Young Adult (YA) fiction is written for varying age ranges — teenagers, 13--17, 14--21-- the definition changes depending on who you ask (Knickerbocker et al. 3--5). As opposed to a singular genre, YA fiction encompasses the experiences of adolescence and spans a variety of areas. Most prominent among these include science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and romance. Popular topics are subject to the period in which they were published, but generally include coming-of-age, culture, mental health, drug use, and family issues, among others.
In spite of the rise of literature aimed at adolescents over the last decade and the large number of blockbuster films that grew around them, there still remains little consideration for the genre among audiences and writers both. It comes and goes in trends and trendiness, and is a category often given the shortest audience lifespan, where readers often tend to "outgrow" the style and use it as a gateway to more mature writing.
But isn’t there a specific value to writing made just for the most tumultuous years of our lives? Isn’t there something special to finding the unique experiences of adolescence reflected in print?
The young adult genre caters to the singular experience of the search for identity in the development into adulthood. The diverse, respectful, and responsible writing for this audience is made valuable through sheer relevance to the lives of its audience.
Young adult literature belongs in the classroom because it is about the human condition known as adolescence. And young adults, who are in the utter midst of the adolescent chaos, need to know that it is survivable. YA does that.
(qtd. in Roberts)
Literature has always been both a window and a mirror that sees into and reflects individual experiences, a feature of utmost importance for a genre uniquely targeted to such a niche audience. It is a tool by which young adults can form their own personal opinion, find idols and role models, and build values by which they will enter adulthood and citizenship (Knickerbocker et al. 33). Characters in YA literature often tackle the same problems and issues faced by all teenagers, including conflict, challenges, and first love; most prominent and recurring among these themes is the concept of identity.
Readers will note that in the Young Adult genre, and especially those by Indigenous authors, themes surrounding the search for identity are particularly prominent and often recurring. This theme takes place not only in the fiction these audiences might encounter but also in their own lives; YA fiction has the power to speak to the small but struggling readership, and providing these books, especially those written by and for a minority, can give a framework to pass the obstacles on the path into adulthood.
It is important for children and young adults to see themselves in the media they consume; as minorities in real life, on screen and on the page. This importance cannot be overstated for Indigenous people and other under-privileged people around the world. Not only for Aboriginal children but for those of European descent as well, the positive and truthful depiction of Indigenous people and people of all minorities can directly contribute to further knowledge of these groups; this knowledge can lead to understanding, and from understanding to acceptance with an open mind (Groenke & Scherff 95).
For far too long we have seen the effect of negative stereotypes on ethnic and social groups, and media is more often than not to blame for reinforcing these unfavourable depictions. Tropes such as the heroic white lead, his damsel in distress, the noble savage, and the overtly sexualised women of colour are a few of the countless stereotypes which remain in mainstream media to this day, leading to belittled self-esteem in minorities and prejudice within privileged individuals (Metzger et al. 57).
Stories created by Indigenous people can generate genuine and trustworthy portrayals of contemporary and historical minorities, which have in the past been continuously misrepresented. In an attempt to give Indigenous Australians the representation they need and deserve, the Australian Curriculum is working towards addressing two distinct needs in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education:
Those teaching English hope to inspire a love of reading in their students, yet unfortunately it is the age range of young adults out of high school (18-24) which sees the sharpest decline in reading for pleasure. A study by Rycik and Irvin (2005) found that developmental, literary, and social significance were the three factors which resonated with and attracted young adults to literature (in Knickerbocker et al. 30-41).
Research suggests that these background experiences and cultural influences affect the way students respond to literature; by providing a bridge between these diverse backgrounds and their education at school, students are more deeply engaged and find relevance and interest in their work (Knickerbocker et al. 35). When teachers use literature relevant to the lives and background knowledge of their students, readers gain a stronger engagement with the works, and are able to connect the fiction with what they know and have experienced.
Diversity in the curriculum offers students the potential to gain further knowledge and understanding of previously unknown backgrounds (Groenke and Scherff 94). As young members of society, teenagers are open to the influence of media, and how media informs the way we understand other identities beside our own. Without truthful and authentic depictions of minorities in the media they consume regularly, there is no opportunity to challenge preconceptions and begin to appreciate differences.
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