strip “Marmaduke,” is a very funny, quirky sci-fi.

    And LAST CHANCE FOR FIRST, by Tom Hazuka, is about a high school soccer star coping with the sturm und drang of high school.

    I realize this is a barefaced plug for our books, but they’re also pretty valuable. Please take a look at our online catalog ( for more information about these and our other books.

  • Adult Dating Online

    Hey holly I have read your article and it seems quite interesting to me as there is a huge difference between the age of teenager and adult.So they may be behaving in different way.

    Thanks for the article.
    Adult Online Dating Service

  • NicholsonHelene30

    I would like to propose not to hold off until you get enough amount of cash to order goods! You should get the mortgage loans or just commercial loan and feel free

  • Anonymous

    The Outsiders was published about a year and half later while she was in college. In the movie adaption of the book, released in 1983, SE Hinton was the consultant on the film, and she and the director, Francis Ford Coppola made sure the year was evident.Custom Leather Jackets The two movies playing on the outdoor theater, Muscle Beach Party and Beach Blanket Bingo, were made in 1964 and 1965, respectively.

  • Anonymous

    I think considered to be a very prestigious award. Also, the Margaret A. Edwards Award is given health insurance guide as a life-time achievement award to an author of Young Adult literature and their works.

  • Kayme

    Literature on relationships is as needed as dogs need dog tags for dogs.

  • Aussie T

    For young males, I suggest a recent release by Eloquent Books/AEG Publishing in New York entitled Dangerous Days: The Autobiography of a Photojournalist by J. William Turner. It consists of four full-length stories. The main characters are three teen boys who face all sorts of adventures and dangers together over an eleven month period.

  • Christopher

    Australian author Christopher J. Holcroft has written two books specifically to encourage boys to read and be more adventurous outdoors.

    The books are Only The Brave Dare and CANYON and are aimed at boys aged 11-18.

    The third book in the trilogy is A Rite Of Passage and will be published by Christmas 2009.

    The trilogy centres around a Venturer Scout (teen aged 14-18) who becomes the hero a nation wants but something the teen never expected. It deals with the emotions of adventure, being scared, taking risks and looking after your mates.

    The first two books were published by Poseidon Books and can be found at

    The books are ripping yarns teens and adults wll read over and over again.

    Christopher J. Holcroft

  • Anonymous

    Walter DEan Myers is a writer I think of when I want to recommend books for boys. I read “Fallen Angels, Malcolm X,and a few more I can’t remember. Perhaps you could check him out.

  • Martha

    Holly, The Michael L. Printz Award is sponsored by the ALA and given to the best book written for Young Adults each year. It is, I think considered to be a very prestigious award. Also, the Margaret A. Edwards Award is given as a life-time achievement award to an author of Young Adult literature and their works.

  • Amy

    Thank you for this!!!!

  • Holly J

    Thank you for your comment, Martha.  I didn’t say that there weren’t any awards for YA Lit, just that I couldn’t think of any, as I can’t think of any for other genre literature, such as fantasy, science fiction, romance… though I’m know there are plenty.  These awards are obscure to those who are not in the publishing industry or who are not librarians who keep up with these things.  While Caldecott authors receive accolades, YA authors have, in the past, been basically ignored.  This is most likely changing thanks to the popularity of series like Harry Potter and Twilight, but generally, YA awards are just not as widely known as awards given to mainstream literature and children’s literature.

  • millerbookgirl

    Actually the Printz award is quite a biggie these days.  Another place that YA enthusist can look is on their state book site. Most states have state awards in different catagories-informational, childrens, YA…  I live in Utah and we have the Beehive Awards.  Our high school is in on the action of voting for the YA award.  I am sure you would be pleased to know that Hunger Games is in the top 10 (and my personal favorite). Several others that are worth mentioning: Unwind by Neal Shusterman – (If you like Hunger Games, you will love it) It is about a futuristic society that has banished abortion.  BUT…between the ages of 12-18 your parents can have you unwound.  Basically this means you are used for body parts. Great lessons in humanity, survival of the fittest, friendship…..Another one that is fun is Beastly-a retelling of beauty and the beast, told in modern day New York, from the beast’s point of view. 

    A couple of other favorites for boys at our high school are : The Eragon series, The Immortals Trilogy (City of Bones,..of Glass, ..of Fire), The Compound (a truely freaky survival of the fittest) and I do agree about Walter Dean Myers. His books are great. The Hazelwood High Trilogy by Sharon Draper flies off the shelf as well.

    Please keep up the good work and let us know of more for this age as you hear of them.  With budgets so tight, it is great to get recommends on books before spending the money. We are trying to beef up the Non Fiction for the boys as well. Left for Dead by Pete Nelson and Scott Hunter is great!

    Oh, and don’t forget Calvin and Hobbes! They love it! 


    I totally agree with you.
    I have given my boys this book by Hinton, “The Outsiders”, and they became really fond of it. I have downloaded it from torrent search engine

    The novel took place in at least the year 1964. Susan Eloise Hinton was 14 when she started writing it. After about two years of writing the novel, Hinton realized that her work would continue after graduation. Finally, The Outsiders was published about a year and half later while she was in college. In the movie adaption of the book, released in 1983, SE Hinton was the consultant on the film, and she and the director, Francis Ford Coppola made sure the year was evident. The two movies playing on the outdoor theater, Muscle Beach Party and Beach Blanket Bingo, were made in 1964 and 1965, respectively.


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