Masculinity in Young Adult Fiction and The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a young adult novel released in 1999, set in 1991, that follows 15 year old high school freshman Charlie. Charlie is an awkward, shy, quiet kid who is left to loneliness after one of his closest friend’s commits suicide and the rest of his friends either move away or drop him in an effort to change themselves to fit into the high school mold. It isn’t until Charlie meets Patrick, a senior in his shop class, that he then finds his place among a close, tightly nit group of outsiders and falls in love. The novel continues to follow Charlie over his first year of high school and explores how the young teen comes about finding himself through love, music, and friendship. What’s even more interesting is the portrayal of Charlie through the novel. As a young, male teen- Charlie is largely open and honest about his thoughts and feelings, often interjecting his thoughts and being so open that it gets him in trouble at times. I would say that Charlie’s behaviors, and his friends, are something that challenges as well as show the harmful conformity to general tropes of masculinity that seem to often be deconstructed in young adult fiction and the importance of this portrayal is to young male readers and it’s inclusion of various issues

            Author Ben Brooks stated that “I want to help boys become better, happier men and open up a debate about what we think of as masculinity,”  a statement that speaks loudly about the current perspective of the topic. Masculinity, though not at all inherently bad, is a bit of a slippery slope in how it is to be approached. Though it is important for young men who conform to the idea of masculinity, it is also highly important to realize there is a limit and balance that one  must take in order to perfectly balance it out without leaning into toxicity. Toxicity, in the case of masculinity, and be anything from violence, to homophobic remarks, and even lead to sexual assault. The balance that is a tough task that proper guidance can ease, but again must be proper so that it doesn’t lean into toxicity. So how should young men and boys be properly guided toward a good balance? It could very well be through young adult fiction. According to Kathryn Jacobs, it seems that when it comes to reading, young men seem to be most recipient to young adult novels, stating “boys are drawn to these books solely because they are easy to read. Young men also relate to books with adolescent male characters whose social and emotional conflicts mirror their own.”(Jacobs 19).  However, even with this fact, it seems as if young boys aren’t pushed to actively read more so often, and when they are, they aren’t pushed to read genre’s outside of normal gender preference. Jacob’s acknowledges this, quoting Millard and Telford, saying that research  “Has found that, when it comes to recommending books to boys, teachers tend to use conventional understanding to reinforce traditional ideas of gender and gender preferences, thus denying boys wider reading choices and chances to expand their taste”(Jacobs 20).  Heck, I can personally attest to this having been recommended the Alex Rider despite my constant checking out of cheesy YA Romance.

So even if we were to push young boys into reading more YA of various genres. Now what? Is that the end all be all to helping balance masculinity in YA readers? Not at all. Though YA may resonate more with young boys than classic literary works, it certainly doesn’t mean that there isn’t its fair share of toxic masculinity. Whether it’s Edward Cullen of the Twilight Saga, a character associated with stalking and extreme possessiveness, or the every so controversial Holden Caulfield. Some authors have realized the need for protagonist and characters that work against the perception of toxic masculinity and portray masculinity possibility.. Author Brandon Kiely understands this, and realizes how impressionable young males are and how reading offers a great opportunity for young adults to develop emotionally (Ferguson). This understanding of a need for positive masculinity is important and for authors to focus on writing these characters, they’re giving young men positive masculine tones.

Though a great idea to have characters that go against toxic masculinity, it is also a good idea to have characters that also fall into the category of toxicity. In a perfect world, absolute positive protagonist and other male characters would be just fine. However, to simply have nothing but these characters would be a detriment, because then we ignore the existence and thus create a false image of it not being particularly present at all. Instead, in young adult fiction that do include characters comfortable in their masculinity that do show positive traits, it may also be great to give the protagonist and other characters toxic traits and explore the negative impacts it has, and task the character in acknowledging, or even overcoming the traits. The idea of it being simply acknowledged rather than overcame can leave the impression on youth that maybe they can always be introspective and look at themselves and see the possible traits that they have that can very well also be along the lines of toxic masculinity, or even show young adults the possible outcomes when it goes unchecked

Whether committed to the transgressive potential of a male who feels different because he offers vulnerability where others offer hardened restraint, or whether insistent in the claim that these texts simply add to what Gail Bederman would call the “remaking” of a continually complex normative subject, we find in the man of feeling an ambivalent subject for the public sphere.”

Page 10-11 The Work of Being a Wallflower

 Back on the note of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, there are a variety of young men in which Chbosky explores masculinity through aside from Charlie. One character in particular is his best friend Patrick. Patrick is introduced as a class clown, being addressed as Nobody and doing impressions of  the teacher, and eventually introduces Charlie to Sam and the rest of the circle of outsiders. Though Patrick comes to be a friend to Charlie in times of needs, we see that he succumbs to more toxic traits, abandoning Charlie when he needs him most when trying to snake and see his boyfriend Brad, who keeps their relationship secret due to his fear of being outed as a homosexual. These momments are Chbosky’s exploration of toxic masculinity left unchecked and it’s harmful effects on individuals. We see that the toxic principal of discouragement of homosexuality in young boys stigmatize these characters, pushing them into situations of abandonment, and picking up negative coping mechanisms. After Brad and Patrick break up, which involves a vicious fist fight between the two, Patrick stars to  doing various drugs, drinking more often, and casual sex all used as a coping mechanism that lends to toxicity rather than being more open and seeking healthier alternatives.

“One night Patrick took me to this park where men go to find each other. Patrick told me that if I didn’t want to be bothered, don’t make eye contact.”

Page 161 The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Another particular scene of the perpetuation of toxic masculinity is from Charlie’s sister, who critiques him for not facing his bully when he was younger. Described as charming by their mother, and soft by their father, We get the idea that this boy is a kinder individual. However, after constant bullying from Charlie’s sister, he ends up hitting his sister in the face. The depiction of violence here shows what happens when the idea of a man’s need to be seen as tough and dominant gets out of hand.

“And this guy got really red-faced. And he looked at me. Then, he looked at her. And he wound up and hit her hard across the face. I mean hard.”

Page 11-The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Though Charlie does come to use drugs later to help cope with not having friends momentarily, it also seems that he is the least affected by perceptions of masculinity despite the environment he’s in. His father and brother were athletes, which very much could have lead to him being pressured to follow the same route, but he never really is pushed to do so. We often see Charlie cry whenever his feelings get too much, and he is open and honest to his closet friends, expressing how he feels most of the time. Though these are all positive traits, Chbosky takes it a bit further and shows that one isn’t necessarily free from issues even in doing so. One moment in particular is when Charlie kisses Sam instead of his girlfriend Mary Elizabeth when asked to kiss the prettiest girl in the room. It’s a moment that shows that Charlie’s openness is too much and non-considerate, resulting in his temporary barred from his group of friends. Charlie may avoid toxic masculinity on a greater level  he isn’t necessarily safe

“I knew that if I kissed Mary Elizabeth, I would be lying to everyone. Including Sam. Including Patrick. Including Mary Elizabeth. And I just couldn’t do it anymore, even if it was part of a game.” 

Page 135 The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Toxic Masculinity is an issue that many young adults face in their teenage years, whether it’s being told that showing their emotions is a sign of weakness or to man up and face their bullies. Young male readers need a positive outlook that shows that not subscribing to these behaviors isn’t something to be ashamed of and that they should be able to freely be who they are without the pressure of not fitting in by doing so. Young Adult fiction’s ability to take this idea and show characters that are able to be who they are and express themselves openly is just the positive reinforcement these readers need in order to see. Though it is important to have these characters, it is also important to not pretend that even in the real of fiction that toxic masculinity doesn’t exist and, instead, should act as a contrast to the positives being shown. Young adult fiction can be the  medium that shows the good with the bad shows the effects of both, the positives that come out of both as well as the negatives, and allow its young reads to take what it is they have seen and grow from there. The reason The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a great example of this is because it does deconstruct a lot of harmful traits of masculinity, shows positive traits and show the clash between both and the effects on everyone around them is an important one to young boys who read YA. It’s an important note that can profoundly change who they are and how they drift through their teen years.

Works Cited

Ferguson, D. (2018, Jul 14). Authors steer boys from toxic masculinity with gentler heroes. The Observer Retrieved from

Jacobs, Kathryn. (2004). Gender Issues in Young Adult Literature. Indiana libraries, 23(2), 19-24.

Carrillo-Vincent, Matthew. University of Southern California, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2013. 3598174.

Chbosky, Stephen, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” New York Gallery Books, 1999

Three week lesson unit: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns


The unit plan that I put together is geared towards the early middle of the year for a High-school AP English literature course. This class is designed for seniors and they would be required to have previous classes in both English and Creative writing. Although I intend to have a small class consisting of sixteen students, my class will be widely diverse. ¼ of the students will have a physical, mental, or learning disability. Another ¼ of the students will have English as their second language. Students in this district are 50% White, 30% Hispanic, 10% Black and 10% American Indian, Asian, Pacific Islander, two or more races. There are also 20% of students who are from low-income families, 75% come from middle-class families, and 5% will come from wealthy families. The graduation rate for the district will be 90% as of 2018 ((“FREEBURG CHSD 77”). With only having sixteen students in my classroom, it will allow me to host both small discussions with four groups of four students and large classwide discussions. I will use discussions as a way to monitor and facilitate student learning. They can be structured and organized in many different ways to accommodate the varying environment of my classroom. During smaller discussion groups, they will talk amongst themselves for about ten to fifteen minutes while electing one person in the group to write down their thoughts to share with the class. For group discussions, it will be a typical call on the person that has their hand raised while others can respectively chime in. With having controversial characters, plot lines, and several different categories to discuss, it makes it an excellent book to focus on for a discussion and project-oriented class vs a class where the primary objective is to read a piece of text and answer questions that require very little thought and lack flexibility. To succeed in the lesson plan that I have created, students will have to read the text and be open to many different forms of thought. In addition to reading the book and other provided materials, students must be an active member in discussions. Ideal students will also take it upon themselves to understand other’s opinions on topics, be willing to think outside of the box and draw upon other videos/books/media to tie in with their discussion of the daily topic.

Intro to content:

This unit will focus on the book Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C Dao, which is the first book in a series of three. Although the author is not as well known as Rowling, Tolkien, and Meyer, Dao’s book is a creative spin on the still fairly new genre of magical realism. Along with taking liberties in the magical realism genre, Dao also takes the classical evil stepmother trope and turns it on its head to create a refreshing take on the topic while still holding true to some of the core storylines that people have come to love in classic fairytale literature. While having a strong baseline of magical realism and fairytale inspirations, Dao also incorporates many relatable topics such as; relationship issues, neglectful and abusive households, poverty, body image, and government. Because of how debatable these topics are, students may not be comfortable with discussing them at first, so I will slowly introduce the topics by having them write their thoughts down in their journal assignments before discussing it if they feel comfortable with doing so. With the way that I set the unit up to be primarily discussion-based, it encourages students to be open about their opinions on topics such as relationship/family issues, poverty, and morality, while still encouraging them to be respectful and open to others who feel differently than them. Because Dao incorporates such topics with the addition of adding magic themes to them, it adds another dimension to the lines between normal/abnormal and ethical/unethical. In addition to the exploration and discussions of familiar topics, my unit plan encourages students to understand psychological and scientific phenomena that may be the reason for the struggles of the characters. Every day, the students will be faced with questions such as, “Do you believe Xefing’s sacrifice of the animals are for the better?” Questions like this will encourage students to interpret the book as they see fit, understand that there may be psychological motives behind certain actions, and gain more confidence in sharing their thoughts on topics that are usually considered taboo to speak about. In addition to analyzing quotes and themes within the book, students will expand upon their reasoning and argumentation skills. Because of how often I impose discussions in the plan, they will learn how to back up their own arguments with information that they have pulled from the book or outside sources. In addition to learning how to consider multiple sources for discussions, the topics are relatable enough to where having group discussions are easy and ultimately inevitable. Although reasoning and argumentation skills are not often thought about within a literature course, the skills that are used for reasoning and argumentation can help students effectively analyze literature and create more dynamic discussions during future classes.

Teaching objective:

Students will learn and explore the following: Critical analysis skills, how to effectively communicate in small and large groups, how to relate themes in literature to everyday life, and how to write both short journals and longer papers that show their thoughts on the assigned literature. Critical analysis- They will learn critical analysis skills by relating the topics in the book to everyday scenarios. Not only will they develop the critical analysis skills through repetition of the discussions and journal prompts, but through effectively listening to the analysis of others. They are also prompted to use critical analysis for their weekly projects, such as writing a paper comparing the government in the book they are reading vs the government that they live in. How to effectively communicate in small and large groups- Students will learn how to effectively communicate in small groups by respectfully listening to each members opinion on the question that was given. They will also learn how to effectively communicate in small groups by producing unique ideas while still collaborating on a statement that represents the cohesive work of the group. For larger groups, students will learn how to take notes on other’s views so that they can compare and contrast them with their own when it is their turn to speak. While the practice of comparing and contrasting can help a student’s analytical skills, large groups are also effective for teaching student patients by making them wait their turn to speak, they force a student to be actively engaged in the class, and they help students form a sense of comfort while discussing complex topics that may be difficult to discuss in smaller groups. How to relate themes in literature to everyday life- Dao often brings up topics that most if not everybody has and are still battling with to this day. Admitting to having difficulties in relationships, family, and even difficulties controlling one’s own urges and behavior can be intimidating. Although it can be uncomfortable for some students, they will gain the skills of relating themes in literature to everyday life by analyzing the text to find an example such as family issues before relating it to their own experiences in both the discussions and journal prompts. Hopefully, students will overcome their initial discomfort when they notice that other students feel the same way and that they will be supported in their thoughts. How to write both short journals and longer papers that show their thoughts on the assigned literature- Students will often be asked a question such as, “How do you think the government in the book is different from our government? List five reasons on why they are different.” Questions like these are meant for short writing assignments ranging from one to three paragraphs long. More often than not they will be asked to share their thoughts in front of the class. These short assignments are not meant to be difficult, but more thought-provoking and personal. This will teach students how to analyze the text while strengthening their writing skills. For longer papers and assignments, students will employ the same techniques used for journals, but learn how to correlate academic sources and multimedia sources to produce an academic piece that shows that the student analyzed the book and the assignment given.

Pedagogical rationale:

I have based my pedagogical rationale and practices based off of a common issue in any academic setting, which is resisting the teaching and discussion of sensitive topics. To combat this issue, I will incorporate personal experiences by facilitating discussions and adapting a more creative and flexible teaching method that allows both visual, audio, and physical learners to exceed in my classroom (Pilcher, intro). To combat this issue in my classroom, I will employ two dimensions that will strengthen my classroom. The first dimension is making the students feel comfortable by facilitating discussions for topics that may be unfamiliar and or painful to talk about. By demonstrating that it is okay to talk about these topics, the students will start to understand how to overcome the stigma of talking about sensitive issues in the classroom. Although I will be merely facilitating instead of directing, I will also include personal stories of my own it will even out the power dynamic in the classroom that may make students feel uncomfortable. The second dimension is adapting a more creative and flexible teaching approach that will incorporate visual, audio, and physical lessons to accommodate a variety of learners. For visual learners, I will show videos relating to the topic of discussion. For week one, I worked a documentary about empires into my unit. For audio learners, discussions and lectures will be a key role in their learning. Discussions will help students learn how to thoughtfully interact with other students while lectures will help them absorb information from the text and other sources that I have provided. Physical learning will be demonstrated by daily writing journals, essays, and projects that will be assigned throughout the class. An interactive form of scaffolding will be used in this classroom, since there will often be small group discussions, workshopping pairs, and whole-class discussions. The small group and whole classroom discussions will help the students with cultivating a sense of empathy and open-mindedness, communication and collaborative skills, and to help them have the dedication to stick through an ongoing process with others. This form of scaffolding is best for an interactive classroom, which I plan on facilitating as a method to break down the resistance of sensitive topics such as the tough decision of leaving an abusive household, how skin color can affect class, dealing with the restraints of a political system, inner turmoil over things one can’t control, and choosing between family and love (Huynh 34). Daily discussions will start with smaller group discussions that will focus on a question pertaining to the text. The groups will compromise of four students who will have ten minutes to discuss the question before taking a couple of minutes to decide on a final answer as a group. After each group shares their collaborative answer, a larger class-wide discussion will ensue, allowing the students to share their individual thoughts on the question pertaining to the topic of the day. Although this will be a primary student lead discussion, I will interject inappropriate moments with my own thoughts and experiences with the topic as a way to break down the student/teacher power dynamics in discussions that may make the students vulnerable in order to create a two way learning process through open discussion (Pilcher, 981). To avoid depending on a single style of teaching, I will use other resources to supplement the reading material such as articles, videos, and other styles of media that not only relate to the reading material but also relate to the primary discussions and topic of the day. Each article, picture, poem, and video were selected carefully in an attempt to relate the reading material to the students in a way that will help them form connections to themselves and will help the students develop analytical skills by comparing and contrasting the additional material to the assigned reading material. Daily journals, essays, and in-class assignments emphasize the importance of repetitive writing as a method of teaching discipline within a classroom while also encouraging students to strengthen their writing skills. While some students may not feel comfortable with discussing sensitive topics, it is still important to emphasize the teaching of debatable topics because teaching topics that have stigmas around them have a pedagogical value in raising consciousness about important phenomenon and issues that students may not feel comfortable with asking because of cultural, religious, or familial background (Dalton 5-6). At the beginning of each week in the unit plan, I will introduce an assignment that will employ all of the subtopics that were taught throughout the week. For the first week, the students will be writing a compare and contrast essay using what they have learned about the empire in The Forest of a Thousand Lanterns and contrasting it with either the American government. For the second week, the main topic will be beauty, so the assignment will be to write two poems in any style. For the third week, which focuses on family topics, the students will be assigned to design a family tree. Each assignment will be due on Friday, which gives the students an opportune amount of time to complete the project while still having time to focus on the readings assigned each day.

Student motivation:

The motivation for academic success is not just the responsibility of students themselves, but the teacher’s obligation to guarantee that the necessary conditions for all students are met and that there are plenty of opportunities to engage students in learning and discussion (Morina, intro). To fulfill my obligation to the students, I will present many opportunities for them to engage in learning. How I plan on fulfilling that is by choosing a book that has many different key aspects to it. In Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, the main character is not exactly what many would consider “the perfect woman” Xifeng is willing to sacrifice a lot to get to the throne, which includes sacrificing the shelter that her mother provides, sacrificing animals to regain her health and increase her magic powers, and willing to sacrifice having a peaceful existence with the love of her life. By defying the norms of her culture, Xifeng proves that just because she is a woman with a pretty face doesn’t mean that she can’t be ruthless and powerful. Although Xifeng goes to extremes that I wouldn’t encourage my students to do, she is a powerful character that students who don’t fit what society calls normal can relate to. In addition to providing a book that students of all cultural backgrounds can relate to, I will motivate my students by facilitating discussions within the classroom. By participating in discussions, students will have the opportunity to learn from each other and share their own stories. Discussions can be used as a form of catharsis for students that are facing traumatic events similar to ones in Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. With the provided opportunity to hear feedback from fellow students and have the opportunity to share opinions, discussions are an easy way to motivate students to participate in class. Additionally, I have made the decision not to assign quizzes and exams as a part of the grading process. Not only will this take some burden away from the students who suffer from test anxiety, but it will help establish the classroom as one that is primarily discussion and project-based. Overall, the promise of a piece of literature where the characters are relatable, having daily discussions where everybody will get a chance to speak, and the promise of no exams in favor for creative projects will motivate students.

Student assessment:

I will use formative and summative methods of assessment to observe the progression of the students within the course. My goal is to use formative assessment to monitor student learning and to provide ongoing and detailed feedback in contrast to how I plan on using summative assessments to evaluate student learning at the end of each unit by comparing it against a standard grading scale that is set before the class begins, (Eberly Center). For formative assessments, my primary formative method would be observing and taking down notes while students are discussing in both small groups and large class discussions. Taking a formative approach will allow me to give ongoing feedback without grading the students directly. The only way they will be graded on discussions is by daily participation points. The students will earn one point for participating in their small group, one point for participating in class discussion, and one point for simply showing up to class. My summative approach will be in the form of the weekly assignments that the students will be assigned at the start of the week. For the first week, they will be graded on an essay that has to do with the overarching Empire theme. The students will be graded 30% on the structure of the essay 30% on filling the requirements for the essay (word, page, and questions answered), 30% for originality, and 10% for grammar. The assignment for the second week is poetry, students will be required to write two original poems. Instead of grading it on a strict percentage scale similar to the one I used for my essay, I will use the scale of 1-5 points for originality, 1-5 for using the weekly topic within the poem and 1-5 points for the overall effort. The poems do not have a minimum or maximum length, so I will not be grading them on length requirements. For the final project within my unit plan, I will be assessing the students on a family tree project. Similar to how I graded the essay, I will be using percentages to grade the family tree project. Students will be graded 30% on creativity, 30% on how well the family tree is formated, 30% on how they present it in front of the class, and 10% on how they relate their family tree to the topics of family discussed earlier in the week. The overall grading scale for the class is 30% for the essay, 30% for the poems, 30% for the family tree, and 10% for overall participation in the class.

Works cited:

Bhagat, Anumeha, et al. “Students Awareness of Learning Styles and Their Perceptions to a Mixed Method Approach for Learning.” International Journal of Applied and Basic Medical Research, vol. 5, no. 4, 2 Aug. 2015, p. 58.

Carnegie Mellon University. “Formative vs Summative Assessment – Eberly Center – Carnegie Mellon University.” Formative vs Summative Assessment – Eberly Center – Carnegie Mellon University,

Dao, Julie C. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. Speak, an Imprint of Penguin Random House LLC., 2018.

“Hillsborough County Public Schools.” Hillsborough County Public Schools,

Moriña, Anabel. “The Keys to Learning for University Students with Disabilities: Motivation, Emotion and Faculty-Student Relationships.” Vol. 14, no. 5, 22 May 2019.

Pilcher, Katy. “Politicising the ‘Personal’: the Resistant Potential of Creative Pedagogies in Teaching and Learning ‘Sensitive’ Issues.” Teaching in Higher Education, vol. 22, no. 8, 2017, pp. 975–990.

Shaw, Tarren J., et al. “Knowing Is Half the Battle: Assessments of Both Student Perception and Performance Are Necessary to Successfully Evaluate Curricular Transformation.” Plos One, vol. 14, no. 1, 2019.

file:///C:/Users/Ghost/Downloads/unit plan.pdf

Annotated Bibliography on Mental Health Conditions

In a world where appearances can be deceiving, some teenagers put on a mask to fit in. They pretend that they have the world figured out, when on the inside they may feel more alone than they let on. There are also other teens who are not well-informed on situations and might bully someone based off of something that they do not fully understand.

            I wanted to explore books that could relate to teenagers with mental health conditions and could also teach others who don’t have mental illnesses what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes. The books that I read explore different mental illnesses that affect the teens and preteens in their daily lives. Some cases were smaller, while others affected the characters’ lives more. The books that I read focused on teens with depression, Asperger’s syndrome, different forms of anxiety, and PTSD. Each book gave a viewpoint that felt both relatable to young adults in similar situations and informative to young adults who do not experience the mental health condition.

            About one in five children tend to have a mental illness. It is very common nowadays, yet it is still a sensitive subject to bring up. Mental illness is seen as a “taboo and stigmatized topic,” where “adolescents often deal with it without the support they might have when facing physical illnesses” (Wickham). It is hard to ask for help, especially when you are not receiving support from others.

            Emma Newman, author of Planetfall, describes the two types of people who need to see characters with mental illnesses. She explains that the first group “needs this representation so we don’t feel alone” (Newman). The reader can connect well with characters who have similar struggles and mental health conditions. When mental illness is treated as a taboo topic, it makes those with mental health conditions feel more alone. But when it is represented in the media, it helps people feel less alone and know that there are people who want to help support them. Representation in the media also helps with the second group that Emma Newman mentions, which are those who need to understand what it is like to experience mental illness. She also explains that this helps people learn about “genuine empathy” (Newman). If people do not understand what it’s like to have a mental illness, they are less likely to be empathetic towards others with mental illnesses. But with more exposure to characters who experience mental health conditions, people might learn how to be more understanding and empathetic towards mental illnesses. The books listed below all have characters who are all relatable and also teach more about mental illnesses.

Erskine, Kathryn. Mockingbird (mok’ing-burd). New York, Philomel Books, 2010.

            Kathryn Erskine’s book, Mockingbird, focuses on a 5th grade girl named Caitlin whose older brother dies in a school shooting. The shooting affects the whole community including Caitlin and her father. Her older brother was the one person who knew how to explain everything to Caitlin in a way that she understands. Caitlin has Asperger’s syndrome, and throughout the book she has trouble learning how to empathize with others on their pain. She struggles with making friends and with trying to help stop her dad’s sadness. But, with the help of her counselor, Caitlin makes much progress throughout the book in learning more about empathy and how to be a good friend to others. When she learns about the word, “closure”, she makes it a mission to find what to do to help her and her father, and even the rest of the community, reach this “closure” that’s supposed to fix the pain in their hearts from the shooting.

            This book was a wonderful way to see how someone with Asperger’s syndrome may act. I think that this is a great way for students to learn more about Asperger’s syndrome and autism. It might also be a good book for someone with Asperger’s syndrome to read and relate to the main character or see how they both interact in the world differently. Erskine wrote this book to teach people what life is like for a child with Asperger’s syndrome. I find this important, especially because of a mean comment that a college classmate made in my class last year about another classmate who had Asperger’s syndrome. This book made me discover more about Asperger’s syndrome and watch how Caitlin grew from having no empathy for others nor a want to build relationships up to the end of the novel where she learned to empathize and found a small group of students that she could talk to.

Albertalli, Becky. The Upside of Unrequited. New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 2017.

            Albertalli’s book was one of my favorites that I read. I related so much to the main character, especially with her fears of not being liked by others and of being replaced by someone better. Molly is a teenager who is afraid of rejection. She has twenty seven crushes from over the years, yet barely even talks to any of them. Her twin sister, on the other hand is confident and could get any guy or girl that she wanted. Cassie has recently gotten a new girlfriend, introduced to her by Molly, and Molly feels like she’s being replaced by the girlfriend. But, Cassie’s girlfriend has a cool hipster friend who shows interest in Molly. Cassie is excited, thinking that Molly and the hipster guy will get together and then everyone will stay close. But Molly is unsure on whether or not he actually likes her, because she cannot imagine that someone so cool would like someone that looks like her. And then her coworker comes into the picture, and she starts falling for him too. It’s a big mess.

            I like how natural this book comes across. Molly’s anxiety is not one of the main plot points, but it still has a significant role in her personality and how she acts. She openly explains how she takes Zoloft every morning. Instead of letting this tiny detail get lost, Molly mentions it each morning in the book as she takes it in a very casual way. Her thoughts in the book sometimes show her anxieties about how she thinks others view her, which is relevant even in a normal high school student’s mind when they worry about how they look in front of others. Body image comes up a lot in the book, because Molly is a lot bigger than Cassie and was bullied in school and by her grandmother because of it. Some of her anxieties also come from previous experiences of boys making fun of her weight. The book also touches on a lot of diverse topics that are relevant in today’s modern society. Molly and Cassie are sperm babies with two moms. There are also a lot of talks about being a virgin and feeling like the only one when others act like they’ve experienced a lot more. Racial remarks are also brought up through Cassie and Molly’s slightly racist grandmother and through outsiders looking in at a family with one white mom and one black mom. I found this to be a really eye-opening book that I would love to read again.

Schutz, Samantha. I Don’t Want to Be Crazy. New York, Scholastic Inc, 2006.

            This book is a memoir about Samantha’s journey during college with anxiety. The book is written in a poetry format, explaining her anxiety attacks in the middle of classes and semesters abroad and how she copes with it. Samantha doesn’t have steady relationships with guys and doesn’t really find her niche of friends until the end of freshman year. Her friends didn’t always understand why she acted very mysterious and closed until sophomore year when they spent more one-on-one time with her. She found that her friends were the best way to help calm her down during anxiety attacks, and even found a friend with similar attacks that she could then help. The book is filled with ups and downs as Samantha learns to control her anxiety attacks until it gets out of control again.

            I wouldn’t recommend this book for younger readers. This would maybe be a book for seniors in high school, and even then, I would use it with caution. The book was very depressing at certain moments, especially with it being real experiences for the author. It is a great wake-up call for a serious form of anxiety, since the author would experience attacks almost twice a day in classes. It shows how sometimes college becomes stressful enough to cause anxiety, but it might cause students to be more wary of going based on her experiences. It is a really good book though if someone can relate to her experiences or if they are wanting to learn about more extreme cases of anxiety. There is also a lot of resources in back of the book to help those who are struggling and want to ask for help. I would use certain selections in this book to teach a 12th grade class instead of the whole book and warn them of triggers in the book before starting the unit. This book focuses a lot more on the author’s anxiety instead of it being a side plot, unlike some of the other books in this list.

Vizzini, Ned. It’s Kind of a Funny Story. New York, Hyperion, 2015.

            High schooler Craig Gilner has been studying all of his life to get into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School. Earning a place in this school means that you basically have it made to having a highly successful career in life after going to a good college. Craig scores a perfect score on the entrance exam, securing himself a spot in the elite school. But soon he realizes that the school is a lot more challenging than he expected. He starts feeling very depressed to the point where he can’t eat or sleep normally. Craig goes through multiple therapists until he starts feeling better. Once he reaches that point, Craig stops taking his medicine and seeing his latest therapist. But eventually Craig’s depression comes back, and he decides that he can no longer live with it. He nearly kills himself before calling for help. He checks himself into a mental hospital, where he meets others with mental illnesses struggling to also get better. While living here, Craig discovers the causes of his depression and anxiety. He also learns how to combat those causes in order to prepare himself for the world after he leaves.

            This book gives a more positive view on depression. It also gives many resources on how someone can look for help if they are feeling suicidal. Ned Vizzini started writing this book shortly after checking out of a psychiatric hospital. His experience was very similar to Craig’s, which helps gives a realistic feeling to the writing.

Reilly, K.J. Words We Don’t Say. New York, Hyperion, 2018.

            Joel Higgins is still grieving over losing his best friend last year. He has 901 saved texts on his phone addressed to his best friend, his crush, and his principal that he has been unable to press send to. Junior year of high school requires him to do community service at a soup kitchen with his crush, Eli, and the new student, Benj. Eli is known for trying to solve every problem and having a list for everything. Benj is known to say odd things at odd times that annoy Joel, but eventually they become comrades. At the soup kitchen, Joel also meets Rooster. Rooster is a veteran who doesn’t speak to anyone. Joel stumbles across Rooster’s home one day and is determined to help Rooster in any way after seeing how bad it looked. This begins his many trips of snacks and socks up to Rooster’s shack in the woods. Through this book, Joel learns how to cope with the loss of his best friend and how find solutions to all of the problems around him.

            This book deals a lot with PTSD. Many veterans end up at the soup kitchen each Wednesday night. Joel learns through other veterans’ stories on how hard life becomes when they return from war.  Through those stories, Joel starts suspecting that he might also have PTSD from “the thing that happened.” Eventually, he finds a way to receive closure for him and his friends.  

Works Cited

Newman, Emma. “Why It’s Important to Write About Mental Health in Fiction.” Read It Forward, Penguin Random House, 21 Apr. 2019,

Wickham, Anastasia. “It Is All in Your Head: Mental Illness in Young Adult Literature – Wickham – 2018 – The Journal of Popular Culture – Wiley Online Library.” The Journal of Popular Culture, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd (10.1111), 25 Jan. 2018,

Annotated Bibliography – The Popularity of YA Dystopian Novels

Within the last decade, dystopian novels have become an immensely popular craze, especially in young adult literature. Dystopian novels typically take place in the near to distant future and often follow some kind of apocalyptic or catastrophic event. According to ReadWriteThink, an organization which provides resources for English teachers, dystopia is a “futuristic, imagined universe in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian control” (“Dystopias: Definition and Characteristics”). The website also lists common identifiers of dystopian novels and characteristics of their protagonists, which include “often feels trapped and is struggling to escape,” “questions the existing social and political systems,” and “helps the audience recognize the negative aspects of the dystopian world through his or her perspective” (“Dystopias: Definition and Characteristics”). The protagonists of these novels, unlike many of the characters surrounding them, are able to identify the flaws in the societies in which they live. They are also motivated by personal circumstances to fight against and seek change in the institutions that uphold these imperfect systems.

Dystopian novels, especially those written in recent years, are frequently aimed at and resonate the most with young readers. This is partially due to the novels being written from the perspective of teenagers. These teenage protagonists find themselves in societies constructed by and in the interest of adults, and they receive very little support from the adults in their lives when opposing these corrupt systems. Drew Chappell describes this phenomenon in his essay about resistance and agency in the Harry Potter series.

Young adult protagonists in modernist children’s literature and dramatic literature often find themselves without adult support as they address social issues that are a consequence of adult hegemonic institutions and ideologies. Although the child characters may seem ill-equipped to confront these complex problems, they almost always have a special insight that allows them to deconstruct the adult world from an ‘‘outsider’’ perspective (Chappell 281).

The existence of the teenage protagonists outside of these institutions’ inner workings allows them to uniquely be able to recognize the drawbacks and evils of their societies. Additionally, the lack of support they receive from adults forces them to rely on each other and to come up with their own solutions to the problems they face.

Dystopian novels also tend to appeal to young readers because these readers can draw parallels between the lives of the protagonists and their own. These novels depict characters who are fiercely independent and overcoming tremendous obstacles but who are also facing some of the same issues as ordinary teenagers, such as body image, family struggles, and confusing relationships. Two of the most prominent dystopian series to be published within the past decade and a half are The Hunger Games and Divergent series. Several other dystopian series have also caught the attention of young readers and will be discussed below, including Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave trilogy, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, and The Testing trilogy by Joelle Charbonneau. The first books in each of these series established complex settings and characters that could be explored beyond the pages of their first installments.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Inc., 2008.

Perhaps the most popular and well-known dystopian series of recent years, if not of all time, is The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. The Hunger Games takes place in Panem, a post-apocalyptic North American nation consisting of thirteen districts and the Capitol. The Capitol and Panem’s leader, President Snow, use technology and force to maintain control over the rest of the nation. The Hunger Games is an annual event in which one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen from each district is sent to the Capitol to compete and fight the other contestants to the death. The event is punishment for a failed past rebellion and is intended to prevent the districts from rebelling against the Capitol again.

The novel’s main character, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, volunteers as the female contestant from District 12 to save her younger sister, whose name was drawn during the reaping, or lottery. Katniss and Peeta Mellark, the male contestant from her district, are forced to travel to the Capitol, train with the other contestants, and eventually compete in an arena — all of which is broadcast on national television. The novel ends on a somewhat hopeful note, with Katniss and Peeta beating the system and both surviving the Hunger Games. However, this also sets up new obstacles for the pair, such as having to act like a couple madly in love, even after Peeta discovers that Katniss had faked her feelings toward him to survive within the arena. Additionally, President Snow and the Capitol still stand, which leaves something for Katniss to continue fighting against in the later installments.

While readers may be unable to relate to Katniss being forced to fight to the death against other adolescents, they can empathize and connect with some of the other struggles she faces. Katniss’ father died in a mining incident, leaving her mother disconnected from her life and children and Katniss responsible for protecting her sister and providing for her family. Katniss also must navigate a confusing love triangle with Peeta, with whom she competes and survives within the arena, and Gale Hawthorne, the boy she leaves behind.

Roth, Veronica. Divergent. Harper Collins, 2012.          

Another prominent dystopian series is the Divergent series by Veronica Roth. The story takes place is a post-apocalyptic Chicago, where citizens are divided into five factions: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. At sixteen years old, citizens take a test which informs these teenagers which faction would best suit them, but the final decision is left to them. When protagonist Beatrice Prior’s test comes back inconclusive, the test administrator informs her that she is Divergent but that she should tell no one. A confused Beatrice chooses Dauntless as her faction, where she trains and begins a romantic relationship with Four, one of her instructors.

As Tris continues her initiative training, the Erudite faction begins to stir dissent against Abnegation, the faction which holds the most power and influence because of these citizen’s defining characteristic of selflessness. In the final stage of her training, Tris must overcome a simulation of her greatest fears. After doing so, she and the other initiatives are injected with a “tracking” serum, which allows Erudite’s leader, Jeanine, to control them and use the Dauntless to attack Abnegation. Since Tris and Four are both Divergent, they cannot be controlled by the serum. However, Jeanine soon discovers they are not under her control and injects Four with an experimental serum that is able to override his Divergence. Eventually, Four breaks free of the serum’s control, and the two free the other Dauntless. The novel ends with Tris and Four traveling to the Amity faction to find Abnegation survivors and to discuss what comes next. This ending, like the ending of The Hunger Games, sets up the plot of the next novel in the series and the challenges still to come for these characters.

At the beginning of the novel, Beatrice feels like she doesn’t fit in with her Abnegation family and surroundings. Young readers can likely relate to this feeling of not belonging. When Tris chooses Dauntless as her faction, she is forced to leave her parents and twin brother behind. This is a fear held by many adolescents as they grow and face the reality that they will eventually leave their own families behind when they attend college or move into their own homes. Readers may also connect with and idealize Tris’ first experience of romantic love, which is depicted through her relationship with Four.

Yancey, Rick. The 5th Wave. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013.

Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave takes place in the midst of an alien invasion, which is occurring in “waves.” In the first wave, the Others knocked out electricity and technology worldwide with an EMP wave. In the second, the invaders dropped enormous rods into the oceans, causing tsunamis that wiped out billions living along coasts. The third wave consisted of a deadly virus spread by birds which claimed the lives of 97 percent of the survivors of the first two waves. The novel opens during the fourth wave, in which it becomes clear that some humans are hosts for the alien invaders.

Unlike the other novels in this list, this story is told from multiple points of view. The first character readers are introduced to is Cassie Sullivan, a sixteen-year-old girl who is living alone in the woods. Her mother died during the third wave of the alien invasion, and her father was killed by soldiers who took her little brother, Sammy. After her father’s death, Cassie vows to find and rescue Sammy. Along the way, Cassie is shot by a Silencer, or alien host. She is rescued by Evan, a farm boy who had also lost his family and who Cassie begins to suspect is a Silencer.

The novels other protagonist is Ben Parish, Cassie’s crush prior to the alien invasion. Ben nearly dies due to the virus spread during the third wave, but he is rescued and cured by soldiers who take him back to their base. There, the soldiers train Ben and other children to become soldiers who will eventually fight the Silencers. While training, Ben also befriends Sammy, who is one of the youngest children at the base. Ben eventually becomes suspicious of the military base’s leadership and their true motivations. The novel draws to a close as Cassie and Ben’s stories converge, and the two are able to save Sammy and escape the military base, with Evan’s assistance. This leaves many questions to be answered in the series’ next installment, including what the soldiers are planning and what exactly the fifth wave of the alien invasion is.

The presence of both a male and a female protagonist may allow more readers to see themselves in these characters. Both Cassie and Ben experience the loss of family members, which is something that many readers also must face. In addition to their losses, both protagonists are forced to grow up and become independent within a very short period of time. They are fiercely loyal to their families and to their promises, which also may appeal to young readers.

Westerfeld, Scott. Uglies. Simon & Schuster, 2005.

Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series takes place in a futuristic society in which the government provides its citizens with everything they could possibly need. The society was formed after a bacteria destroyed the world’s petroleum, leaving cities unstable and travel nearly impossible. In this new society, everyone receives cosmetic surgery on their sixteenth birthdays to transform them into the society’s vision of “pretty.”

Tally Youngblood, the novel’s protagonist, is about to turn sixteen and is eagerly awaiting her pretty operation. She meets Shay, another Ugly who talks about running away to a settlement called the Smoke rather than become a Pretty. When Shay does just that, leaving directions behind for Tally to follow her, Tally is given an ultimatum by Special Circumstances, a government agency, to help locate Shay or never receive her pretty operation. Tally finds the Smoke but is reluctant to activate the tracker she was given, especially after being informed that the pretty surgery causes brain lesions that makes individuals more placid. Attempting to destroy the tracker, she inadvertently activates it, and Special Circumstances invades the Smoke. Tally eventually runs away again and finds David, a Smokie who had evaded capture and who had developed feelings for Tally.

Tally and David attack Special Circumstances headquarters to save the other Smokies, but they discover that Shay had already been turned into a Pretty. David’s mother, one of the founders of the Smoke, develops a cure for the brain lesions and offers it to Shay, who refuses because it hasn’t been tested. Tally then volunteers to become a Pretty so she can test the cure herself. David protests until Tally explains her role in the Smoke being invaded. The novel ends with Tally returning to the city to carry out her plan, which is explored in the subsequent novel.

In this novel, beauty is emphasized as such an important quality that an entire society has been developed around it. As the story develops, it becomes clear that being pretty is not the most important thing, contrary to what society might say. Since body image is an issue that many adolescents deal with as they grow up, this is a crucial message that hopefully resonates with the novel’s young readers. The novel also emphasizes the importance of friendship and, like Divergent, depicts the protagonist’s first experience with love.

Charbonneau, Joelle. The Testing. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

Joelle Charbonneau’s The Testing takes places in the United Commonwealth, a nation formed from what remained of the United States after an apocalyptic war and a series of natural disasters. The novel follows Cia Vale, who is selected to take part in the Testing, the process which determines who is allowed to attend University. She is taken to Tosu City, the nation’s capital, where she meets the other 108 candidates competing for 20 spots at the University. The candidates complete several rounds of testing, which consist of written exams, deadly hands-on experiments, and a group problem-solving exercise. Several of Cia’s fellow candidates die along the way, and she gradually becomes more weary of those around her.

The final round consists of a survival challenge in which the remaining candidates must find their way back to Tosu City. Once this round of testing begins, Cia teams up with Tomas, a fellow candidate from her hometown. As Cia and Tomas travel toward the capital, they develop feelings for each other and encounter many obstacles, including explosives, mutated humans, and other candidates who attempt to kill them. Cia also encounters a man on the other side of the maze’s fencing, who opposes the methods used in the Testing and who gives Cia a vial of liquid that will counteract the truth serum she will be given at the end of the round. Cia and Tomas successfully make it across the finish line, and Cia drinks the liquid, which allows her to conceal family secrets and the extent of her feelings toward Tomas.

Cia records everything that happened during the Testing, before she is accepted to the University and her memory of the process is erased. The novel concludes with Cia finding the recorder and hearing what had happened. This ending leaves a lot to explore in the series’ next novel, such as how Cia will react, who she will tell, and what she will do to oppose this brutal system.

As in the Divergent series, the protagonist of this novel is separated from her family and must cope with becoming independent and self-sufficient very quickly. While this series shows an extreme example of obstacles standing in the way of higher education, young readers may be able to relate this story to the challenges they must overcome to attend college. As adolescents are navigating relationships with those around them, they may also relate to the feeling of not knowing who to trust and who they can rely on.

Works Cited

Chappell, Drew. “Sneaking Out After Dark: Resistance, Agency, and the Postmodern Child in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter Series.” Children’s Literature in Education, vol. 39, no. 4, 2008, pp. 281–293., doi:10.1007/s10583-007-9060-6.

“Dystopias: Definition and Characteristics.” ReadWriteThink, NCTE/IRA, 2006,

The Hunger Games: The Rebellion within Katniss Everdeen

Rebellion is a rite of passage as a teenager, and many children learn that what is happening is not always right. Rebellion is especially prominent in Young Adult novels. This sense of rebellion leads characters to develop into adults and overcome challenges. According to Merriam- Webster, rebellion is the opposition to one in authority or dominance. Which leads me into my analysis of The Hunger Games and the rebellion within Katniss Everdeen.  

The Hunger Games is a beloved coming of age dystopian novel. It tells the story of children being forced to succumb to possible death. The “Hunger Games”, are simple, they consist of very few rules. “In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins the “Hunger Games” (Chapter 1). These games represent the repercussions for rebelling against the capital and failing. The games were put in place to remind the districts every year that the rebellion was unwise. The reminder was a harsh reminder, since every day they were already being controlled by the government.

            The first rebellion that actually led to Katniss’s rebellious streak, was a battle that resulted in twelve districts being defeated and the thirteenth being destroyed. In order for the capitol to preserve their way of life, the Treaty of Treason was created. This in turn resulted in the yearly reminder of this fight, the hunger games. This first rebellion is not mentioned much more than in the first chapter, it is just a brief overview. It would be interesting to know the full extent of that rebellion so you could compare it to the inevitable, second rebellion that begins Katniss’s strive for freedom.

Leading into the second rebellion, her rebellious tendencies begin rather quickly in the novel. Katniss is in charge of her mother and her sister, she supplies all their food and home necessities. To do this Katniss breaks all the rules. Her district is surrounded by a large electric fence. But she has noticed that it is not often on. So with the company of a friend, she ventures outside the boundaries to hunt for game (meat). They also gather berries and other useful materials while they are outside the district. After their hunts, they then take their meat to the black market, where they are able to trade for goods or money. This is the first sign of rebellion, which would in itself be a cause for her demise. But, Katniss has found that this was the only way to keep her family alive, so she does so by whatever means she has.

The next attempt at rebellion, is probably the most emotional of the events. Katniss cares for her sister so greatly that every year, she does not allow her to add any extra rations, in payment for her name in the drawing for the games. Katniss has taken that burden on, in the hopes that her sister would have less odds of being chosen. But on the day of the reaping (the drawing), the worst happens. Prim (Katniss’s sister) is chosen, and as she makes her way to take the stage, Katniss begins her next step in the rebellion. She volunteers as tribute to take her sister’s spot. This act alone is unheard of in this district, no one has volunteered in decades to take someone’s place, familial ties or not. “But in District 12, where the word tribute is pretty much synonymous with the word corpse, volunteers are all but extinct (Chapter 1).” She knew it could possibly mean her death and she still chose to volunteer to save her sister. It also shows her lack of respect for the games, she does not believe in sending her twelve year old sister to fight this battle. This act gains her the respect of her district, as they all support her in her volunteering for her young sister.
                   (Although this is the movie, I think it shows her true emotion at volunteering to take her sister’s spot.)

This act really gives the people hope and a wish for change, as so many were touched by the sisterly act of emotion that Katniss showed. The people of her district also gave her the sign of utmost respect throughout her district. This sign was meant as admiration and also a goodbye to someone you love. Her district was giving her the best possible send off in this situation. Katniss has prompted another case in her rebellion, support.

Katniss’ next rebellious act is the entrance of the tributes. Her stylist wishes for her to be talked about. But standing out is not typical in district 12, which adds to her title of a rebel.  So the stylist presents her with fire, “the girl on fire”! Katniss and Peeta (the district 12 male tribute) are also presented as one, which is not “normal” either. “Rebellion? I have to think about that one a moment. But when I remember the other couples, standing stiffly apart, never touching or acknowledging each other, as if their fellow tribute did not exist, as if the Games had already begun, I know what Haymitch means. “Presenting ourselves not as adversaries but as friends has distinguished us as much as the fiery costumes (Chapter 6).” They hold hands to show the unity of their district. This in itself seems a bit rebellious before even entering the game.

                   Another act of rebellion is when the training for the games begin. Katniss comes into it with high hopes to show off her skills of archery. “Suddenly I am furious, that with my life on the line, they don’t even have the decency to pay attention to me. That I’m being upstaged by a dead pig. My heart starts to pound, I can feel my face burning. Without thinking, I pull an arrow from my quiver and send it straight at the Game makers’ table. I hear shouts of alarm as people stumble back. The arrow skewers the apple in the pig’s mouth and pins it to the wall behind it. Everyone stares at me in disbelief (Chapter 7)”. This act showed her distastefulness towards the game makers, due to their lack of attention of her trying to prove herself. She also threatened their lives by sending an arrow in their direction. Although the world could not see this act, the game makers saw it and gave her a higher score. This typically puts a target on your head as a competitor and a difficult fight to have. But instead the high score allows Katniss to gain more support as she continues the process before the games begin.

As the games begin, Katniss’s rebellious streak is put on hold for a bit as she struggles to survive. She is able to survive and even gains an unlikely ally; Rue. But sadly Rue is killed early into their agreed upon alliance. This is where Katniss’s next step in rebellion occurs, and it seems that she truly realizes the messed up world she is living in. When a tribute is killed they are instructed to move away from the body so they are able to pick them up in a timely manner so the bodies can be sent back to their districts. Katniss is enraged that this has happened to such a sweet, innocent, young child. “I want to do something, right here, right now, to shame them, to make them accountable, to show the Capitol that whatever they do or force us to do there is a part of every tribute they can’t own. That Rue was more than a piece in their Games. And so am I” (Chapter 18). Katniss does the only thing she can, which is to cover Rue’s body with wildflowers. This shows her respect and love for a friend that was thrown into the same horrible games that she was. Rue’s district also notices this rebellious act and respects Katniss for giving her a proper send off. They send her warm bread that was made in her district, which is amazing considering much of their district is starving themselves, but they respected her act enough to show her appreciation. Rebellion is simple, with support you are able to build people up and show them that they can do something about the life they have been dealt. Katniss is that symbol of rebellion.

The last, most important act of rebellion from Katniss, is the prospect of allowing both her and Peeta to survive the Hunger Games. She knows that the Capitol must have a winner so she decides to use the “nightlock” berries to their advantage. The Capitol cannot end the games with no winner, so they are forced to allow their rule to revoked once more and allow for two winners.

As you have read, Katniss does some incredible rebellious acts in response to a power hungry government. She wishes for change and acts on it, though at first unknowingly. But then, with courage and strength, Katniss like many other young adult main characters, wishes for a change in the messed up political system. In this case, it is the Capitol that is regulating the districts lives and giving them a terrible quality of life and condoning the murder of children each year. It is this way of ruling that is the reason for a rebellion to be necessary.

In Drew Chappell piece Sneaking Out After Dark: Resistance, Agency, and the Postmodern Child in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter Series, he addresses some similar aspects that are also present in the Hunger Games. According to Chappell, “Young adult protagonists in modernist children’s literature and dramatic literature often find themselves without adult support as they address social issues that are a consequence of adult hegemonic institutions and ideologies. Although the child characters may seem ill-equipped to confront these complex problems, they almost always have a special insight that allows them to deconstruct the adult world from an ‘‘outsider’’ perspective” (Chappell 281). In Katniss’s case she is not allowed to have parental help, she is sent off to fight for her life with many other children. But she is strong and shows her skills that she gained from hunting over the years. She was forced to become an adult at a very young age and she continues to show that matureness as she enters the games and rebels against the Capitol and the Game makers. Rebellion was necessary in this case, and she is the beacon of light and hope in the messed up world where the Hunger Games exists.

                   The main reason of her rebellion was to show that they do not own her, or anyone. She should be allowed to make her own decisions, and not starve due to the “treason” that happened a long time ago. She realizes the country is not how it should be, and something must be done to fight it. This is why she decided to fight their rules of the games. She did not want to be another tool in their games. Her life mattered and so did everyone else’s in the game.

Rebellion in Young Adult literature is a very important theme. It shows the strength and desire to achieve equality and freedom, no matter the costs. The Hunger Games does a great job at showing this idea of a rebellion beginning, and shows Katniss’s journey to be the front woman for the rebellion. After her act with the berries, she is solidified as the face of the rebellion. She is the reason for hope throughout the districts. Rebellion in the Young Adult genre appeals to the younger generations, due to the feeling of hope. Hope is something that is hard to see at times, and this book shows that even in the darkest of times, there is still hope. Sometimes all it takes is some courage and a voice. The first Hunger Games book really shows the beginning of this hope, and the rebellious streak that Katniss unknowingly orchestrates.


“The Hunger Games: A Beacon for the Rebellion [THG/CF].” YouTube, 27 May 2014,

“Rebellion.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster,

“The Hunger Games.” IMDb,, 21 Mar. 2012,

Giphy. “Hunger Games Salute GIFs – Get the Best GIF on GIPHY.” GIPHY,

Chappell, Drew. “Sneaking Out After Dark: Resistance, Agency, and the Postmodern Child in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter Series.” Children’s Literature in Education, vol. 39, no. 4, 2008, pp. 281–293., doi:10.1007/s10583-007-9060-6.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Inc., 2018.

Unit Plan: The Hunger Games


This course plan would be taught during the final quarter of junior year as a closing unit for students of Edwardsville High School. The classroom would consist of roughly 22 students, 1 teacher, and 1 student teacher. With these elements, this provides a 11:1 student-staff ratio. This type of classroom allows for the main teacher to provide both class-wide and divided discussions. This classroom would be comprised of students with none to few learning disabilities due to the district’s standings for students with learning disabilities at 8%. Edwardsville, as a district is predominantly white (81.5%), but also contains students of the following descents: African American (8%), Hispanic (3%), Asian (2.1%) and others with fewer percentages (EDWARDSVILLE). In physical consideration of the classroom, desks will be divided into pods of three, with one pod of four to create seven pods that can serve for class-wide and divided discussions.

Introduction to Content

The primary focus of Suzanne Collin’s novel The Hunger Games is to educate readers on the concepts of bravery, loyalty, and selflessness. Collins establishes these values through her protagonist Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year old girl from a poor district within the country of Panem. Each year, the Capital of Panem requires that each of it’s 12 districts volunteer two tributes, a boy and a girl, to be sent for almost certain death in a battle royale called The Hunger Games. The games were created as a way to remind districts of the war that they lost, fighting for their freedom against the Capital. When Katniss volunteers to enter the games to take the place of her younger sister, we as readers join her through her traumatizing journey.

This novel encourages it’s readers to evaluate their decisions in order to understand: Does the decision I make only benefit me, or is there perhaps a solution that will greatly impact the good of all? By encouraging this unit plan to high school juniors, they would be educated on the importance of decision making at a critical point in their life where they must decide what they would like to do with their future. Joining the armed forces, going to a college or trade school, or diving straight into the work field are all choices that each student has, but this unit will allow for students to shape their decision making skills by evaluating the choices of Katniss Everdeen within the novel. The choices that each student must make in their own lives often parallels the choices that Katniss must make. By reading the thoughts that are written in Collin’s novel from Katniss’ perspective, it allows students to evaluate her thoughts when making her decisions. For example, in the lives of a high school students, romantic relationships can at times be an influence on decisions that are made. Though Katniss is not in a relationship at the time of volunteering to join the games, she does have a close friend that at times seems to be a potential romantic partner to her. In the moment, she decides that family means more to her than anything, and is willing to give her life in order to save the life of her younger sister. When relating this concept back to my students, I would like for them to potentially discuss: If in a relationship, would this inhibit you from making a decision that would greater benefit you than your partner? In their lives, they are beginning to devote themselves to the decision that they have made for their future, be it armed forces, school, or work, but these decisions are not always easy due to not only the romantic relationships, but because of the relationships that they have with their families and friends as well.

By participating in this highly discussion based unit, I hope that I can encourage students to think deeply about decisions in terms of not only themselves, but others as well. As an Alumni of Edwardsville High School, I understand the importance of the core values of both the school and this novel. By providing students with an interesting novel to evaluate, write about, and discuss, students entering their senior year will gain great confidence in the decisions made.

Teaching Objectives

Common Core in the state of Illinois contains many skills that students in junior year are very familiar with. The following skill sets will be used throughout this unit, allowing students to gain the most throughout their experience with this novel.

Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

This skill set will be used with easy daily as students address discussion questions and journal prompts where they will back claims both from the text and from external materials provided. Discussion questions and journal prompts will be written similar to the following examples:

Discussion: In Panem, specifically in District 12, food is hard to come by. How would you collect food not only for yourself but for your family? Would you sneak out of the district to hunt, would you steal, or would you enter your names into the drawing for the hunger games to receive more tesserae?

Journal Prompt: Katniss completed a very selfless act by volunteering herself in place of her sister Prim. Would you volunteer yourself in place of a sibling or loved one? Provide both textual evidence and personal reasoning.

Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama.

Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

Both of the above common core skill sets allow for students to deeply evaluate the choices of our author. By having students analyze the choices of the author, we will be able to further understand their thinking about certain elements within the story. Questions such as the following would allow for these skills to be used. How does the use of certain locations and actions progress the story? Does everything fall into place to create the themes and concepts?

Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text.

There are some musical and poetic elements within The Hunger Games that I believe would be quite important to discuss. They are used at critical moments when emotions are high. I would like for students to evaluate the purpose of these textual elements and compare them to scenarios in their own lives.

Pedagogical Rationale

This unit plan gained a lot of it’s physical characteristics from Sheridan Blau’s From Telling to Teaching, The Literature Workshop in Action. In his workshop he explains the importance of small groups when it comes to indepth discussion of the meaning of a text:

I prefer groups of three because groups of four take too much time and a group of two provides insufficient data on the experience to be significant for the discussants. A two-person group also increases the possibility that a serious misunderstanding won’t get corrected. For that reason, when the numbers don’t work out exactly, I generally use leftover students to increase some groups to four rather than allow any to stand as pairs.

(Blau p. 38)

By using small, divided discussions in relation to The Hunger Games it will allow for students to get the best understanding of the novel and ensure that misinterpretations are corrected. It also allows so that my student teacher and I are not telling students what is happening within the novel, but teaching them by allowing them to make interpretations and connect with the novel on a deeper, more personal level through small, divided groups. These groups would be given fifteen minutes to discuss the materials from the previous night’s reading, allowing them to clear and misunderstandings before the daily class discussion would take place.

For the daily class discussion, I would like to have students participate in an inner circle- outer circle discussion by moving a pod of 11 desks into the middle of the classroom and leaving 11 desks out of the pod as well. This type of discussion prompts students to use the following skills during their discussion:

identify confusion and ask for clarification (e.g., “I wasn’t sure about ___. What do people think this means?”)

offer an interpretation (e.g. “I think ___ because ___. What do you think?”)

ask for interpretation, comparison, or evaluation (e.g. “What did you think the author means when ___?” or “How is ___ different from ___”?)


To ensure that the class is also not running out of material, not only can the daily discussion question be used, but the journal prompt from the night before can be used as well. But creating a vast discussion of many materials, the conversation will flow, and allow for the students inside to work on argumentation skills while students from the outside will work on taking notes and understanding the concepts discussed. The class would debrief from their discussion but allowing the outer circle to make a few comments before returning the room back to it’s normal physical arrangement and being assigned the daily journal prompt to work on until the end of class and complete for homework.

The journal prompt creates a way to hold students accountable for their understanding of the novel on a daily basis. It also requires for them to be making critical decisions daily during this unit by completing at least 400+ words per journal. Students will be completing their journals every day throughout the unit, and at the end of the unit, they will have a completed twelve journal entries. These fourteen entries should contain personal interpretations and decisions surrounding both in-text and external materials.

Overall, The Hunger Games will educate students about the importance of values and consequences when making decisions. Though they will not have to make life or death decisions when looking into their future, they will have to make decisions that impact their quality of life, which in modern era can seem very similar. By educating my students through discussions and writing, they will be prepared for the future that they have chosen.

Student Motivation

Novels like The Hunger Games use concepts that can be considered immoral to grab the attention of it’s audience. In their own lives, they have not had to fear something as horror striking as the games, so to read about them would easily grab attention. This novel progresses in ways that can make each and every chapter seem like a cliffhanger, encouraging the reader to continue reading. The first chapter of the novel introduces our characters, but ends with saying that Katniss’ younger sister Prim was chosen as the female volunteer from district twelve. As a reader, the motivation to seek out what would happen next would be high. Does Prim enter the games, or does someone step forth to save her? Furthermore, the novel includes themes such as love, sacrifice, survival, and thrillers, which can be very exciting and interesting to a mature age group such as high school juniors. These themes are demonstrated by the tamed written violence of the fight scenes as well as the love scenes towards the end of the novel with Katniss and Peeta, the male tribute from District 12.

Despite the novel being very self motivating, students will also be motivated to read by the inner-outer circle discussions. Knowing that the following day you must come to class with both concepts and journal complete to gain points from a discussion will motivate students to remain caught up. I believe also that by including many interesting yet connecting external resources, students will find a way to connect to and understand the materials.


As previously mentioned, the daily journals in part will assess the progress that students are making in relation to decision making and novel comprehension. Students are also being assessed by participation within the inner-outer circle and class-wide discussions. I will keep track during their discussions to see who is participating. The class will also be responsible for their classmate’s grades as they will fill out weekly participation evaluations, where they will rate the participation of themselves, as well as the two or three other members in their discussion pod. This type of evaluation allows for students to keep themselves an their classmates accountable. My students will also be assessed through weekly quizzes containing ten questions from in the novel. These quizzes will be comprised of true or false, multiple choice, and decision based questions. Lastly, students will complete the unit with a project. This project will require that students pick out their three most relatable journals out of the fourteen they have written and write a final essay comparing and contrasting decisions made by characters within the novel to decisions that they have made within their own life. They will be heavily encouraged to use decisions such as relationships, future endeavors, and past decisions that made great impact in their life. This journal will make up 40% of their final grade for the unit.

Works Cited

Blau, Sheridan. The Literature Workshop. Heinemann, 2003.  

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Inc., 2018.


English Language Arts Standards>> Reading: Literature> Grade 11-12 | Common Core State Standards Initiative, Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2019,

Filkins, Scott. “Conducting Inner-Outer Circle Discussions.”,

Jacobson, Nina, et al. The Hunger Games, Lionsgate Films, 12 Mar. 2012.

“Resources and Tools for PBL Start to Finish.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 23 May 2012,

Shmoop Editorial Team. “The Hunger Games Summary.” Shmoop, Shmoop University, 11 Nov. 2008,

“Suzanne Collins Interview 1 of 5.” Scholastic,

“The Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.” Greek Myths & Greek Mythology, 3 Nov. 2010,

Winkler, Matthew. “What Makes a Hero? – Matthew Winkler.” TED, TED-Ed,

Unit Plan Weekly Calender

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Unit Plan (3 weeks)

Introduction to Unit Plan

This unit will cover the novel Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. The novel is about a young boy named Harry Potter, who is orphaned as a baby after a tragic accident involving his parents. Harry then has to live with his aunt and uncle, who treat him unkindly and do not really care for him. When Harry turns 11 however, he discovers a whole other world and learns that he is a wizard. Harry then that he is famous in a world that he has never known and is to attend Hogwarts, a school for witchcraft and wizardry. Once Harry attends Hogwarts, he soon makes friends and faces challenges like any other student. The novel follows his ups and down of his first year at Hogwarts and in the wizarding world. It focuses on the themes of friendship, parental relationships, the power of love, good vs. evil, and even death. 

We will spend majority of class time, reading and analyzing the novel as a class with reading strategies and discussions. While completing the unit, students will cover figurative language with examples from the novel, clauses, how to quote and use textual evidence, summarizing, compare and contrast, and analyze themes of a text. These tasks align with reading and writing standards for students grade level. Students will complete daily tasks as well as a whole unit project that they will work on both individually and with a group. Students will present their unit projects at the end of the unit for extra credit, or will have the option to video tape. Students will be given the option to pick what unit project they want to do as I will offer a variety of choices. The unit projects will relate to different ideas of the novel, like characters, settings, conflicts, problem-solving, etc. Students are expected to read and present with clear voices and get comfortable speaking in front of their classmates in attempt to meet speaking standards at their grade level. Some reading strategies may included reader’s theatre and popcorn. While discussing the novel, students will answer questions and they may also complete graphic organizers or timelines. After reading our daily reading assignment, students will be given independent or group time to work on their unit projects or assigned activities, that will increase students writing skills with journal prompts, vocabulary practice, and summarization practice. Students will also work on their reading skills by analyzing the text with comparison activities with the characters of the novel and the setting of the novel. Additionally, students will take on the perspective of a character by writing in their perspective, or writing down facts about that character. 


The unit plan will address the following learning standards that align with the content area for this unit and the grade level of the students. Below each standard is a set of objectives the students should be able to meet by the end of the unit and a short description of how it will be achieved. 

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.2 – Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.

Students will analyze the novel and it’s theme during in-depth discussions. While discussing, students will use evidence from the novel or chapter to support their ideas. Students will also distinguish the character’s action by completing character task cards, or a chosen unit plan assignment. Two unit plan assignments that align with this standard are character profiles, in which they will create a social media profile for a chosen character and write statuses based on the character’s behavior, or by writing a chapter from a character’s perspective. 

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.3 – Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact).

Students will compare the setting of the novel to their own setting by completing a venn diagram of Hogwarts vs. their school, and with discussions looking at the setting of different chapters within the novel. Students will contrast characters by using illustrations and evidence from the text in how the characters differ or may be similar. Students will also differentiate between different events with class discussions, summarizing of chapters, and through chosen unit plan assessments. 

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative language such as metaphors and similes.

Students will define the meaning of words in the novel by using context clues and discussion. Students will also identify metaphors and similes within the text and practice their meaning by creating their own. 

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.4 – Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. 

Students will compose organized writing that is expected to be clear and understood in relation to writing assignments like journal prompts and their unit plan. 

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.9 – Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Students will use details from the novel to support their character analysis activities like the trading cards and chosen unit projects (character profile and chapter by a character). 

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.5 – With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach. 

Students will practice the writing process by selecting a unit plan assignment in which they will work independently and collaboratively in groups. Students will edit each other’s work, with the help of the teacher. 

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.5.5.A – Interpret figurative language, including similes and metaphors, in context.

Students will identify what similes and metaphors are by using examples from the novel and also creating their own. 

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.5.2 – Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Students should use the correct capitalization, punctuation, and spelling in their individual and collaborative unit plan. Students will practice the use of capitalization, punctuation, and spelling while writing journal prompts and other writing assignments. 

Pedagogical Rationale

My rationale behind this unit is to motivate students to improve their reading and writing skills using an alternative text that is not found in their textbooks. Elizabeth Birr Moje, a professor of Literacy, Language, and Culture at the University of Michigan, encourages disciplinary literacy and putting textbooks away. Moje found it difficult to get students engaged in reading and writing for her disciplinary texts, but found her students reading books like Harry Potter, The Outsiders, and Holes. From this experience, she suggested that teachers use alternatives to textbooks. Textbooks are said to be the “pedagogy of telling” and make teachers cover an abundance of information in a short amount of time instead of teaching for understanding and in engaging ways (Peterson).  

Harry Potter is a novel that can still cover content standards, but provides an alternative text that students may find more interesting. Moje said “‘One simple step is to use text – as opposed to textbooks – more and to engage students in text-based discussion, regardless of the discipline’” (Peterson).  This unit plan includes using an alternative text and discussions to help student understanding and engagement. Additionally the novel relates to learning and everyday life, as Moje also suggests teachers do. Harry Potter discusses everyday life topics like friendship, love, and good vs. evil. The unit will also help students to improve their writing skills through journal prompts and practicing the writing process with their individual and collaborative unit projects. Writing is another skill that students will use daily in and out of school. Students will also be working in groups building their communication skills. 

Relating to life skills, the unit will also use media and technology to engage students. Through selected unit plans, students will be using media to create a profile for a character of the novel, or using media to create a newspaper covering events that occur in the novel. By using technology and media, students will be learning new ways to participate that are used within the world today, like social networking. In “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century,” it states “Before students can engage with the new participatory culture, they must be able to read and write. Youth must expand their required competencies, not push aside old skills to make room for the new. Second, new media literacies should be considered a social skill” (Henry Jenkins). Instead of replacing content skills like reading and writing, students will build off of these skills and incorporate them into a new skill set of using technology. Students will analyze the novel, whether it be the novel as a whole or as a section, and create either a newspaper, illustrations with descriptions, profiles, creating a commercial and script, acting out a chapter, or rewriting a chapter with a personal touch or from a character’s perspective. 

Student Motivation

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has themes of friendship, bravery, family, right and wrong, that students themselves are facing in everyday life. My fifth graders will be new to Junior High, just like Harry is to Hogwarts, I think they will relate to him even more because of the new atmosphere that they have to adjust to. This novel not only relates to their everyday lives but will hopefully reach student interest more as it is an alternative text and will be covered differently than other texts. Students will have discussions daily to analyze the novel and to share their thoughts and opinions on readings.  Throughout the unit, there will also be different activities like journal prompts and a unit project that I hope will engage the student’s more in reading and writing. The unit project will have a variety of choices that students can choose to work on both independently and collaboratively. By offering student’s choices, they will feel more in charge of their learning and hopefully feel more motivated. In addition, students will be working on their time management and teamwork skills. The unit project will include options like writing a newspaper or filming a newscast covering events that occur in the novel, creating a profile for one of the characters in the novel, writing a chapter with their personal touch or from a character’s perspective with plot twists, or creating illustrations for the novel. 

Students will also be participating in a house games similar to the one in the novel. They will take an online quiz to discover what house they are in, e.g. Slytherian, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, or Ravenclaw. While at school, the children will earn points for their house by completing good behaviors like passing out papers, cleaning their desks, or helping other students. 


Students will be assessed through observation, participation, collaboration with others, pre- and post-test assessments. I will try to observe how well students manage their time, work with others, and successfully complete the writing process. Students will be graded on participation in discussions and group work. I plan to give a pre-test prior to starting the unit to understand what students already know about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. After completing the unit, I want to give students a post-test assessing what they have learned about the novel, writing process, figurative language, etc. I also want to give student’s time to reflect on what they have learned in journals. I will look at these from time to time, to ensure that students are using the proper grammar and answering in relation to the prompt. I will also be grading students unit projects, focusing on what details from the novel they have used and whether they are accurate, grammar and organization of writing, and how they contributed to their group projects. For individual projects, I will only focus on the details and accuracy and grammar.

Unit Calendar

Works Cited

5 Metaphors in Harry Potter. n.d. <;.

Dirk Detlefsen. 2017. <;.

English Language Arts Standards » Language » Grade 5. 2019. <;.

English Language Arts Standards » Reading: Literature » Grade 5. 2019. <;.

English Language Arts Standards » Writing » Grade 5. 2019. <;.

Harry Potter Brings Magic Into the Classroom. 2019. <;.

Henry Jenkins, Katie Clinton, Ravi PUrushotma, Alice J. Robison, Margaret Weigel. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. 2006. <;.

Peterson, Art. Elizabeth Birr Moje on “Disciplinary Literacy” and Reading Across the Content Areas. 13 January 2010. <;.

Teaching Harry Potter. 26 October 2016. <;.

Professor Quirrell and the Representation of Disability

Throughout Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone readers are led to believe that the culprit behind the mysterious goings on at Hogwarts is Severus Snape, the seemingly villainous Potions professor. So, it came as quite a shock to many to find out that Professor Quirrell was in fact behind the true villain. Perhaps the most shocking aspect about this reveal is that Professor Quirrell is arguably a minor character up until the last chapters of the novel. Added to that, everything that readers are told about Quirrell gives the impression that he isn’t worth paying attention to; his odd mannerism, his physical description, and his stutter make him inconsequential. Of course, you could argue that J.K. Rowling purposefully wrote Quirrell this way so the ending would be more surprising, the same way she purposefully wrote Snape to appear to always be the bad guy. However, Rowling uses Quirrell’s disability, his speech impediment, as a tool to make him appear less threatening, weak, and incapable of perpetrating any of the events at Hogwarts during Harry’s first year.

Before we dive in, stuttering is considered a disability by the American Disabilities Act. They define disability as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity” (ADA). Stuttering is a condition that affects speech and can limit that person’s ability to participate in “major life activity”; the term disability isn’t only attributed to physical disabilities. Quirrell’s stutter, at least in America, would be considered a disability as it affects his ability to do his job and interact with students and other professors.

The first introduction to Quirrell is at the Leaky Cauldron when Harry and Hagrid are on their way to Diagon Alley. “‘P-P-Potter,’ stammered Professor Quirrell, grasping Harry’s hand, ‘c-can’t t-tell you how p-pleased I am to meet you’” (Rowling 70). The first impression the reader get of Quirrell is that he has a stammer and the second is that he is constantly nervous and afraid. Hagrid says about Quirrell, “Poor bloke. Brilliant mind…scared of students, scared of his own subject” (Rowling 71). This leaves the reader with the impression that Professor Quirrell is not a very intimidating character, even for a professor at Hogwarts. For comparison, Snape’s first introduction is a description of his appearance at the sorting hat ceremony. He has “greasy black hair, a hooked nose, a sallow skin” and when he makes eye contact with Harry, Harry feels a “sharp, hot pain” in his scar (Rowling 126).The immediate impression of Snape is that he’s creepy and he somehow poses a threat to Harry. Professor McGonagall’s introduction as well is very different than Quirrell’s. As Harry and the rest of the First Years enter Hogwarts for the first time, McGonagall is waiting for their arrival. Harry describes her as “a tall, black-haired witch in emerald-green robes” as well as having a “very stern face and…snapenot someone to cross” (Rowling 113).professor mcgonagall quirrell

As with Snape, the description given of McGonagall is fierce and intimidating and the reader is almost invited to forget all about Professor Quirrell.

Quirrell’s stammer is his defining characteristic and marks him as ‘other’ from the rest of the professors at Hogwarts. Rosemarie Garland Thompson, author of Extraordinary Bodies, states,

“a disability functions only as visual difference that signals meanings. Consequently, literary texts necessarily make disabled characters into freaks, stripped of normalizing contexts and engulfed by a single stigmatic trait” (11).

Arguably, it is this characteristic that makes his villainous identity so surprising. Joseph Jordan, a writer for the Journal of Popular Culture, states that “the least likely suspect is usually guilty. But we seem to forget the rule when the least likely suspect is physically disabled, or seems to be” (855). This is true for Quirrell as well. He is the very least likely character to be searching for the sorcerer’s stone and therefore he should have been the number one suspect.  Here’s an article on Pottermore that lists all of the obvious signs that Quirrell was the villain all along. The signs are indeed glaringly obvious and yet those signs were ignored or overlooked because there was no way Quirrell was intelligent enough to pull something like this off. So, instead of being undesirable number one, Quirrell is cast aside as an incapable, weak, and even comic relief character. Quirrell is the professor for Defense Against the Dark Arts but not a very good one as his “lessons turned out to be a bit of a joke” and he “smelled strongly of garlic” to protect himself day and night from a vampire (Rowling 134).  Quirrell’s stutter gives him the air of ineptitude that Harry, as well as most of the Hogwarts population and the reader buys into. The problem with this is that Rowling’s strategy for throwing her audience off the scent of the real villain is to give that character a disability which automatically renders him incapable of the crime in the mind of her audience.

For example, the moment when Quirrell runs into the Great Hall and says, “Troll- in the dungeons- thought you ought to know” seals his fate has a weak, timid, and unsuspicious character (Rowling 172). troll.jpegQuirrell is described in that moment as having “terror on his face” and after delivering his message he “sank to the floor in a dead faint” (Rowling 172). While this is clearly a plot device to cast Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s suspicions elsewhere, it also works to hammer in the uselessness of Quirrell as a wizard and a professor and therefore not even considered to be the villain; because someone that scared of a troll could never skillfully make their way through the protections to the sorcerer’s stone.

Rosemarie Garland Thompson argues the context around the disabled body is “informed more by received attitudes than by people’s actual experience of disability” (9). The assumptions made about disabled characters like Quirrell in literature are formed by the social treatment of people with disabilities which is often uninformed. Similarly, Michael Hart writes in an article for The Journal of Modern Literature that “it does not matter whether Character X has disability Y. What matters is the web of social relations that constitutes other people’s responses to Character X” (186). It’s not the actual speech impediment itself that casts Quirrell as an inept character, it’s how the other characters and how the reader responds to Quirrell that allows his character to be pushed aside. The general misunderstanding and misinformation about people with disabilities allows for Quirrell’s character to be assigned the same assumptions that are made in reality about people with disabilities. Quirrell’s nervousness, oddness, and skittish nature help the audience to buy into the stereotype his stutter already planted. Garland Thompson makes another great point about the representation of disabled bodies in literature that is applicable to Quirrell. She states,

“representation tends to objectify disabled characters by denying them any opportunity for subjectivity or agency. The plot or the work’s rhetorical potential usually benefits from the disabled figure remaining other to the reader- identifiably human but resolutely different” (11).

Throughout the novel, Quirrell continuously aids the plot by being ‘other’. His stammer separates him from the other professors and allows the students to not take him seriously. Without either of these, the shocking ending would not be as powerful. Quirrell’s stammer only operates to discredit Quirrell as an option for the villain to make the ending much more shock inducing.

What makes Garland Thompson’s point that much more fitting for Quirrell is that as well as revealing himself as the villain, he also reveals that his stammer is fake. Jeffery Johnson writes, “Quirrell feigns stuttering in order to appear weaker and this not be suspected of his crimes” and “when he stops pretending to be meek, Quirrell also stops stuttering, and is shown to be a powerful villain” (250). This casts people with disabilities as people who can’t be strong or powerful. Johnson further states that “stuttering is often used as a visual shorthand for weakness” and characters depicted with a stutter are “rarely cast in the role of the hero” because the typical hero, or villain for that matter, must be “strong and confident” (251). This very reason can be attributed to Snape being the primary suspect; it goes beyond character description, Snape was thought to be the villain because he is powerful and confident enough to have been one. Rowling plays into the stereotypical disability trope with Quirrell’s character and perhaps does more damage by making Quirrell’s disability fake in order to appear weaker. In the final pages of the novel, Quirrell’s true identity is revealed to Harry and he makes the comparison to Snape’s seemingly suspicious behavior. Quirrell tells Harry,

“Severus does seem the type, doesn’t he? So useful to have him swooping around like an overgrown bat. Next to him, who would suspect p-p-poor, st-stuttering P-Professor Quirrell!” (Rowling 288).

Here’s a YouTube clip of the ending to get a better impression. In this passage alone, Rowling makes multiple statements about people with disabilities. By mentioning Harry’s suspicions of Snape, Rowling is pointing out that Snape not only looks and acts the part of the villain, but that he’s strong enough to be the villain simply because he’s the opposite of Quirrell. Rowling is also making a point that Quirrell’s fake stutter was to make him appear less threatening and weak by having Quirrell make fun of it. It’s also implying that people with a stutter are automatically looked-down upon and pitied.

Quirrell’s disability is represented in such a way as to make him appear nonthreatening, weak, and largely incapable of being the villain Harry must face in order to get the sorcerer’s stone. The idea that disability equals ineptitude is perpetuated in literature as well as in reality. Literature has the unique capability of assisting in shaping our perceptions and “especially regarding situations about which we have little direct knowledge” (Garland Thompson 10). Literature has a great power over its readership and the way people are represented in what we read effects a least part of our perceptions of the world. Poor representation of disabilities in literature leads to a negative perception of disabilities in reality. Using disability as a plot device to avoid suspicion of a character shows that people with disabilities are to be assumed incapable.

Works Cited

Garland Thompson, Rosemarie. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. Columbia University Press, New York, 1997.

Hart, Michael Patrick. “Narrative Strategies and Fictional Intellectual Disabilities”. Journal of Modern Literature. Vol. 42, No. 2, 2011, 185-191.

Johnson, Jeffery K. “The Visualization of the Twisted Tongue: Portrayals of Stuttering in Film, Television, and Comic Books”. The Journal of Popular Culture. Vol. 41, No. 2, 2008, 245-261.

Jordan, Joseph. “The Man with Two Faces: Stuttering Characters and Surprise”. Journal of Popular Culture. Vol. 50, No. 4, 2017, 855-870.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Scholastic, New York, 2008.

“What is the Definition of Disability Under the ADA?” ADA National Network. July 2019.

Annotated Bib. – Gender Roles in YA Fantasy

As we navigate through life, we will forge our characters and slowly discover what our identity is through experiences and personal events. Oftentimes though, we are influenced by the people around us or by the things that we are exposed to. Although many will argue the contrary, books play a big part in our lives, as the worlds and characters we are confronted with will open our eyes to a myriad of scenarios and personalities that can unconsciously guide us or provide us with someone we can relate to. For authors that can be a great motivation or a strenuous pressure as many readers will unconsciously choose role models within the characters they encounter. That is why it is tremendously important for books to be written with powerful positive characters, yet young women often are faced with the opposite when browsing through Young Adult Literature.

Young women already face pressure when it comes to social acceptability. As Mary Pipher writes,

“Girls have long been evaluated on the basis of appearance and caught in myriad double binds: achieve, but not too much; be polite, but be yourself; be feminine and adult; be aware of our cultural heritage, but don’t comment on the sexism. Girls are trained to be less than who they really are. They are trained to be what the culture wants of its young women, not what they themselves want to become.” (Pipher, 44)

In literature too we see women often portrayed in an unfavorable light. Janet Peterson points out how “[f]or decades, textbooks and literature available to young adults have generated bias against females.” (Peterson, 1) The damsel-in-distress setting is all too common, where we have a weak and passive female just waiting for a big strong man to come to her rescue. In horror stories girls are often shown to be hysterical and unable to use their wits or brain to formulate any sort of plan.

Young adult literature has come a long way when it comes to the portrayal and empowerment of women. Books such as The Hunger Games and Divergent have presented us with strong female protagonists, yet Antero Garcia argues how even then “depictions of traditional femininity still finds these characters as subservient and meek.” (Garcia, 77) Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. Among the countless titles that exist in YA literature, there exists books that challenge this concept and introduce us to girls who refuse to be painted with the expected brush of femininity.

Fantasy is a great genre for these empowering women, for it allows them to confront missions and quests that wouldn’t be possible in a realistic setting. The following books are all stories in which the protagonist must face the constraints of femininity and we shall see with further detail just how they overcome them and the different courses of action they utilize to achieve that

Cashore, Kristin. Graceling, Orion, 2008

In the Seven Kingdoms, children with mismatched eyes are Graced, gifted with an extreme skill. While for others it may be swimming, flexibility or intelligence, Katsa is Graced with killing. She is lethal with hand to hand combat and has deadly accuracy with arrows, knives and daggers. As such she is under the command of her uncle the King, who uses her to carry out cruel punishments to anyone who might displease him. Yet one day Katsa meets what might prove to be her match, a Graceling fighter by the name of Po. Despite not being at her level, he challenges Katsa to more than just fighting, as he forces her to confront herself about her true nature and provides her the courage she needs to defy her uncle. Together they set out on a journey to rescue Po’s cousin and to possibly save the Seven Kingdoms. Although she has never lost a fight to Po, could it be that she just might lose her heart along the way? As they reach a Kingdom hazy with lies and deceit, will Katsa’s Grace be more than enough to protect not only those she cares about but also those unable to protect themselves?

Despite being trained with a single purpose, Katsa begins to question her missions and starts an underground organization dedicated to fight the corruption and evil within the kingdoms. She shows us that if we take a leap of courage and reach out to others, we can help those who are unable to help themselves. In her travels, Katsa also noticed how despite being the weakest and most vulnerable, girls and women were taught nothing of fighting and instead relied on the protection of their fathers, brothers and husbands. Women were expected to be the mistress of the home, someone used to produce heirs. Katsa prizes her independence and buckles under the thought that she should entrust her protection to someone else. As consequence, she sets out to give fighting lessons to girls all over the Seven Kingdoms, determined that they should have an equal chance of defending themselves as anyone else. She demonstrates to readers that girls can also be strong and brave in the face of trouble.

Pierce, Tamora. Alanna: The First Adventure, RHCP, 2014

As a lady born to a noble family, Alanna of Trebond is destined to learn the art of magic, but she instead switches places with her twin Thom and heads to the capital city of Tortall, to King Roald’s court to become a knight. Her brother takes her place and sets out to become a sorcerer while she changes her name to Alan and braces herself to living her life as a boy. Although her skills back home were known, court life proves to be tremendously harsh, as Alanna tries to balance a dawn to dusk work schedule while trying not raise suspicion about her gender. She has to learn how to overcome her smaller size and weaker physique so that she will not get left behind and thus be able to stand her ground to anyone without getting caught.

Alanna is a character that proves to be a great role model. She does not conform to the roles given to girls in her time, and instead does all that she can to fight for her dream. She isn’t afraid to ask for help, recognizing that there are areas where she is weak and can benefit from the help of others. When she is singled out and starts to be harassed, she refuses to let others fight her battles for her and instead works herself to the max, training and learning all she can till the day that she finally confronts her bully head on and defeats him in an honest fight. Via her courage and determination, she proves that with hard work and persistent effort we can indeed reach our goals and defy those who mistreat us.  

Forrest, Bella. The Gender Game, Nightlight Press, 2017

The toxic Veil River separates two vastly different lands. Towards the East lies Matrus, a land governed by women, and to the West lies Patrus, a land dictated by men. Violet Bates is a Matrian girl with anger issues who has been rotated among several correctional facilities as punishment for trying to smuggle her little brother to Patrus. Tim was found to have ‘aggressive tendencies’ and is therefore unfit to live in peaceful Matrus, yet Violet knows that is far from the truth. Due to several misconducts, Violet is given the choice of crossing into Patrus as a spy or to die for her crimes. Under the facade of marriage, she enters the patriarchy, where women are possessions of their husbands with no right to work, drive, vote, testify or able to own money or property. If she ever hopes to see her brother again, Violet has to set aside her emotions and morals in order to undertake the dangerous missions Matrus demands of her, while at the same time making sure to play the part of a weak and submissive woman who abides by all the rules. Yet Violet has never been a fan of rules, and she starts to wonder where she truly belongs.

Despite her circumstances, our character is a strong and skilled fighter who refuses to let herself be swept away in the concept of how women should be and behave. Even though she is often scared, she faces everything that is thrown her way with steeliness and determination instead of taking the easy way out. She does her best to protect the people around her without hurting innocent people.

DeStefano, Lauren. Wither, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011

Seventy years ago, scientists managed to create a generation of children immune to any disease, practically perfect. Yet when these children grew up and reproduced, their offspring and all their descendants were born with a terrible flaw. Males live to the age of 25, while females only have 20 years before they’re eradicated by a terrible virus. The remaining perfect race, the First Generations, refuse to give up on humanity and constantly perform experiments in a desperate attempt to create an antidote. Rhine Ellery is one of countless girls who ends up getting kidnapped and sold off to a wealthy husband to breed more children and keep the population going. Rhine must navigate through the conflicting feelings she has towards her husband, the trust and wariness she has towards her sister wives and the constant desire to let her twin brother know she is alive. She conspires to escape along with one of the servants, but will she be able to make it before her time runs out or will she be caught again in the grasp of her cruel father-in-law?  

Although she is caught in a dire trap, Rhine does not break in spirit. She learns to trust her sister wives and together they form an alliance against their husband. She demonstrates to the readers that there is strength in unity. By reaching out and becoming friend of the entire staff under her husband’s house, she allows us to see that differences in statuses should not matter when forging friendships.  

Pierce, Tamora. The Will of The Empress, Lindfield, N.S.W: Scholastic Press, 2005

Sandry’s cousin, the Empress of Namorn, has been insisting that Sandry visit and oversee the extensive lands under her name for years. Finally Sandry relents and armed with her mage friends enters her cousin’s court, where she must use her cunning to survive. Empress Berenne however, has set her eyes on the individual skills that Sandry and her friends possess and has set her mind to maintain them in her Empire no matter what it takes. She offers money, power, love, fame and liberty of magic use to Tris, Daja and Briar individually, yet they remain loyal to Sandry. In order to gain full access to Sandry’s wealth and lands she only needs to marry her off, as the beautiful Empress is quite capable of controlling any man within her Empire. When numerous courting attempts fail, the young nobles of Namorn turn towards a frequently used method of matrimony: bride kidnapping. By kidnapping a girl and forcefully getting her to sign a marriage contract, the couple are now legally wed and as such the husband has the right to all the property and wealth of his wife. The Empress always gets what she wants yet Sandry and her friends did not earn their mage medallions at such a young age for nothing. Will the combined forces of her friends be enough to return back home, or shall the will of the Empress continue to succeed?

The noble women in this novel are used as pawns, unable to live their own lives or make decisions. Our character however refuses to be told how to live and who to marry. She uses the power of friendship to tackle these problems head on and demonstrates that with the help of those who we hold dearest we can battle anything out. She drives home the point that girls should find someone who values them for who they are and not for their position or wealth. Towards the end Sandry knows that with her absence the women in her lands will continue to suffer, and after the advice of her friends she relinquishes her title to her uncle, thus providing protection to all the young girls in her vicinity. With this action we can see that sometimes we have to let go of what we treasure the most in order to do the right thing.

Works Cited

Antero Garcia, Gender and sexuality and YA, pp. 77–93, SensePublishers, Rotterdam, 2013.

Peterson, Janet. “Gender Bias and Stereotyping in Young Adult Literature.” Children’s Book and Media Review 17.3 (1996): 2.

Pipher, Mary Bray. Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves Of Adolescent Girls. Riverhead Books, 2005.

YA Fantasy Annotated Bibliography

About these books…

These books are in the YA fantasy. They focus on both male and female lead characters. YA fantasy in literature involves plots that could not take place in the real world. The sub genre can contain anything from fairies and dragons to people with magical abilities. YA fantasy involves the idea that readers can escape to an alternate place and time while joining the characters on a thrilling adventure. While many YA fantasy novels tend to be in a series, there are some that are stand-alone works. All of the books mentioned here are part of a different novel series, but they are reviewed and analyzed as standalone works.

According to the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), YA books have a target audience aimed at kids aged 12 to 18 years with the protagonists of the novels within the same age range. The story is almost always told through the teenagers point of view. Balance Careers’ research on the YA book market shows that 70% of the YA market is purchased by adults. Though YA literature is written for ages 12-18 with the protagonist being teen-aged, many adults find the stories entertaining and relatable.

Why fantasy for young readers…

This selection of books will focus on readers starting at age 12. Information on the reading levels and age ranges provided by YABC.  

YA fantasy is a form of literature that allows the reader to leave the everyday behind as they temporarily transport themselves to the safe confines of their reading. Young readers are dealing with a juggling act of multiple stressors. Due to their age and maturity, they lack the ability to control their environment.  “It is through fantasy that we have always sought to make sense of the world, not through reason” (Zipes 78).

According to Standout Books, YA novels should contain strong character voices that speak to the targeted reader’s age. They should also be simple enough in writing that the reader can understand the subject matter with an ending that leaves the reader happy, or at least content that they were able to survive the journey and they are stronger for it.

Farah Mendlesohn’s Rhetorics of Fantasy proposes four categories/ subgenres of fantasy novels. The portal-quest, immersive, intrusion, and liminal. These are all derived from the relationship between the protagonist and the fantasy world.

The portal-quest involves the protagonist(s) entering the fantasy world through some form of entrance, like a portal or door. It is important to note that while the fantasy world exists on the other side of the portal, it does not bleed through to reality’s side. A classic example would be The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. The children in the story enter the magical world through a clothes wardrobe. It is their only way in or out of the magical realm.

The immersive fantasy allows the reader to be completely surrounded by the world from the beginning of the story. All information and understandings of the world are presented through the protagonist is aware of the abilities of others and the world for the entire story. The fantastic parts of the world are common knowledge for the characters. In this type of fantasy, the reader learns through the eyes of a character or characters about the world as it appears to be normal everyday events. A classic example of this would be The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. The characters are part of the magical fantasy world from beginning to end.

Intrusion fantasy is when the fantastic aspects and abilities of the magical world interrupt the protagonist’s life in some way. The interruption takes the protagonist out of their comfort zone and puts everything they ever thought they believed to be real about the world into turmoil. In order to keep a sense of urgency and surprise to the fantastic elements the events and knowledge often escalate as the protagonist adapts to the situation. A well-known example of this would be Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. Harry lives his life up to the start of the book thinking everything is normal and that there is no such thing as magic. He is quickly thrown into the magical world and every time he thinks he is adapting more fantastic things happen to shatter his sense of normalcy.

Liminal is a fantasy that is set in reality and does not appear to disrupt the protagonist’s view of the world. What happens in a liminal world might not be welcoming to the characters, but they do not object to the happenings as otherworldly. An example of this would be Yes, But Today is Tuesday by Joan Aiken. In the book, unicorns show up on the family’s lawn on Tuesday. They are more concerned with the fact that this happens on a Tuesday rather than Monday, then they are about the magical creatures appearing in their normal reality.

The genre is usually steeped in mythology, folklore, fairy tales, alternate realities, or possibly all of the above. It contains universal archetypes that help the reader relate to the story. Oftentimes the reader is led on a journey where the underdog or unappreciated main character grows into hero status. Fantasy allows them a safe haven to imagine the impossible while exploring such topics as friendship and their idea of self.

Books I choose to read…

Beddor, Frank. The Looking Glass Wars. Dial Books, 2006.

Mull, Brandon. Fablehaven. Shadow Mountain, 2006.

Nielsen, Jennifer A. The False Prince. Scholastic Press, 2012.

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Raven Boys. Scholastic Press, 2012.

Yancey, Richard. The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp. Scholastic, 2005.

Thoughts after reading these books…

YA is really meant for all ages from the minimum reading level and up. Everyone loves a good tale of good versus evil, the hero growing stronger through their experiences, and triumph. YA fantasy stories can involve more than one of Mendlesohn’s categories. Sometimes they can be a blend of multiple categories as they contain elements of portals, immersions, and quests. YA fantasy can be liminal, but this rare. Usually, it is preferred by a reader to either start in the magical world or be shocked into its existence. After reading each of these books I went and read reviews so I could get a take on how readers feel about the stories. I found that many readers were, in fact, adults, and especially in the case of The Looking Glass Wars, they have very definite opinions on the stories. With this one, in particular, it is probably because the readers studied and read the original Carroll inspiration as a child and now have very definite feelings one way or the other about his work.


Alex. “Farah Mendlesohn’s Four Funky Factions of Fantasy.” The Afictionado,

McCoach, Katie. “5 Key Ingredients All Young Adult Novels Must Have.” Standout Books,

Mendlesohn, Farah. Rhetorics of Fantasy. Wesleyan University Press, 2013.

Pauley, Kimberly. “YA Books Central.” YA Books Central,

Peterson, Valerie. “Young Adult and Bew Adult Book Markets.” The Balance Careers,

Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), American Library Association,

Zipes, Jack. “Why Fantasy Matters Too Much.” The Journal of Aesthetic Education, vol. 43, no. 2, 2009, pp. 77–91., doi:10.1353/jae.0.0039.

Beddor, Frank. The Looking Glass Wars. Dial Books, 2006.

“Alyss knew she could do a lot worse than be Queen of Wonderland, but even a future monarch doesn’t always do what she is supposed to do.”

-Page 11 from The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

The Looking Glass Wars is a YA fantasy about Alyss, the long lost princess of Wonderland. The book is an alternate take on the Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. You do not need to have read Carroll’s version to enjoy the book; however, do not expect this book to pay homage to the original. Lewis Carroll himself is portrayed in the book and the rest of the characters are only vaguely related to any resemblance of their counterparts. The book contains violent battles and death with elements of both a portal-quest and immersion. It is a portal-quest in the sense that Alyss begins in the magical world of Wonderland and enters the real world which turns out to be the immersion of Lewis Carroll’s contemporary time, Victorian England. Alyss sets out on a heroic journey to reclaim the throne from her evil aunt and is victorious. This book would be just as relatable to boys and girls to read. It is fast paced and Alyss is a strong-willed character, but the writing is probably more juvenile in tone than most YA novels.

Mull, Brandon. Fablehaven. Shadow Mountain, 2006.

“Kendra stared out the side window of the SUV, watching foliage blur past. When the flurry of motion became too much, she looked up ahead an fixed her gaze on a particular tree, following it as it slowly approached, streaked past, and then gradually receded behind her.

Was life like that? You look ahead to the future or back at the past, but the present moved too quickly to absorb. Maybe sometimes. Not today.”

-Opening to Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

Fablehaven is a YA fantasy told through third person point of view as the story follows Kendra, age fourteen, and her brother, Seth, age eleven. The book is a portal-quest fantasy that takes place in a nature preserve for magical creatures. The children learn of the world upon entering their grandparents’ property called Fablehaven. This story is appealing to both boys and girls. Kendra is a ruler follower and Seth is a ruler breaker. Both characters are being equally as strong and must find a balance to work together for a common goal. While both children have a point of view, Kendra is more the main over Seth. Kendra discovers that she is too obedient and must find the courage within the take risks so she can rescue her family. This story is about finding your place in your family and introspective. Both Kendra and Seth grow closer as siblings because of their experiences. They also grow as individuals after learning some life lessons.

Nielsen, Jennifer A. The False Prince. Scholastic Press, 2012.

“If I had to do it all over again, I would not have chosen this life. Then again, I’m not sure I ever had a choice.” -Opening to The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The False Prince is a YA fantasy that tells the story of Sage, a fourteen-year-old, prince in hiding. It is immersive fantasy. It takes place in fictional medieval lands and Sage is already fully aware of the world when the reader started the book. Sage’s journey is one of his own making and he must use his skills to find a way back to his kingdom. Years before he ran away, his parents sent him off to a boarding school. His parents have not been looking for him because they were killed by one of his father’s advisors. Sage was also supposed to be assassinated, but fled before this could happen. Since then Sage has been living as an orphan. The advisor who killed Sage’s family has a plot to put a false prince on the throne. Sage auditions for the role with the goal of getting the real prince back on the throne and to see the advisor punished for his crimes. This book is related for both boys and girls. They will explore issues of sense of self-worth and identity. Though Sage knows the truth that he is the prince, no one else does. He must learn to come to terms with his identity before he can fully assume the role he was born into.

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Raven Boys. Scholastic Press, 2012.

“Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love. Her family traded in predictions.”

-Opening of The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys is a YA fantasy that tells the story of Blue Sargent, a fifteen-year-old girl, who comes from a family that is clairvoyant. Blue has never been able to see anything for herself until the opening of the story. This is an immersive fantasy. Through a third person point of view, the reader understands that Blue is aware of the magic and fantastic things in the world around her. She believes in the prediction that she will kill her true love. She lives in fear and getting close to anyone due to the prediction. This story is geared more towards girls as it is a teen girl with normal teen angst. She has two jobs, fights with her mom, argues with her sister, and generally hates going to school. Blue meets a boy, Gansey, and his group of friends called the Raven Boys. Blue goes on an adventure with these boys from an elite private school. Boys might enjoy the book due to the cast of the Raven Boys. Throughout the story family, friendship, and the free will to make choices are explored. Blue finds that letting go of the angst will lead to better relationships and allow to make better decisions in her life thus forging her own path outside of the expected family traditions.

Yancey, Richard. The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp. Scholastic, 2005.

“I never thought I would save the world – or die saving it.  I never believed in angels or miracles either, and I sure didn’t think of myself as a hero.”

-Opening to The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp by Rick Yancey

The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp is a YA fantasy novel that tells the story of Alfred, a fifteen-year-old boy, who convinced to stealing King Arthur’s legendary sword, Excalibur. This sets off a chain reaction of events that lead Alfred to go from an underachiever to a hero. This novel will be relatable mostly to boys, but girls can enjoy the overall adventure of the story. This book is an intrusion fantasy because it interrupts Alfred’s first-person point of view on the world and opens his eyes to magical aspects he never knew existed. Not all of his adventures have good intentions, he is trying to steal a sword after all. He is witness to people dying and he can be partly to blame for them since he is making choices that lead to these events. The details have enough description to get the point across, without being too violent for young adults to read. Alfred works with the last knight of an order sworn to keep Excalibur safe.  Alfred learns through the adventure and taking chances that he can be brave and achieve good things. In this sense his character achieves self-worth. This book is very much a coming of age story.

How Relationships Help Young Adults Form Their Sense of Self in YA Literature

While we might not all actively notice it in our day-to-day lives, the people around us play a large role in shaping who we are and the things we do. Everyone from our parents to our friends have a hand in influencing our self-identity.

Characters in Young Adult Literature generally follows this norm as well, and we can see the impact of their relationships throughout their stories. We can recognize the different ways a character’s relationship with their grandparent impacts them compared to that of their romantic partner, or a best friend compared to a sibling. While they’re each unique, each relationship impacts that character’s development throughout their story in a variety of ways. YA Literature is especially well chosen for this analysis of character development because in most cases, the main character is going through a time of self-discovery and learning who they want to become, similar to the intended audience. EBSCO, an industry leader in library and information services, mentions in one of their blog posts how YA literature uniquely addresses its intended audience.

“Moreover, YA writers have created some truly powerful reads. While many would argue that YA literature doesn’t compare to the literary merits of Henry James and his ilk, critics have lauded YA books for their ability to address the life needs of . . . their intended audience ― that is, adolescents between the ages of 12-18 (Benefits).”

This is especially important because YA literature provides its readership with examples of characters, relationships, and real world issues that teens may face and the impact of all of them. Whether the setting of the YA novel is as fictional as Hogwarts in Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone or as real world as the settings we see in Quintero’s Gabi, a Girl in Pieces, or Saenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, these books are helping young adults navigate their adolescence and relationships.

Through the use of different mediums, from a story told in third person to a diary told in first person, each of the three above mentioned narratives demonstrates the impact of close relationships on character development of both the fictional characters and the readers themselves. YA Literature creates something truly unique in how it presents stories written for an audience who are going through a very turbulent life period with many changes and gives them a life raft of relatability. The previously mentioned EBSCO blog post really touches on this aspect of relatability.

“More and more teachers around the world are using YA literature in their classrooms to teach the skills that students need to be successful. While the Western canon is full of fantastic reads, YA literature tends to offer students something that the classics cannot: a story to which they can relate (Benefits).”

It’s one thing to be forced as an adolescent student to read a book about people that you can’t understand due to such a huge time period and language dialect difference let alone decipher what they’re actually dealing with and being able to relate to that experience. It’s a totally different encounter to read a book told by someone who is like looking into a mirror, with the same issues you face and someone whom you can relate to and maybe even learn from. It changes the entire interaction with the story and the things you take away from it. This is especially true when going through a time period of massive change like adolescence, where everything feels like it’s shifting under your feet and you feel like all your imagined control is nowhere in sight.

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, we’re introduced to Harry Potter’s last living relatives, the Dursleys, which includes his Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon, and cousin Dudley. The Dursleys treat Harry like he is their live-in servant, with his “bedroom” being the closet under the stairs and forcing Harry to do household chores at their whim. The lack of respect towards Harry is evident even to Harry himself. An example of this disrespect is when, on Dudley’s birthday the Dursleys discuss finding an alternate babysitter. “’We could phone Marge,’ Uncle Vernon suggested. ‘Don’t be silly, Vernon, she hates the boy.’ The Dursleys often spoke about Harry like this, as though he wasn’t there — or rather, as though he was something very nasty that couldn’t understand them, like a slug (Rowling, 22).” Rather than simply ignoring Harry or treating him with indifference, the Dursley’s go out of their way to make him feel like less than a human being and that he doesn’t deserve even a small respectful or even neutral acknowledgement. While Harry’s Aunt and Uncle continue to treat Harry so horribly, their son Dudley provides contrast to Harry, being an extremely spoiled brat of a child, almost running the household with his petulance. “Dudley began to cry loudly. In fact, he wasn’t really crying – it had been years since he’d really cried – but he knew that if he screwed up his face and wailed, his mother would give him anything he wanted (Rowling, 23).” Because of this upbringing with such a negative family and home life, Harry very much doesn’t take anything for granted and appreciates small gestures of kindness and returns those gestures when able. An example of this is when Harry meets Hagrid for the first time and is handed a cake from Hagrid.

“From an inside pocket of his black overcoat he pulled a slightly squashed box. Harry opened it with trembling fingers. Inside was a large, sticky chocolate cake with Happy Birthday Harry written on it in green icing. Harry looked up at the giant. He meant to say thank you, but the works got lost on the way to his mouth, and what he said instead was, ‘Who are you?’ (Rowling, 47-48)”

Hagrid acknowledges Harry and the fact that it’s his birthday by gifting him a cake. In this one simple interaction, a stranger to Harry has been nicer and treated him with more respect than his “family” has in his 11 years.

As Harry and Hagrid get to know one another, Hagrid acts as a parental figure towards Harry throughout his time at Hogwarts, introducing Harry to the wizarding world in Diagon Alley, celebrating Harry’s triumphs, and helping Harry learn valuable lessons when necessary. When the two are traversing through Diagon Alley and split up so Hagrid could take a break he comes back bearing a sweet snack for himself and Harry, “Hagrid was standing there, grinning at Harry and pointing at two large ice creams to show he couldn’t come in (Rowling 78).” Hagrid is trying to give Harry the best experience he can when introducing him to a completely new world and help him prepare for Hogwarts by brightening his day with a simple, but kind, act. Another example of Hagrid taking on a parental role in Harry’s life is not only continuing to celebrate Harry’s birthday by getting him a present, but also getting him a gift that has a purpose and fulfils that purpose well.

“ ‘Just ye wand left – oh yeah an’ I still haven’t got yeh a birthday present.’ Harry felt himself go red. ‘You don’t have to –’ ‘I know I don’t have to. Tell yeh what, I’ll get yer animal. Not a toad, toads went outta fashion years ago, yeh’d be laughed at – an’ I don’t like cats, they make me sneeze. I’ll get yer an owl. All the kids want owls, they’re dead useful, carry yer mail an’ everythin’ ’ . . . Harry now carried a large cage that held a beautiful snowy owl, fast asleep with her head under her wing. He couldn’t stop stammering his thanks, sounding like Professor Quirrell. ‘Don’t mention it,’ said Hagrid gruffly. ‘Don’t expect you’ve had a lotta presents from them Dursleys . . . (Rowling 81).”

This gift of an animal, that can help Harry in multiple ways, is thoughtful and deliberate. Hagrid knows that while he might not always be able to be there for Harry, he can get him a companion that will help him transition between the muggle world and the wizarding world. Hagrid’s gift of an owl is also a smart gift in how Hedwig is able to help Harry communicate to people no matter where he or they are.

An example of Hagrid taking on a more disciplinary role is when, after helping Ron’s brother Charlie get Hagrid’s dragon out of the castle safely, Harry and Hermione get caught wandering the castle after curfew and are assigned to do detention with Hagrid. He doesn’t go easy on them. “ ‘Yeh’ve done wrong an’ now yeh’ve got to pay fer it’ (Rowling 250).” This is especially important, because while Harry and Hermione might have been trying to do what was right, they still broke school rules to do it. Hagrid want’s them to learn from this mistake and understand the importance of the school rule which he knows are there and enforced to keep them safe. We can see Harry developing his sense of self, how he wants to be treated by others, and how he knows he should act from each of these examples.

In Gabi, a Girl in Pieces, we get a very different perspective, a girl’s personal diary entries written only for her eyes. Because of this we see Gabi able to express her truest feelings without fear of judgement from others. Gabi writes many of her diary entries about frustrations she has with her family. This includes her mother’s ideas about how Gabi should behave regarding eating, dating, school, and friends; her father and the impact his meth addiction has on her; the responsibility Gabi feels towards helping raise her brother to be a good man; and the strained relationship Gabi has with her aunt. Gabi’s mother has, in my opinion, the biggest impact on Gabi. I say this because we read Gabi’s internal monologue and it’s filled with self-derisive speech surrounding her weight, expectations she doesn’t feel she meets, and writing that combats those two things and starts a new dialogue revolving around self-acceptance and growth. These are things that Gabi received from her mother’s small but often comments regarding Gabi and what she does wrong in her eyes. “‘Ay mijo! Obviously, there’s a boy who likes your sister and cares about what she likes. Now imagine if she lost a little weight and took more care of herself, how many more boys would like her?’ (Quintero, 126)” Gabi’s mother thinks that Gabi can always do something more or better in her eyes. This really impacts Gabi and her self-identity. It causes Gabi to constantly question why her mother believes these things about her and from the very beginning Gabi doesn’t agree with many of the expectations set by her family; in this case how she and other women should be valued.

“Every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, ‘Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.’ Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait-until-you’re-married crap though. I mean, this is America and the twenty-first century, not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she’ll think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White (Quintero, 7).”

This mentality of a women only having worth while she stays a virgin, in Gabi’s mind and many others, is outdated. We can see how this belief held by her mother, impacts her self image throughout the story and how her mother doesn’t even stand up to this ideal she holds Gabi to since she had Gabi at 25 out of wedlock. Additionally, because of this attitude, Gabi really doesn’t feel comfortable even talking with her mom about sex and romantic relationships she enters into throughout the story, there’s a major disconnect between them, and this impacts how Gabi approaches what her mother would consider taboo subjects.

Aristotle has a similar situation with his father, who won’t open up to Aristotle and talk to him about himself and his past experiences in the war that left him so devastated. When Dante gives Aristotle’s father an art book, Ari can’t understand why he loves it so much. “My father took the book and sat down with it. As if it was some kind of treasure. See, I didn’t get my dad. I could never guess how he would react to things. Not ever (Saenz, 33).” We can see here Ari’s real confusion regarding his father and how there is still so much Ari doesn’t know about him. This teaches Ari the bad coping habit of trying to contain everything that you’re experiencing rather than talk about it and deal with it. We learn more about Aristotle’s relationship with his father a few pages after the art book enters the story.

“I’d never thought of my father as the kind of man who understood art. I guess I saw him as an ex-Marine who became a mailman after he came home from Vietnam. An ex-Marine mailman who didn’t like to talk much. . .I could have asked my father lots of questions. I could have. But there was something in his face and eyes and in his crooked smile that prevented me from asking. I guess I didn’t believe he wanted me to know who he was. So I just collected clues. Watching my father read that book was another clue in my collection. Some day all the clues would come together. And I would solve the mystery of my father (Saenz, 36-37).”

Aristotle doesn’t feel comfortable talking with his dad because he doesn’t think his dad wants to be understood by him, which isn’t the case, but this view of their relationship influences Ari in how he communicates with the world and others around him. Ari is a pretty quiet character most of the time, only speaking when the situation really calls for it, and in this we can see how he follows his father’s example. Comparatively Dante’s family is open, boisterous, and in some instances almost too close to one another.

“One night, when there was no moon in the night sky, Dante’s mom and dad took us out into the desert so we could use his new telescope. On the drive out, Dante and his dad sang along to the Beatles—not that either of them had good singing voices. Not that they cared. They touched a lot. A family of touchers and kissers. Every time Dante entered the house, he kissed his mom and dad on the cheek—or they kissed him—as if all that kissing was perfectly normal. I wondered what my father would do if I ever went up to him and kissed him on the cheek. Not that he would yell at me. But—I don’t know (Saenz, 41).”

Dante’s family is more open both physically and emotionally, sharing an experience of going out stargazing together and singing on the way to the desert. They show their love of each other through physical touch and time spent together whereas Aristotle’s family is more closed off to each other due to traumas that Ari’s parents haven’t fully dealt with yet. Dante reflects parts of his parents in this sense as well, being much more open to talking about difficult subjects and being more accepting of himself as he forms into who he wants to be as a person.

Throughout all three of these stories we see how the characters and their relationships with their family can have such a large impact on them and how they develop throughout their stories. The more important aspect of YA Fiction is how it can have an impact on the readers themselves. Mina Shah mentions a few really good points on why YA Fiction is so important.

“…the act of reading books trains our minds to work through real-world problems in the same sort of way that adult literature does, but YA makes it easier to digest. This is especially true if the structure and thematic schema of a book are particularly complex, which can often be the case with YA novels. Increasingly, they grapple with darker, more adult themes and leverage a variety of structural strategies (Shah).”

The more information a reader has been exposed to having to deal with a specific situation, the better they could be at dealing with that situation themselves. At the very least, it helps young adults feel like they’re not alone in the things they’re experiencing in their lives and that it’s ok to not know how to deal with adulting as a young adult. Shah makes another good point about the relatability of these novels and how that plays into their importance.

“Young adult literature can feel really relevant to things that we’re dealing with in our own lives, even if the characters are sometimes slightly younger than we are. It deals with a lot of firsts (first loves, first experiences with illicit substances, first instances of having to take real responsibility for actions), that most of us can…relate well [to] (Shah).”

Much of a story’s power lies in who can relate to it, whose mind it changes, or who it causes to take action towards something. I believe that YA Fiction can do all of these things for an audience that is usually going through a very turbulent time in their lives and trying to learn how to navigate situations in a way that they want to, rather than one that they have to. Gabi does this through writing in her diary, Aristotle does it by reflecting internally and observing, and Harry does it by talking with his friends and reflecting as well. Everyone copes with life differently, but the people you surround yourself with have an impact on how you perceive the world around you and how you deal with things that turn life on its side.

What YA Literature helped you as a young adult come to terms with life and growing up? What authors had the most impact on your young self and how did they impact you as a person? Do you still read YA Literature in your free time? If so, does it help you learn how to deal with more adult situations and experiences? What are your thoughts?

Work Cited

Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. London, Penguin Classics, 1998.

Quintero, Isabel. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces. Cinco Puntos Press, 2014.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Scholastic Inc., 1997.

Saenz, Benjamin Alire. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Simon & Schuster, 2012.

Shah, Mina. “The case for young adult literature.” The Stanford Daily, The Stanford Daily Publishing Corporation, 30 June 2019.

“The Benefits of Using Young Adult (YA) Literature in Classrooms.” EBSCOpost, 10 Sept. 2015,

“You Are The Average Of The Five People You Spend The Most Time With.” YouTube, uploaded by The Art of Improvement, 26 Aug. 2018,

Annotated Bib — Climate Fiction

The focus for my annotated bibliography is on Climate Change science fiction, or, just Cli-Fi, for short. Science fiction has always served one purpose very well, and that is explaining and showcasing the fears of the society it is written in, or generally acting as a social commentary for the current times. Climate change is a rampant issue, one that is quickly destroying our Earth, and as such, it is quickly becoming more pertinent in young adult literature and science fiction, which has kickstarted the subgenre of Cli-Fi. Cli-Fi is incredibly important for a younger generation to read, and one that I believe needs to be in the hands of more young people. As more studies prove the detrimental impact of climate change in the world, Cli-Fi needs to be read so more people can understand the possible impacts of climate change in the future.

As a whole, Cli-Fi novels tend to condemn the larger organizations / governments that fail to acknowledge climate change and fail to help prevent it. On top of this, characters tend to be those negatively impacted by climate change, and very rarely (if ever) do these novels feature a world impacted positively by climate.  Generally, these are also more dystopian settings, of course. These novels tend to follow some similar beats, such as a large focus on character vs. nature, where characters either come to terms with their world (or perhaps they were born in it, so this isn’t a huge portion), or they want to fight against the world and fix it. And, finally, Cli-Fi novels tend to focus on right *before* the world is shaped or changed by climate (The Final Six follows this), or soon afterwards in a more desperate setting (The Water Knife follows this), or finally, in the far future, where the world is already destroyed (Blackfish City is an example of this).  I’ve chosen these texts because they are filled with both hope and despair, and also are typically realistic depictions of what the future could be. Obviously, we can’t see the future, but these are very grounded cli-fi novels, for the most part. They focus on how the world *could* be, and what things *could* happen, but the characters are all very human. They’re well fleshed out, and they make human mistakes. But, they also can relate to students and humans very well.

Throughout this bibliography, I’m looking for YA novels that focus on climate change impacting the earth in a negative way (obviously), and how YA can be used to inspire young readers and hopefully get a new generation to understand how pertinent this issue is. Ideally, these are books I would love to teach as well someday, so I’ve created a focus on books that are teachable to a high school class. I’d want my students to be prepared to ask, how will these novels impact them? How will climate change impact them? Are these novels realistic, or are they too far out into the realm of science fiction? Will they feel empowered or saddened by these texts? Throughout possibly teaching these, I’m excited to see how students react to these topics. Even a few years ago while in high school, climate change wasn’t talked about as much as it is now (however, this could just be naivety on my part). With current students, I’d love to see how they react to these worlds. Most of the novels I’ve chosen for this, specifically The Water Knife, have crafted a very believable world and a realistic look at what the future may look like if climate change does destroy our world. And, while reading these novels, I hope this acts as a kick starter for students to understand that climate change is a serious issue, and help them understand that, as the future of our world, they need to also do everything in their power to prevent this from happening. By the end of these texts, I would want my students to have a better understanding of the impact of climate change on our world; I’d want them to understand what the future could be if things aren’t changed; and, I would like students to have a sense of hope. It’s very easy to fall into feeling sad reading some of these novels, as some of them do get pretty dark. But, for the most part, these novels have portions of hope, which is important to instill in our students. Rather than tell them that we’re out of luck, I’d want students to feel empowered and to know that these texts can help influence their feelings of how to change our futures.

Entry 1: Miller, Sam J. Blackfish City. Orbit, 2019.

Miller’s second novel, Blackfish City (which was also a nominee for a Nebula Award for Best Novel), is a fascinating read about a city constructed to float above the Arctic Circle. This all happens directly after the Climate Wars, essentially an all-out war that, well, destroyed the climate of Earth. This is a future where climate change has already destroyed things, not before or during (unlike some later books on this list). The novel becomes crazier as the orcamancer appears, who is a woman who appears in the city riding an orca, with a polar bear at her side (it is really, really weird). She begins to band people together to bring a resistance to the city, hoping to stop a new disease, poverty, and corruption from destroying this city that is one of humanity’s last strongholds. This book may sound a little weird, and it is, but, it’s also a very hopeful novel. This really looks at how humanity can fight or overcome climate change and help better our world — something that is desperately needed for a younger generation to read. There are other fantastic themes too here, like the power of resistance, corruption, fighting political systems that don’t work, and more. That said, it all comes back to the fact that this city was created by the destruction of Earth through climate change, and the novel will NOT let readers forget that. It’s an urgent call-to-action to save our Earth before this even has to happen. This novel will likely be the most interesting to teach, because of how insane it tends to get, and also how many deeper topics it touches. Outside of just the climate aspects, political aspects are also a huge part of this novel too.

Entry 2: Bacigalupi, Paolo. The Water Knife. Vintage Books, 2016.

The Water Knife follows Angel Velasquez, an assassin, spy, and overall not phenomenal person, who must “cut” water for his mob boss, Catherine Case, to gain money. In this futuristic American Southwest, the Colorado River has effectively dried up. Angel, who acts as a water knife, has to sabotage the water supplies of other states in order to help his boss sustain their status. However, Angel begins to realize that he shouldn’t be helping the 1% during a time of crisis. As California, Nevada, and Arizona begin to monopolize the water, people begin murdering for water, as it becomes arguably the most valuable thing in the world. Angel allies with Lucy, a journalist who reports on these practical water wars, and Maria, a refugee from Texas who is trying to escape the drought. The novel looks at how, in times of destruction through humanity and through awful climate change, the top percenters of the world will continue to only aid themselves, and truly don’t care about this planet. And, honestly, considering the current state of the world (and specifically, the current administration), this book is more relevant than ever. This is likely my favorite book on the list, and one that I feel students would love to read. This novel has a *ton* to cover while teaching, and is also probably the one I’d love to teach more. I’ve read this book twice, and I feel like the comparisons to this book and the current world are jarring and downright creepy at times. This one does get dark, but I feel like some students will appreciate that. 

Entry 3: Atwood, Margaret Eleanor. Oryx and Crake. Anchor Books, 2004.

Margaret Atwood, the phenomenal author behind Alias Grace and A Handmaid’s Tale truly knocks the Cli-Fi genre forward with this novel. Book one of a series, Oryx and Crake follows Snowman, a man mourning the loss of his friends Oryx and Crake, as he travels as possibly the last human on Earth. He searches and scours through wilderness and lush greenery that once used to be the greatest cities in the world, offering commentary on them all the while. The novel focuses on how these cities, and humanity as a whole, has been destroyed by the most powerful companies in the world (much like The Water Knife, where giant corporations and monopolies destroy humanity). This book may be the least fun to teach admittedly, although it is still a great read. This novel is part of a series, and I haven’t read the rest; and also, with this book focusing more on speculative fiction, I’m not sure if this may be a little too advanced for a high school class. I won’t want to undermine my students, but this book may have to be reserved for an AP Seniors class. But, with it being an Atwood novel, she does a phenomenal job of world-building, which does make this book insanely fun to read.

Entry 4: Cole, Olivia A. A Conspiracy of Stars. Katherine Tegen Books, an Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2019.

A Conspiracy of Stars is the shortest book on this list, at around 170 pages, and would make a perfect, quick unit for a high school English class. Following Octavia, a woman who seeks to become a whitecoat, which are scientists that study the natural wonders of Faloiv, a lush jungle filled with exotic plants, fascinating animals, and societies of ingenious people. Octavia is finally allowed in to the jungle but witnesses one of the ingenious people being brutally attacked. The indigenous people begin to be murdered, and the Council running things seek to overtake the jungle entirely. To focus on the issue of climate change here, they want to destroy the jungle for their own resources and goods. We understand how awful this is on Earth, and this novel acts largely as a social commentary for these issues on Earth. For a good comparison — this is basically Cameron’s Avatar, but in a novel form with much better symbolism and character building. However, reading-wise, this may be my least favorite on the list — but one that would be really beneficial to teach. The concept isn’t too difficult, and one that has many current real-life parallels. I really feel like students will benefit from seeing a shorter novel that focuses on the destruction of a society and a climate for the sake of political and monetary good. Sadly, this stuff happens far too often in the world. Being able to link this directly to the destruction of societies in the world will make this very fun to teach.

Entry 5: Monir, Alexandra. The Final Six. HarperTeen, 2018.

The Final Six follows teenagers Leo and Naomi, two out of twenty-four teenagers who are essentially drafted to a NASA-esque space camp, but with a catch. Climate change has absolutely destroyed the Earth, and the International Space Training Camp  is sending only six people (hence, the final six) out to Europa, a moon of Jupiter, to help find a new habitable place for humanity to continue to survive. Things become a little Hunger Games-esque, as the teens all become practical celebrities overnight, and are forced into the public eye during their training. However, things get super intense — as the Earth is rapidly dying, protagonist Leo becomes very wary of the International Space Training Camp and believes they have plans to do even more harm to the universe, specifically considering they have a track record of astronauts dying, and believe they have plans on Europa to harm that moon as well (no spoilers, but things get very wild). This novel is very fun to read, it is super action packed and a quick read (roughly 200 pages), so this is something students could pick up and devour quickly. On top of that, there’s a great deal of discussion with humanity destroying the Earth, too, which is, of course, the overarching theme of this unit. A lot of characters are very fleshed out, and the main characters are really likable, too. I feel like this one would be a total hit with students, especially with the popularity of The Hunger Games.

Annotated Bibliography- Mental Illness in Young Authors Novels

Mental illness is Young Author’s literature has grown tremendously over the past years, but has not been widely discussed. They have touched on topics such as Schizophrenia, Depression, Borderline Personality Disorder, Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and many more. We see multiple adaptations of the books in movies and TV shows, such Netflix Original Series’ 13 Reasons why, based of Jay Asher’s novel, and the movie “Silver Linings Playbook” based on the novel by American author, Matthew Quick.

Despite the multiple depictions through novels and media, people are quick to deny and ignore the seriousness of the topic, calling these depictions “too dramatized” or even saying showing these depictions will cause fantasies of these disorders. However, the reality is that these depictions have helped teenagers and young adults who suffer from mental illness understand, relate, and cope from what they are going through. It also helps those who do not have mental illness, or who are acquaintances with one, have a deeper understanding about what it is and how serious the condition can be. Proven in multiple studies, reading can improve the “functional connectivity of the visual cortex” in the brain, which is responsible of filtering and tuning visual information that calls for attention (Jones).  It also increase the theory of mind, which is the ability to “”to attribute mental states — beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc. — to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, and intentions that are different from one’s own.” (Bergland). In other words, not only the reader has a visual experience within the novel, but also is able to unconsciously put themselves in the character’s shoes, and try to either relate or understand the character’s circumstances throughout the novel.

The purpose of the theme of mental illness is to reduce the stigma and create an environment where the subject is discussed openly; to have in depth conversations that deepen understanding, increase empathy, and encourages action on how to support or cope with someone who has a mental illness. As readers wrap themselves in the plot of the novel, they should be able to look at the protagonist, see his or her response to her circumstances, and develop their own intake behind both the circumstances and the character. They should develop the questions: what is mental illness (or what is that specific mental illness)? How does it affect the main character? How does it affect those around him or her? If you were in their shoes, how would you respond? What if you were in the shoes of an associate: how would you respond then? The books selected should help guide them to answer these questions, which will lead to an easier comprehension of mental illness.

Warning: some books are triggering; those books are recommended to an older audience between the ages of 14 and over.

Asher, Jay, and Nathalie Peronny. Thirteen Reasons Why. Le Livre De Poche Jeunesse, 2018.

This novel surrounds the main character, Clay Jenson, and his journey in discovering the reason behind the suicide of Hannah Baker, his high school friend and love interest. Clay Jenson comes home to a package with his name on his porch. Lying inside is thirteen tapes created by his high school friend (who died two weeks ago due to suicide) explains within these tapes the events that lead to her downfall. For the next few weeks while listening to these tapes, he goes to each location and person involved with the tapes with Hannah as a guide. As he witnesses and empathizes with her pain, and opens dangerous secrets, Clay Jenson’s life as he knows around him begin to change. Warning: this book may be triggering for readers and recommended towards a mature audience.

This book explores the topics of suicide, rape, LTBTQ, drug/substance abuse, bullying, and the pressures of adolescence. Throughout the novel, every single character from this novel is affected by Hannah Baker’s suicide. Her mother desperately searches for an answer to the point of paranoia. Her friend Alex that is mentioned in the tapes continuously blames himself for her suicide to the point of becoming suicidal himself. Jessica is in denial of her own trauma, and Clay, the main character, is spiraling out of control in seeking justice for every person involved with those tapes, including himself. This truly shows the domino effect of suicide: how the tragedy affects the lives of those who love them.

Benaim, Sabrina. Depression and Other Magic Tricks. Button Poetry, 2017.

This is a poetic novel, which explores themes of mental health, such as depression and anxiety. It also talks about other subjects, like love and family. Sabrina Benaim describes novel as a documentation of her downfalls, as well as her victories. This well-rounded, bittersweet piece is a symbol of her appreciation and love of the little things in daily life, and hopes to serve the purpose of allowing the reader to feel pain, empathy, love, and joy as they go throughout the novel.

This novel depicts depression in such a raw, intimate way. There are moments where the tone shifts from fear, to sadness, to bitter sweetness. There are times in poems where there are feelings of deep anxiety and pain, then brightened with poems that show appreciation of little things in life. Near the end of the novel there is a poem called “Seven Small Ways in Which I Love myself”, which concludes the novel with a peaceful end. This poetic novel creates emotional connection with readers of all types, especially those who struggled with depression.

Powell, Nate. Swallow Me Whole. Top Shelf Productions, 2014

Ruth and Perry are stepsiblings that that face separate causes of mental disorder. Ruth keeps insects in organized jars in attempt of suppressing her ongoing nightmare of insects taking control and destroying her. Perry is in peril to a wizard constantly reminding him of quests that need completion. Perry knows what he is experiencing are fake, but Ruth starts to believe there is something more. They follow their illusionary trail until it turns for the worse: paranoid schizophrenia. As they battle their mental illness, they also go through the challenges of adolescence.

Swallow Me Whole is a brilliantly written graphic novel that shows the inner mind of schizophrenics. The comic envelops the reader with art that depicts the hallucinations of Ruth and Perry to be reality, only to be slammed with the real depiction of reality. On one side, the insects completely cover the page, chasing Ruth, as she screams down the hallway. On the other side is just a bunch of students in a semi-empty hallway, with absolutely no sign of the insects. Despite Perry telling himself that these demands from the wizard is not there, the wizard is a dominant, apparent figure in the novel. This graphic novel poses the question what is real and what is not real to readers, allowing them to make the decision themselves.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus: a Survivor’s Tale- My Father Bleeds History. Vol. 1,

 Pantheon Books, 1991

This graphic novel depicts the bibliography of the Author’s father: a survivor of the holocaust. Book 1 begins with Art arriving at his father, Vladek’s house, for gathering information about his past in order to write the book of his father’s life. Then, it transitions to Vladek’s life as a young man in Poland, and the story of how he met his wife and started a textile company in the tensions before World War II.  The book constantly transitions time between the present, showing the complicated relationship between Art and Vladek, and the past, depicting Vladek’s life story, a deeper understanding behind his PTSD, and Art’s struggle with depression and anxiety, especially behind the suicide of his mother. Warning: this book is recommended to an older audience due to profanity and explicit graphic scenery.

In Art Spiegelman’s Maus, there are three depicted narratives in the comic: the developing relationship between the author and his father, his father, Vladek, experiences as a survivor of the holocaust, and the author’s conflict in not only accurately portraying Vladek’s story, but also confronting his struggles as a second-generation holocaust survivor. They both experience an extensive amount of guilt: survivor’s guilt from the side of the father, and familial guilt from the side of Art. These two feelings constantly crashing each other shows the rocky relationship between Art and his father. His father is always in constant control of his son, yet desperately seeking attention due to fear of struggling alone with his PTSD, while Art is constantly in reminder of how his existence is purely circumstantial and always under the spotlight of his dead older brother. This complicated relationship show the damaging effects of PTSD, and second traumatization transferred to the author.

Thompson, Lisa. The Goldfish Boy. Scholastic Inc., 2018. 

This mystery novel is about a 12-year-old boy, Matthew Corbin, who suffers from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. He spends every day holed up in his room, living in constant fear of his germphobia to the point of never leaving his home, or going to school for weeks. In  his spare time in not overly cleaning his home, he stares at his window, watching neighbors as they pass his house throughout their day. In the midst of this activity, his next-door neighbor Mr. Charles dropped of his two grandchildren: Teddy and his sister, Casey at his house. Teddy ends up missing, and Matthew was the last person to see him, making in the eyes of the police and neighbors, a suspect. In search of Teddy, Matthew discovers secrets of his next-door neighbors, and slowly overcomes his illness.

This grade-school novel is perfect for young readers to understand the implications of OCD. Even though the story debuts as a mystery, the real story is how Matthew was able to adapt to the world around him, slowly overcome his illness, learn to love himself and allow others to love himself also. In the beginning of the novel, he starts out so traumatized by his phobia of germs; he refused to leave the house for weeks. He deepens his hatred for himself, as he feels he is responsible for Teddy’s disappearance. As he has different interactions with his neighbors in solving this mystery, he realizes they also struggle with their own pain. At the end, he slowly becomes more open about himself, even to the point of leaving his room to attend a neighborhood party.

Works Cited

Bergland, Christopher. “Can Reading a Fictional Story Make You More Empathetic?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers,

Josh Jones. “How Reading Increases Your Emotional Intelligence & Brain Function: The Findings of Recent Scientific Studies.” Open Culture,

Annotated Bib: Rebellion

Within the last decade, it seems as though rebellion has gone from being seen as something bad to something to aspire to do. Under the right circumstances, of course. Reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and all the blog posts regarding rebellion had the cogs in my brain turning as I realized it’s a concept that’s been around for a while yet is starting to change. We are reading about more and more heroes who rebel and yet they aren’t seen as doing the wrong thing but doing the “right thing” by critics or articles. We’re raised to see the rules as something set in concrete, to not break. Yet, we’re also taught that some rules need to be bent or broken if it’s the “right thing to do.” Rules are double standards and breaking them makes you an automatic rebel. Where this was seen as something punishable, it’s a concept writers are often using to make their heroes complex and likable but are putting their own twist to it. 

The theme of rebellion isn’t a new one but I feel as though, lately, that the idea of rebellion is shifting to one of normalities. It’s almost normal to rebel, at least once. I say this because, lately, I hear stories about people rebelling against something in society because they deem it as something that’s trying to constrain or define them, something that is trying to tell them who they are. This is especially true of women who are constantly rebelling, in my opinion. A particular example would be what they wear and how they’re treated. Some people try to tell females how to wear their clothes or what they should wear. A prime example of this is school dress clothes. I don’t know how many news articles I’ve read this past year alone about female students being called out or suspended due to wearing a shirt that shows their shoulders yet there are male students wearing inappropriate shirts that demean women and they aren’t suspended or anything.

This idea of female rebellion is pretty broad in this annotated bibliography but that was because I didn’t want to limit my reading. This type of rebellion has become radically important in the latest decade of YA literature. So much so that several articles have referred it to the Age of Rebellion. We are seeing more and more YA literature portraying strong female protagonists who actively rebel against societies trying to constrain them versus the meek, submissive female protagonists that used to be the common woman in literature. Each of the women in these novels are strong and, instead of aiding men, are participating in equal relationships with the men. Meghan isn’t the sidekick to Ash and Ember isn’t the weaker one of her relationships with Riley and Garrett.

I chose these five novels because they each have a female protagonist who, in some way, whether big or small, goes through a rebellious stage where she decides to define herself and be who she is. She decides to not play by society’s, or family’s, rules and paves her own path. It’s these decisions that deem the protagonist as a rebel, simply because she wants to follow her own rules and not conform.

It’s the female who’s the main focus in these novels with the men being the one to aid them, not rescue them. Of course, there are a couple scenes in each novel where the man does rescue the female protagonist but not in the cliche way. While reading, I kept in mind how each protagonist dealt with both their gender as well as whatever force they were rebelling against and how they were similar or different to each other. Overall, gender played some part in the stories but did not hinder any of the women as they weren’t really treated that much differently. There were other differences that were focused on but I still felt gender was relevant as female rebellion is still growing and these are all five strong women who fit in this Age of Rebellion. Female rebellion is so important in today’s world because of the feminist era that we are currently in. Women are standing up for other women and not letting gender define them much in the same way all the women in these novels have so many things to rebel against. Cinder has an entire society to rebel against, being a cyborg, while Madeline rebels against her mother. Furthermore, female rebellion is a way for writers to finally start writing female protagonists just as strong and intelligent as their male counterparts. 

YA literature seems to have very successful and popular novels regarding rebellion and this can be because they are relatable and so they easily sell. No matter who the reader is, they will always find something to relate to regarding the rebel archetype because we’re in similar situations when we find something that we disagree with and want to change or resist against.  

Rebellion, despite what it’s connotation makes people think, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Rebels with a cause can be successful, inspirational, and play a part in society by being examples to those in society who don’t necessarily want to follow the norms. Rebellion doesn’t have to mean violence, though in the case of my novel choices it does. Rebellion can be small acts of nonviolence like getting a piercing when a parent says no or a larger act of nonviolence like dating a same sex partner in a homophobic setting. It’s considered rebelling only because someone else said “no”, because you are making your own choices and not following an authority’s rule. Obviously breaking the law is a rebellion but it’s such a broad term that that’s not the type or aspect of rebellion that this post will focus on. Instead, rebelling against a constraining society or authority is the aspect of rebellion that I wanted to focus on. Rebellion is always considered bad that, for once, I wanted to prove that it could be good too.

The girls in these novels prove that rebelling can bring about something good, even if there are consequences along the way. They show that staying true to yourself even when an authority is trying to change you for their own benefit makes you a rebel but it makes you a rebel with a cause.

Meyer, Marissa. Cinder. Feiwel & Friends, 2012. 

Each novel in the Lunar Chronicles is loosely based on fairytales like Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood, and Snow White. In this case, Cinder is loosely based on Cinderella but adapted to a more futuristic setting. 

Cinder is a YA fantasy novel focusing around the main character, Cinder Linh, a sixteen-year-old mechanic and cyborg on plague-riddled Earth. Hated by her one of her stepsisters and her stepmother, Cinder lives life as a second-class citizen due to living with the social reality that, as a cyborg, she isn’t considered a “real” citizen. However, after her life becomes intertwined with Prince Kai’s, she finds herself tossed into a chaotic intergalactic struggle with the Lunar people (a society that lives on the moon, ruled by a tyrant queen). Cinder’s caught between choosing her freedom (or what little she has of it) or following her duty as, essentially, her family’s servant. But she has to unravel her mysterious past in order to protect both her world’s future and her own. 

Rebellion is almost used as a weapon by Cinder. She gets physical when she rebels. Throughout the novel she refuses to be defined and breaks rules to achieve her own freedom. It’s almost futile, though, as she always ends up in the same position back where she was; under her stepmother’s thumb. However, if Cinder didn’t actively rebel every time there was mistreatment or prejudice against herself in regards to her step-sister or stepmother, she would be a submissive, meek protagonist that readers are tired of reading or listening about. 

There are two instances in the novel where she rebels against authority due to mistreatment. The first time, she refuses to be a test subject against her will, even after her step mother, and legal guardian, approves the request. This doesn’t matter to Cinder as she grabs a “magbelt, smacking it hard against the android’s cranium (Meyer 68).” This strong rebellious streak of Cinder’s comes from inner strength where she refuses to let her status as a cyborg restrict or define her, even if it is something she is insecure about. The second time Cinder rebels against the authorities is when her step mother sends the authorities to arrest her because she didn’t get home at her usual time and accused Cinder of being a runaway, despite only being a couple hours late. After fighting so much through the novel, it was here where Cinder got tired:

“She had no rights, no belongings. She was nothing but a cyborg (Meyer 281).” 

Cinder, Marissa Meyer

However, this exhaustion doesn’t last long. By the end of the novel, Cinder is arrested but she starts making plans to break out of prison. The book ends here, the plot picking up in the second book. But this novel was included because it’s so important in terms of rebellion. Cinder is such a strong protagonist and she refuses to back down because of who she is, even if that is a cyborg. She doesn’t see herself as different as, because of this, she’s got a bitter feeling towards the society that tries to tell her who she is and how she’s different. It’s always so important for younger readers to read about a protagonist like Cinder because they can learn how to have their own inner strength that helps them rebel when someone is being prejudiced just because of their race (though Cinder’s problem was because she was a cyborg). The fact that Cinder is a girl is like a cherry on top.

Kagawa, Julie. The Iron King. Harlequin Teen, 2010. 

The Iron King is a YA fantasy novel following main character Meghan Chase. She’s a stubborn girl who is fiercely brave, sometimes not even caring about herself.

In the beginning of the novel, she’s excited for her sixteenth birthday. However, things are off in her life which isn’t anything new. Her life has always felt off ever since her father disappeared. Then strange things start happening around her and she tries to ignore them.

But when a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, her prankster best friend, Robin “Puck” Goodfellow, becomes strangely protective over her, and Meghan realizes something really is going on that she won’t be able to ignore for long. This becomes realized when her little brother, Ethan, begins acting strange. Meghan learns that her real little brother has been kidnapped and taken to the Fae World (Referred to as the Nevernever) and replaced with a Changeling, or a doppelganger. In this new world, Meghan learns hidden truths about herself, including the fact that her biological father is King Oberon of the Seelie Court. Not only that but her best friend turns out to be a faerie. 

The biggest rebellion that comes in the novel is actually one that is a result of romance. Meghan and Prince Ash fall in love with each other, something that could end up deadly for either one of them. As Ash says, the courts could want them both dead if they found out the two were together. Furthermore, he says, “Mab would accuse me of treason. Oberon would believe I’m turning you against him. They’d both see grounds for banishment, or execution (Kagawa 292).”

But there are also subtle rebellious actions in the novel that are so relatable. One such instance is when Meghan, after discovering who her real father is, is dragged to the Seelie court where she is being forced to conform to their rules and clothing despite her not wanting to. Without her consent, King Oberon burns her clothing and dislikes anything remotely humanlike, causing Meghan to hate him almost instantly. So, in such a humorous rebellious act, Meghan finds her backpack in the room she’s forced to stay in and changes into her smelly clothing–they being damaged after she trekked through the Nevernever trying to survive. She says: “I slipped into the baggy jeans and the wrinkled, smelly T-shirt, feeling a nasty glow of satisfaction as they slid comfortably over my skin…I’m not part of his court, and I’m certainly not claiming to be his daughter. No matter what he says (Kagawa 143).” Meghan, much like my example of clothing earlier, refuses to let this new world tell her how she’s supposed to dress just because she’s a princess. She refuses to let them take anything else from her, especially since physiological changes have been happening to her since she entered the Nevernever and she’s now starting to look more Fae than human, making her feel less like herself with each passing day. Just by this small act of rebelling towards clothing, Meghan gets to feel like herself and look like herself as much as her new changes let her.

Similar to another novel I chose for this project, this trilogy deals with forbidden love which is always a favorite trope of mine if it’s written well and is creative, not redundant. It’s also pretty relatable to some readers who might be in a relationship that others don’t see as acceptable and try to intervene in some way. 

Kagawa, Julie. Talon. Harlequin Teen, 2014. 

“To take her rightful place in the Talon organization, young dragon Ember Hill must prove she can hide her true nature and blend in with humans. Her delight at the prospect of a summer of ‘normal’ teen experiences is short-lived, however, once she discovers that she’s also expected to train for her destined career in Talon. But a chance meeting with a rogue dragon will soon challenge everything Ember has been taught.

As Ember struggles to accept her future, St. George soldier Garrett Xavier Sebastian is tasked with hunting her down. But when faced with Ember’s bravery, confidence and all-too-human desires, Garrett begins to question everything the Order has ingrained in him–and what he might be willing to give up to uncover the truth about dragons” (Kagawa 2014).

Talon blurb by Julie Kagawa

The story begins by following the main protagonist Ember Hill and her brother. She’s part of an organization called Talon and is a loyal asset up until she is tasked with blending in with humans. Being among humans makes Ember feel something she doesn’t feel in the Talon organization. When she realizes that the organization who raised her is actually the bad guys and not humans, Ember makes her first rebellious act by defecting and deciding to live her life the way she wants. When Talon realizes that Ember’s betrayed them, they try to kill her throughout the novel. Not only does Ember decide to rebel against the organization that basically created her but she goes against her “duty” as a dragon of Talon by falling in love with a human, Garrett. Additionally, by deciding to start a relationship with Garrett, she decides to rebel against her ‘fated pair’ Cobalt, another dragon. In Talon, dragons have a fated pair. Ember’s dragon side is, naturally, attracted to Cobalt but she refuses to let her natural ‘instincts’ control or define her and decides to love who she wants without something like fate getting in her way. Talon is the first YA novel I’ve read where one goes against their fated pair (so far, anyways), making it unique for me.

Ember is considered a rebel throughout the novel for the first decision she makes. Readers, especially female readers, see characters like Ember as inspiration or a role model for making drastic decisions to be yourself, even if it means going against something, or someone, that essentially raised you. Sometimes you might find yourself being defined by society or an organization you work with. Ember shows those readers that, sometimes, you have no choice but to rebel to take control of your own life and your own identity or fall victim to living a life that you don’t want. However, Talon also gives inspiration for others to take a stand when needed, when no one else will.

But the biggest reason I picked Talon was because of the twist on fate that it takes. In almost every YA novel I’ve read regarding fated pairs, it’s almost consensual and a requited love. Yet, in this novel, Ember actively rebels against this bond with Riley, or Cobalt as he also goes by, because she’s already begun a tentative relationship with Garrett. However, both Ember and Riley are dragons and it’s their dragon side that have the bond. Because of this, Ember’s literally at conflicts with herself because she refuses to let her bond with Cobalt rule her. She wants to decide who she loves, not ‘fate’, and so, throughout the novel, we see her rebel against a strong part of herself so that she gets to do and be what she wants as well as actively rebelling against an entire organization that trained her to be who she is. 

Yoon, Nicola. Everything, Everything. Delacorte Novels, 2016. 

Madeline Whittier is a seventeen year old girl who’s allergic to the outside world. She’s so allergic that she has never left her house in all her seventeen years and lives in her own “bubble” with her mother as her caretaker. But Madeline is content with her life and is living happily. Until the new neighbors come and along with them is their son, Oliver “Olly” Bright, who catches Madeline’s attention and the two quickly form a friendship. However, that friendship turns complicated when intimate feelings come along. Madeline is no longer content to live in her bubble and she risks everything, including her own life, for a chance at true love and a real life. 

Madeline’s story is one that is inspiring as she is relatable to many teenagers. She lives in an isolated world, at first willingly, with only her mother as a companion. A mother who makes most of her choices for her, something that’s relatable to teenagers of the same age or even adults who went through something similar. 

I feel like, without a doubt, the biggest rebellious act Madeline does in Everything, Everything is sneak out of her home, her safe bubble, and travel with Olly. Until Olly came along, she listened to pretty much everything her mother said without much complaint. So, leaving her home and risking her own life is a monumental moment in the story and has a pretty big consequence but also big rewards in the end.

This rebellious act of Madeline is one that can be relatable, even if you don’t have a disease or disorder that’s isolating you. Some readers might be living a life that’s, in a way, isolated or they might be living chained down. Madeline’s story, her rebellion, prompts this idea that, sometimes, you have to rebel against something that is trying to confine you. Sometimes you have to leave your comfort zone, your safe bubble, to truly live life, even if there are consequences. 

Jodi Meadows. Incarnate. Harper Collins, 2012.  

Incarnate is the first book in a trilogy by Jodi Meadows. It is told in the POV of eighteen-year-old Ana. Ana is a ‘new soul’, someone who hasn’t been reincarnated before unlike the rest of society who has been reincarnated several times. Due to this, she is automatically isolated but this is increased when her cruel mother refuses to let Ana have any joy in her life and, due to her being a new soul, calls her “no soul.”

Ana’s mother, Li, has them live in the forest, away from society. Due to being a new soul, Ana doesn’t have citizenship and so Li is her guardian. However, Ana decides to learn more about herself and wants to go into the city. Li, being her usual cruel self, gives Ana a broken compass and Ana gets lost and soon attacked by a sylph, a shadowy creature that’s touch burns their victims. However, she is found and taken care of by Sam when, after her attack, she falls off a cliff and into frigid water. He decides to escort Ana to the city, Heart, and the two bond on the way when Ana returns the favor and saves Sam from a sylph attack. During their trip, Sam encourages Ana to think of herself as a new soul versus a no soul, deeming her just as much a person as him and that she’s allowed to have emotions and opinions. When they reach Heart, Sam takes responsibility for Ana since society doesn’t see her as eligible for citizenship since she is a new soul. As the novel continues to follow Ana, we see her find her way in society and a few citizens of Heart become her friend. 

However, as most good stories, things go badly when, after a masquerade, Sam and Ana are attacked by masked assailants. Li, true to her reputation, convinces the Council that Sam was behind the attack and trying to attempt to murder Ana. As a consequence, Li is granted guardianship over Ana yet again and Sam is arrested. It is here where the rebellion aspect of the novel arrives and makes me remember the story. 

Ana refuses to stay isolated and under Li’s thumb yet again. She rebels against her own mother in order to live a life that she wants, a life where she’s not considered a no soul and is loved by her friends and Sam. After escaping Li’s house, Ana finds a way to rescue Sam so that the two can be together. However, there are many obstacles that occur that makes this hard, including being trapped in the temple in Heart that seems to have no exits. The biggest obstacle is that dragons start attacking Heart. However, Ana manages to survive all of these challenges and is reunited with Sam. 

By rebelling against Li and, essentially, the idea that she’s a no soul simply because she’s a new soul, Ana takes back control over her own identity and defines herself with the help of Sam. This is a popular concept regarding female rebellion. The only difference is that Ana isn’t rebelling against gender constraints but, rather, identity constraints put on her by society because of misconceptions about new souls. It is exactly this that is the reason I decided to include Incarnate, as Ana provides a beautiful example of how to rebel against society’s definition of you without having to be violent. She doesn’t have to start a rebellion or a revolt like, for example, Ember. She just decides to stand up for herself after gaining courage from Sam. 


The Evolution of LGBTQ+ Characters in Young Adult Literature

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The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community’s continued struggles for their life, liberty, and happiness remain an issue today. Although radical steps have been taken to ensure the equality of all sexes, genders, and sexual orientations, there are still stigmas associated with being a part of the community or affiliating oneself with the community. From the national stage down to our high school classrooms, the issues surrounding the LGBTQ+ community have taken center stage. And the effects that this unique 20th-21st century issue has on our nation’s emerging adults can either contribute to positive growth as civil, functioning members of our society or continue the darker practice of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination that is often targeted to outgroups, the LGBTQ+ community falling under that category. As such, it is important to explore and analyze the evolution of LGBTQ+ characters in young adult fiction. In understanding the origins of the trope, the historical and political contexts in which the issue is embedded, the differences between modern and postmodern depictions of the character, and the implications for young adult readers, we can strive to find areas of improvement in representation and visibility, trace our radical progress as a people, and allow our nation’s emerging adults a sense of that life, liberty, and happiness in being secure in their identity. As such, the evolution of LGBTQ+ characters in young adult literature allows us to chart society’s gradual acceptance of the community, not as the exception, but as the norm; not as a negative experience doomed to end in tragedy, but as a positive experience not much different from the experiences of heterosexual characters in young adult (YA) literature.

Before examining the research associated with the LGBTQ+ presence in YA literature, it is important to establish proper parameters for what the “evolution of LGBTQ+ characters in YA literature” means. In the context of this topic, evolution means the “process of continuous change from a lower, simpler, or worse to a higher, more complex, or better state” (“evolution”). Michael Cart and Christine A. Jenkins defines Young Adult Literature as “books that are published for readers age twelve to eighteen, have a young adult protagonist, are told from a young adult perspective, and feature coming-of-age or other issues and concerns of interest to YAs [young adults]” (1). The reason for the use of that particular definition of “evolution” as given by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is because it accurately describes exactly what has happened to LGBTQ+ characters over time, as evidenced below.

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In early YA literature, LGBTQ+ characters and the events surrounding their lives were portrayed in an overall negative way. John W. Goldsmith, in commenting on the 1969 novel I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip by John Donovan, reveals that the protagonist Davy, who is gay, feels shame in his sexual encounter with Altshuler, a friend: “Davy’s feelings of humility, shame, and willingness to brush the encounter aside do not create a positive representation of being a queer youth” (Goldsmith 6). While Donovan’s work was not the first with LGTBQ+ content, he essentially set the stage for other authors to write YA novels that portray LGBTQ+ characters in this negative way.

LGBTQ+ characters were also prone to hear from several other characters who surround their story that the LGBTQ+ identification was “just a phase”, and that eventually, they would get over it. Goldsmith again comments on this: “Presenting sexual exploration as ‘a phase of growing up’ is highly problematic because of the negative attitudes it encourages regarding queer identities” (6). Like the prevalent mindset of the time, the heterosexual characters of early YA literature did not consider the LGBTQ+ identification as a solidified identity; rather, it was one that was not a valid identity at the time.

Early YA literature also capitalized on using homophobia as a primary driving force for the plot while other issues surrounding the young adult years were often left to the back-burner. If not homophobia, the plot was primarily centered on the “coming out” moment of LGBTQ+ characters. Goldsmith writes:

Although coming out is a very significant event for many within the LGBTQ+ community, the heavy emphasis on this experience ultimately trivialized the process, making it out to be the singular most important moment in a queer person’s life and neglecting that there is life before and after coming out (8).

This plot element portrayed LGBTQ+ characters not only in a negative way, but also in a simplistic manner. In not laying emphasis on other struggles and problems and triumphs the LGBTQ+ characters experience, the resulting picture we get of these characters is of less complex human beings, when in actuality, the young adult years are fraught with a myriad of problems other than sexuality, and these collective experiences create the whole person.

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LGBTQ+ characters in these early YA novels are also characterized by a lack of romance in their lives. Michael Cart and Christine A. Jenkins writes: “…with the notable exception of Annie on My Mind (1982), romance remained largely absent from GLBTQ fiction.” (40). Cart and Jenkins were referring to the 1980s YA novels, which, while more in quantity, offered little in terms of literary quality and new ways of portraying the lives of LGBTQ+ characters. Aside from love interests, there is the fear of ruining friendships with other characters in the novels when they find out these LGBTQ+ characters identify as such (Goldsmith 8). Overall, there is less of a human quality attached to the characters who identify as part of this community. An example is lesbian pulp fiction, which was quite a phenomenon in the 1950s.  Like animals in a zoo or specimens under a microscope, these stories were ogled at for the mere fact that they were so repulsively interesting. According to Cady Lewis, “These pulp novels often depicted a relationship between two women as deviant or animalistic—something to be fascinated by, but not to condone or partake in.” (Lewis 55). As a result of these characteristics, YA literature of the mid-late 1900s presented the LGBTQ+ experience as a simplistic, negative, and dehumanizing one.

The reason for the negative portrayals of these LGBTQ+ characters in YA novels is a result of the context of the society in which these novels were published. YA literature that was published in the mid-late 1900s reflected the anti-gay sentiment rampant since the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village in 1969 (Cart and Jenkins ix). Since then, the late 1900s were characterized by the push for gay rights and the attempt to suppress it, with many monumental events and setbacks, from the first openly gay candidate to be elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 to the 1998 murder of Mathew Shepard by two men who brutally beat him to death (ix-xii). Similarly, Cady Lewis noted that “The 1950s were a tumultuous time for gay and lesbian Americans, and it was during this time that homosexuality was officially designated as a mental illness.” (Lewis 55). While about a decade away from the publishing year of John Donovan’s 1969 novel, stigmas against the LGBTQ+ community remained rampant. As a result, these prejudices, stigmas, stereotypes, and dehumanization of the LGBTQ+ community have spilled over into similar representations in novels, specifically in YA literature.

Demonstration at City Hall in New York. Photo courtesy from the New York Public Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division. Image from

Contrast that with the postmodern depictions of LGBTQ+ characters in YA novels, and we begin to see the changes that society has made and the changes in these characters’ portrayal.

Postmodern depictions of LGBTQ+ characters in YA novels are generally more positive and more complex than their mid-late 1900s counterparts. There is more representation of different LGBTQ+ characters in postmodern YA novels, meaning that the characters chosen to be included in these novels are not just gay men or lesbians. A wider range of gender identities and sexual orientations in the spectrum between heterosexuality and homosexuality are given a part to play in YA novels. For instance, Mollie V. Blackburn, Caroline T. Clark, and Emily A. Nemeth, on analyzing queer elements and ideologies in YA literature, assert that “literature in the QC (queer consciousness/community) category allows readers to view LGBTQQ people in worlds where their identities matter, but rather than these people being isolated, they are connected with others who share these important identities. (Blackburn et al. 14). Certain novels, such as Annie on My Mind, Boy Meets Boy, and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe also “indicate that the young adult genre is becoming more inclusive and is working toward more positive representation.” (Lewis 54).

Additionally, postmodern YA authors include a wider plot development for their LGBTQ+ characters that isn’t necessarily fueled by homophobia and fear. While there may be instances in which homophobia and fear are present, it is no longer the primary issue or driving force as other coming-of-age issues and problems are given just as much emphasis in the novels. In commenting on the novel Annie on My Mind, Goldsmith writes, “homophobia and fear are no longer essential cruxes of the queer plotline, as Annie on My Mind is able to be driven by the budding relationship of the protagonist and title character.” (Goldsmith 9).

YA novels now are also more diverse, adding queer and trans people of color (11). LGBTQ+ characters in early YA novels were mostly Caucasian, white-skinned adolescents. This time around, different races and ethnicities are depicted as members of the community, and as such, more complex issues arise surrounding their gender identities and sexual orientations because cultures and traditional values play out against the backdrop of a postmodern world. The novels below, all published after 2010, are examples.

Finally, there is more of an expectation, conscious or unconscious, of a happy ending for LGBTQ+ characters. Whereas their stories frequently came to a tragic ending in early YA novels, readers today have come to expect that LGBTQ+ characters will find their happiness at the end of their stories. Again, this is where the idea of novels written and published based on the context of the society in which they are written comes into play. In our 21st century world, we have concluded that anyone, regardless of race, class, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, can find fulfillment and happiness because our world has become more accepting as our global connections become more intertwined and we are made more aware of the differences and similarities of other people groups. As this is the direction our society is veering towards, YA authors and publishers write content that will reflect that, including the LGBTQ+ characters in their stories finding fulfillment.

Having said all that, the question remains: why is this important? Why is it important to recognize the evolution of LGBTQ+ characters? What does this mean for the target audience, those who are navigating the turbulent waters of young adulthood?

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The most significant reason is teens need reassurance that, whatever it is they are going through, they are not alone. Lewis points out this need in commenting about the novel Boy Meets Boy: “teens reading these novels need that reassurance and need to realize that how they identify themselves should be exactly right for them, which could very well be seen as the purpose for a novel like Boy Meets Boy” (Lewis 56). In the case of LGBTQ+ characters recurring frequently and across a variety of situations in the novels teens read, they are reassured that they are, in fact, not alone. And although much of YA literature is fiction, the very nature of the fiction genre is that the events didn’t actually happen in real life, but that doesn’t mean they can’t happen (realistic fiction). Teens who peruse these books can find comfort in this knowledge. Whether heterosexual, homosexual, or somewhere in between, the evolution of LGBTQ+ characters from one that was characterized by negativity and trauma to one of positivity and the ability to secure happiness will demonstrate to struggling teens that life can get better. Lewis said it well:

If literature is an indicator of how our society feels about real-life issues, then the increasing visibility and positive representation in our young adult literature is an encouraging sign. Positive literature will lead to members of our society leading happier lives, and, at least from the perspective of what our YA books are telling us, we are riding an upward trend. (57).

In short, it will help our emerging adults lead happier, more fulfilled lives in knowing that literature, like the laws and everything else in the world, is reflecting their reality and their truth.

An image captured in Buzzfeed’s Queer Prom. Image from

Understanding the evolution of LGBTQ+ characters in Young Adult Literature is crucial in ensuring that the path society is taking in accepting a once-former outgroup continues to do so for the sake of the nation’s emerging adults. In tracing the path we have taken, from one of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination to one of understanding and acceptance, young adults are able to freely pursue their notions of life, liberty, and happiness as they see fit. Ultimately, knowing where we have been and where we are gives us hope that society itself has evolved to a much better state, one in which young adults will grow to be positive, productive citizens.  

Works Cited

Blackburn, Mollie V., et al. “Examining Queer Elements and Ideologies in LGBT-Themed Literature: What Queer Literature Can Offer Young Adult Readers.” Journal of Literacy Research, vol. 47, no. 1, Mar. 2015, pp. 11–48, doi:10.1177/1086296X15568930. Accessed 20 June 2019.

Cart, Michael, and Christine Jenkins. The Heart Has Its Reasons: Young Adult Literature with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969–2004. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2006.

“evolution.” Merriam-Webster. 5 Jul 2019, Accessed 21 June 2019.

Goldsmith, John. “The Evolution of Queer Representation in the Young Adult Genre.” Honors Senior Theses/Projects. 96. Digital Commons@WOU, 2016, pp. 1-71, Accessed 26 June 2019.

Lewis, Cady. “How Far Have We Come? A Critical Look at LGBTQ Identity in Young Adult Literature.” Language Arts Journal of Michigan, vol. 30, Iss. 2, Article 10, 2015, pp. 53-57, Accessed 26 June 2019.