Alice replied, rather shyly, “I—I hardly know, Sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Like Alice and the other coming-of-age characters who define the genre, young adult literature is fraught with a multiplicity of identities. In 1802, in her periodical, The Guardian of Education, Sarah Trimmer defined “young adulthood” as lasting from ages 14 to 21. Trimmer’s publication was to have a powerful effect on young adult literature as she began to classify books appropriate for that age range. But since Trimmer’s announcement, young adult literature has come to cover a plethora of controversial topics including drug use, teen sexuality, and violence. What, then, makes young adult literature different from children’s literature or adult literature? How have the dividing lines of what is/is not appropriate shaped this genre? In this class we will study young adult literature as it has evolved from its mid-nineteenth century birth to its current popularity. Starting with Alice and moving forward, we will be particularly interested in issues of identity and belonging both in terms of the characters experiencing young adulthood and in the genre itself. Assignments will include an online blog and a final research project.

Throughout the course, our goals are to:

  • Understand the evolution of young adult literature as a genre
  • Analyze young adult literature within its specific cultural context
  • Critique young adult literature with a specific awareness of the genre’s defining characteristics
  • Be exposed to a breadth of young adult subgenres
  • Develop a growing compendium of young adult literature from which you can later draw


Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Isabel Quintero, Gabi a Girl in Pieces
Benjamin Alire Saenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming
Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, This One Summer


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