Growing up is tough. That’s something that the main character in my first book for the Bearded Bards, Marvin, is learning. In Marvin and the Time Traveling Toaster Machine, Marvin has to deal with overbearing teachers, blackouts that are taking hours away from his life, and time travel. Along with all of this, he has to deal with growing up and trying to get away from the legacy of his parents in order to make his own.
Yup, growing up is tough. But it’s especially tough for the characters in YA lit. Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, and Percy Jackson all have to overcome major challenges while also growing up and still trying to be kids. YA Lit books have to do some amazing things in order to show how the main characters grow throughout the story, and at the same time be able to make sure that the reader can relate to the growth of the main character.
Some amazing things like:
Removing The Parents
You may have noticed one major theme in books like Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Percy Jackson — no parents. Yes, there are authority figures in the books, but they are not the main character’s parents. By removing the parents, through summer camps, competitions to the death, or the parent’s own death, it’s shown that the young character is on their own. They have to overcome massive struggles while at the same time growing up all by themselves. Sure, maybe they will have some friends with them to help, but they won’t have their parents there to guide them through.
This is the same thing that happens to many kids in the real world. When you are young, the last thing you want is for your parents to make all your decisions. The only difference is that in YA books, parents aren’t there to help their kids get out of any sticky situations. In this way, the books are showing kids that they have the ability to overcome any challenges. That it’s great if a kid’s parents can be there to help, but they won’t always be there to help them out of a jam. And, hey, if Harry Potter can beat Voldemort (albeit, with the help of his ghostly parents), then any teen can overcome the struggles that they face, be it classes, friends, or whatever other problems come their way.
Every kid thinks that the problems they are facing are epic and unconquerable. But, when you compare those problems with what Harry Potter or Katniss are facing, are they really problems at all? Harry and Katniss have to overcome things like a dark wizard trying to conquer the world and a competition to the death, all the while growing into themselves as young adults. Getting through your teenage years is hard enough, but when you add in dangerous and stressful situations, it becomes nearly impossible. Yet the characters that we see are able to overcome all the challenges that they face. They are even able to get past their struggles and challenge the adult authority that is behind everthing. Harry is able to challenge the Ministry of Magic and Voldemort, and Katniss is able to challenge President Snow and the gamemakers.
And why not? When teens see a character like Harry Potter being able to get past his challenges and also challenge authority, they may be able to do so themselves. Sure, the old adage is that kids should not challenge authority, but why not? If that authority is doing something wrong, a kid can find inspiration in something like Hunger Games or Harry Potter or Percy Jackson, and in that inspiration, they can stand up to the injustices in their own world.
A Little Help From My Friends
Childhood can be tough. Add in a dark wizard who wants you dead, or a roving death squad, or killer greek gods, and childhood can be nearly impossible. That’s why friends are so important. Harry’s group of Hermione and Ron helps him to overcome the forces of evil, and Katniss gets help from Haymitch, Peeta, and Rue. In fact, getting through these challenges would be impossible without the help of their friends and allies. Even in a book like Speak, where the main character has no friends, instead she just has a mentor who is incredibly important.
The main characters in these books overcoming challenges with the help of friends show the teenage reader how important social interaction is. How, even when things are incredibly difficult, having friends can make things a little bit easier.
There you have it! Three things that can be seen in pretty much every young adult book. Three devices that are used to show how a character grows, and show the reader that they, too, can grow into a well rounded young adult and overcome all their trials and tribulations. You can see them in Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Percy Jackson, and come August and September, you will be able to see them in ZT’s first book Gone to Wonder, and my first book, Marvin and the Time Traveling Toaster Machine.