Any library in any town in the SAU 16 no doubt had an entire section dedicated to them. Any EHS student who has taken Freshman English has probably read half a dozen of them. Any educator nationwide has most likely selected a favorite one. Young Adult Fiction novels have infiltrated the bookshelves of the United States, and it looks like they’re here to stay. And while they seem to have the positive impact of encouraging young readers, they also have a lot of consequences that nobody wants to talk about.
For years, children would quickly grow bored with the books they had access to which were simple and in the vernacular. Children’s books were few and far between, and were targeted at a rather young audience. As adolescence set in, teens would turn to classic works to engage their minds, finding entertainment in the difficulty of the language, as well as in the plot line. There were no epics unless you were willing to dust off an old translation, or even pick up a Greek textbook. But now a fifth grader can read of an adventure even more action-packed than that of Odysseus, without having to look up a single word.
But of course, as many high school English teachers have noticed, these novels are also written by adults, and contain many interesting themes for analysis, many of the same motifs, and overall begin to smack of every virtue that the classical novels had over them in the first place. Those aforementioned teachers would love to use this to prove that they can make reading fun and accessible and still be a difficult skill which requires analysis and critical thinking. They might begin to give students credit for reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, and bench Beowulf. They claim the same skills are still being learned. They claim the students are still being taught. They claim this will be a much more relatable way to build a generation that loves reading.
But when will they learn about how far we have come? When will they watch Don Quixote become aware that he is the center of a narrative? When will they see the ties between Mary Shelley’s The Modern Prometheus and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner? If they don’t do that, when will they ever realise the full consequences of the Romantic movement in England, and the way that it fed into the American identity, birthing the Transcendentalist thought that lead all the way into the restless adventures of Jack Kerouac? And even The Rime wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the most printed text, The Holy Bible. Even the Bible has thousands of translations, which makes it very easy to select one printed in your vernacular, which will make it a long, but easy read. But so much is lost in translation that you lose everything. Greek has three words for love which clarify everything. A brotherly, a friendly, and romantic type of love all have separate verbs in Greek. The words of Jesus Christ make much much sense when recorded in that sense, rather than in English where the best bet we have is the verb ‘to love.’
And when will the children learn vocabulary? Vocabulary has become a chore, something which highschoolers cram into their thick skulls in the months preceding the SAT. When Coleridge brings up a ‘shrive’ or a ‘kirk’ you would learn what they mean by seeing them in a work. But those days are gone. A modern author would never have the audacity to use a word more complex than audacity.
So, while the youth of America is enjoying their Young Adult Fiction, they should still be mindful of the classic works which have come before them. Maybe they should crack some Twain ‘tween the novels in the Hunger Games saga, and skim one of Coleridge’s poems before they head off for Harry Potter. But, bah. Those books are just antiquated, right?