This has been an enlightening and challenging five weeks.
I started it all by writing my proposal, which outlined the purpose of the research, my intentions for it once everything had been compiled, and the methods I’d use in doing so. I created an entirely new blog to record the journey, appropriately titled “Exploring the Young Adult Genre”. However, I posted weekly summaries on the site I’d already created for the class. And the general goal for these five weeks were summarized in the executive description and narrative:
I am going to read and review the most popular books in the young adult genre, which will involve delving into their backgrounds and researching what has made them so successful… I would like to know what factors have caused such an explosion of enthusiasm in both teenagers and adults alike. While there are many articles that express views on this and I certainly have some general theories and ideas of my own, I have not found such an in-depth effort.
Then, after posting the proposal and preparing the blogs, I began reading.
There were five books total. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, Divergent by Veronica Roth, and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I chose these books because they’re the most well-known within the genre, selling so many copies that each went on to Hollywood and the big screen. These were the stories that young adults found the most intriguing, and I set out to know why. Again, that was the focus of my project in a nutshell. It seemed simple enough, but I quickly realized that there wasn’t just a single answer.
As stated in my original proposal, I wrote a review for each. The Fault in Our Stars, The Hunger Games, Twilight, Divergent, and Speak. Then I went on to post an article highlighting my finds of the novel’s backgrounds. Found here, here, here, here, and here. Fan art that represented what I found most, significant interviews with the author, revealing comments that readers made, etc. This was an extensive process because of the sheer amount of material to sift through, something I didn’t foresee. It took at least two days to finish my posts each time.
But during my browsing one day, I came across this quote. It struck me because it seemed to address the very question I was searching for an answer to.
It’s crucial that young readers are considering scenarios about humanity’s future, because the challenges are about to land in their laps. I hope they question how elements of the books might be relevant to their own lives.
One of the most significant and unexpected discoveries that came up during the course of this project was the self-evaluation. I started out thinking that this was going to be a project where I solely focused on everything else. The readers, the authors, the work. But within the first week I realized that my own experiences were going to be extremely relevant. Yes, this may seem obvious. Until this point, however, academic projects had mostly been about observing everything else. It came as a surprise to me that everything I was feeling and thinking could and should be put toward my findings.
For instance, I know that for Twilight, part of the reason I found it so thrilling was not only because I enjoyed the romance, but because I experienced some of that emotion myself. As cheesy as it might sound, I felt Edward’s adoration and I had the sense of falling in love through the main character’s eyes.
While the experiences were slightly different for each book, I still lost myself in them in this way. Which, for a teenager, is a huge thing. Everyone needs an escape, especially a person in a time or change, emotional turmoil, and uncertainty.
Another surprise was how important the weekly summaries became to the process. Going into this, I expected my findings and conclusions to be part of the exploration posts. However, I needed time after publishing them to absorb and think. So my personal findings went into the post at the end of the week, and I believe they were stronger for it.
For the summary of The Fault in Our Stars, I realized that “ultimately, there seem to be two things that made this story such a success: the love story and the sincerity of the characters’ struggles with this disease. There is no pretty wrapping when it comes to their pain. Hazel and Augustus are also real in their quirks, conversations, and revelations. People respond to love and being genuine.”
For the summary of The Hunger Games, I recognized that “as humans, we are looking for someone to admire and model ourselves after. We want to be strong and indestructible, despite our flaws. To get back up again if we fall.” I also wondered if “readers could easily see this becoming reality? Or perhaps they appreciate this unapologetic, grim depiction of war? It also caused readers to wonder whether or not they could kill a friend to stay alive, and what your life would be worth after that.”
In reaching conclusions for Twilight, I wrote that “there really is no debate. It’s the same reason Fifty Shades of Grey – which started off as Twilight fan fiction – did so well. The man. The forbidden. The romance.”
When it came time to write a summary for Divergent, I had hit my stride. This was a very important post for me. I made several realizations that it’s impossible to limit myself to one quote:
Ultimately I observed that “the aspect of this story that appeared most often in my search was courage. This is a story about a girl’s pursuit of it, and there were so many images and quotes on how to get past fear, find strength, etc. Sprinkled amongst these were enthusiastic depictions of the romance in the story, yes, but it was very obvious that it was not the main focus for fans.
This book was released during a time when readers had already experienced the romance of Twilight and The Fault in Our Stars. It had also had a taste of the violence and thrill of The Hunger Games. Maybe audiences weren’t looking for that anymore. They consumed Divergent and all they seem able to talk about was the trials that Beatrice went through and how incredible it was that she overcame them, despite the odds.
The author herself confirmed that the story is about choice, identity, and trying to be the best person you can be.
Again the question presents itself: What was the fascination for this book? The romance? The character? The setting? The writing? Probably a combination of everything, yes, but from my research I sincerely believe it was the struggle against fear. Young adults can drastically relate to this, as our formative years are a time of transition, anxiety, uncertainty, and confusion.
Then there was Speak. I immediately knew that “the reason this book sold so well, reached such a large audience, affected so many young adults and adults alike is clear. Not only do they appreciate the bravery of the author in writing about such a difficult topic, but they are affected by it. Many probably relate to it. It’s a sad fact that many, many girls have experience with this. There’s no boy to swoon over and no action to get caught up in. There’s just this pain that the audience finds authenticity in.”
So, yes, for each book I discovered something different in my efforts to answer a single question. At first I was unsettled by it, because I’ve become used to a big conclusion during the college experience. Writing essays, conducting experiments, etc. But eventually I accepted the fact that there isn’t just one conclusion. These are different books, different people reading them, at different times and sub-genres. There are a variety of reasons one responds to a book, especially teenagers.
There were other challenges during this project, of course. It’s easier said than done, reading one book a week. Not to mention that I wanted to watch each movie, in the interest of being thorough. If I did it all over again, I’d want more time. To go into more depth, if possible. Not only look at the social media, but contact the authors themselves and ask them the big questions that are relevant to this project.
But I asked myself those big questions, and I’m satisfied with the variety of answers I found. This was a rewarding and challenging project. I’m proud and satisfied with how it turned out.