Literature for Adolescents, Fall 2010

M.T. Anderson, Feed

J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

With the fall term imminent (starts Monday), I’m posting a link to the latest iteration of my English 545: Literature for Adolescents. My goal is always “diversity” in many senses of that word.  We read books by writers of different backgrounds (African-American, Iranian, Chinese-American, Latino, Caucasian), genders, sexualities, classes — which are probably the categories most people think of when they hear the word “diversity.”  I also use the word in terms of genre.  We read graphic novels, a novel in verse, a novel in the form of a screenplay, memoir, dystopian fiction, historical fiction, a sports novel, magical realism, film, and fairy tales.  And I use the word to expand “Literature for Adolescents” beyond “Young Adult.”  On the syllabus are works about adolescence (but not necessarily written for adolescents), works that get assigned to adolescents, and of course Young Adult Literature.  Finally, we read some classics, and a lot that’s contemporary.

Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis

Francesca Lia Block, Weetzie Bat

I’m never completely satisfied with my syllabus.  So, each semester, I change it a little.  This term, for instance, I’ve added a “dystopias” unit: we’ll read M.T. Anderson‘s Feed and Suzanne Collins‘ The Hunger Games.  I’m happy about that change, but not about the omission of fantasy.  I also wonder if I have one too many graphic novels.  Any why are there no works by Native American authors on my syllabus?

Benjamin Alire Saenz, Sammy & Juliana in HollywoodWalter Dean Myers, MonsterEach syllabus is always incomplete. There are never enough weeks in the term to cover all I want to cover.  At best, students will get a taste of the field.  But I hope that this slender sliver of knowledge will send them back to the library, the bookstore, or possibly other English classes.  I hope that this is but the beginning (or a continuation) of a lifetime of reading and learning.  There is so much to read and to know, and our lives are so brief.  I write that last sentence to convey not despair, but rather urgency, inspiration, motivation.  Or, to quote a Robert Herrick line entirely out of context, “make much of time.”


  1. Reply

    Looks like a class I’d have liked to have taken. I wrestle with the novels approach vs. mixed genre (which is my priority as multiculturalism is yours). So I’m always worried that I’m not having them read enough novels in 15 weeks.

    I also wonder what you think about _American Born Chinese_ as it relates to what, for me, has been a vexing subtext: being “just” a monkey. Make it right for me, Dr. Phil! I want to like the book, but I fear that it asks us to not only settle on being monkeys (of various sorts) but to accept its lower status. Yours, Wants to Believe

  2. Reply

    In addition to the parallel narratives playing out the argument of accepting (rather than fighting) one’s heritage, the novel is deploying humor and stereotypes in interesting and complicated ways. In class, we have productive discussions about what it means to create the character of Chin-Kee. Is he a stereotype functioning to reinforce stereotypes? Is he a stereotype working to make us critical of stereotypes? How can you tell the difference? Next series of questions: when you encounter the Chin-Kee scenes, do you laugh? If so, why? What are you laughing at? If you laugh at a racial caricature, does laughing make you a racist? Do you think Yang wants you to laugh?

  3. Reply

    Ah, so much to read! Thanks for putting this up there; looks like a great class.

    What level students take your course? I wish I had a class that was just “adolescent lit” instead of having to fold it into children’s lit…

  4. Reply

    Hi, Libby. Thanks for your response! The course (which usually enrolls the full 30 students) is required for Secondary Education majors. So, the class will include a fair few from that group. Looking at my current roster, roughly one third appear to be Secondary Ed. Perhaps another third seems to be another category of Education major — Elementary Ed, Early Childhood Ed or something else. The rest: Anthropology, Psychology (2), Mass Comm (2), Fine Arts, plus a couple who seem to be undeclared. In this particular group, half are Juniors, followed by 8 seniors, 5 sophomores, 1 freshman, and then some who either have not signed in or have a “Year in School” designation I cannot decipher: “40”? “30”? No idea what those mean.

  5. Sarah


    Would The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian fit the curriculum, and give you a Native American author? It is one of my all-time YA faves..and it’s great on audio because Alexie reads it himself. Just a thought…

  6. Reply

    Hmm, interesting to think about what 30 or 40 means as a year in school. If you add up K-12, college & grad school, and teaching, I make it to 41. Yikes!

  7. Reply

    Sarah: Yep, it would and I should. I’ve read it, and it’s on my YA shelf. Guess that will be the way I remedy this next time I teach the class. Thanks for prodding me in the right direction! And, Libby, yeah, I have no idea. If one includes graduate school, then I completed the 21st grade; if we add to that the 13 additional years I’ve been in academe, then I’m up to 34. It’s a mystery!

  8. Anne


    Are there no students enrolled in this course who are English majors but NOT on the education track? That surprises me!

  9. Reply

    Anne —
    It’s possible that the “other category of Education major” (listed above) does include some who are also majoring in English. I confess that I don’t understand all of the abbreviations in my list of students. My sense, though, that the number of English majors on the Ed track is rather small.

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