Reading the Body in Young Adult Literature
Volume 48: Issue 3 (Summer 2021)
Submissions due: November 1, 2020
Today’s teens are assailed with images of idealized beauty and perfect bodies, whether it’s carefully curated selfies in their social media feeds, Photoshopped images in magazines, pictures and videos from friends, or the young adult (YA) novels they read. YA books can sometimes reinforce the idea that all you need to live your best life is a makeover. Fortunately, a new trend in YAL counters this oppressive notion with books that encourage body positivity. In Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, a smart, funny high school girl struggles not with her weight, but with her ability to see herself as someone who’s worthwhile and deserving of happiness. In David Levithan’s Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story, a Broadway musical script is the format for this hilarious and campy young adult novel about a boy’s journey of self-discovery as a “big-boned” gay teen. In Elizabeth Acevedo’s National Book Award-winning Poet X, main character Xiomara, an Afro-Latina teen, struggles with her body image and her mother’s religion in an oppressive, patriarchal culture. Jennifer Niven’s Holding Up the Universe deals frankly with fat-shaming, bullying, depression, and peer pressure. In Louise O’Neil’s Only Ever Yours, the setting is a near-future dystopia where women are valued only for their beauty and fertility, genetically engineered and trained from a young age either to produce male children as official wives or provide sexual companionship as concubines.
We invite correspondence about ideas for articles and submission of completed manuscripts. We would especially love to hear from teens about how they feel about the portrayal of bodies/body image/body health in YAL. Here’s a partial list of topics, meant only to suggest the range of our interests for this issue:
- Body positivity is a social movement rooted in the belief that all human beings should have a positive body image, while challenging the ways in which society presents and views the physical body. What are your favorite YA books that counter oppressive discourses/beliefs about beauty and body image? What YA novels are you reading that portray characters who don’t think “fat” is a bad word and reclaim it to live their best lives?
- In her YA novel, Fat Girl on a Plane, Kelly DeVos writes, “Your body is no one’s business but your own. We are more than just our bodies. We are the sum of our abilities and accomplishments and hopes and dreams and friendships and relationships. It’s what we are inside that matters.” In The Other F Word: A Celebration of the Fat & Fierce, editor Angie Manfredi writes, “Your body is perfect. Yes, Yours. Exactly the way it is, right now in this second.” How can teachers and others who work with young people use the YA genre to spread the message that our bodies are “perfect” and “we are more than just our bodies”?
- Body-shaming (criticizing yourself or others because of some aspect of physical appearance) can lead to a vicious cycle of judgment and criticism. Messages from the media (and in YA literature) can imply that teens should want to change, that teens should care about looking slimmer, smaller, and tanner. And if teens don’t, they may be at risk of being the target of someone else’s body-shaming comments. How do you see body-shaming at work—or countered—in the YA genre?
- In her book The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games, Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas theorizes that when characters of color appear in YAL, TV shows, and movies, they are often marginalized or subjected to violence, reinforcing for audiences that not all lives matter. How are racialized bodies described/presented/read in the genre?
- In Piecing Me Together, author Renee Watson considers body size and image as but one of her main character Jade’s identities, intersected in complex ways with race, gender, and position. Why and how do these intersections matter for young adults? How else do we see these intersectional identities play out in the genre?
- Viewed through the lens of medicine, the body is a text that offers clues to health and illness, yet clinical readings are never entirely objective. Culture informs and distorts how we examine, accept, reject, and analyze our bodies. How do representations of the adolescent body in the YA genre position illness/health; gender, racial, “able-bodied,” and/or trans identities; and teen’s rights (or lack of rights) to control their own bodies?
- Literary theory has been dominated by a mind/body dualism that often ignores the role of the body in reading, yet some reading researchers claim that reading is an embodied experience, both in the sense of multisensory engagement with a physical text or reading device, and as “embodied cognition,” where language and cognitive processes pertaining to semantic information processing are neurological and thus embodied. What is reading as a physical and/or embodied practice like for you and the teen readers in your life? What role(s) do the eyes, hands, postures, and reading positions play? What about physical spaces? Where do you read? What happens to the mind/body as you read?
- Youth lens theorists encourage us to push back on stereotypical ideas about adolescents and their bodies (e.g., adolescents are “hormonal” and “moody” because they are going through puberty). How does the YA genre circulate and/or counter stereotypical beliefs about adolescent bodies?
- In David Levithan’s Every Day series, the main character A spends his life waking up in a different body every day, and is forced to live as that person until the day ends. At the heart of the series are the questions: What is a soul? And what makes us human? How can the YA genre be used with young people to consider such important questions? How do the young people in your life answer these questions?
All submissions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please see the ALAN website (http://www.alan-ya.org/page/alan-review-author-guidelines) for submission guidelines.
Finding the Middle Ground
Volume 49: Issue 1 (Fall 2021)
Submissions due: March 1st, 2021
Guest editors: Caroline Clark, Christian Hines, and Jared Crossley
Please submit all manuscripts for this issue to: email@example.com
Popular educational tropes suggest that early elementary school is about learning the basics, and high school is about the drama of trying to fit in and discovering your own voice. But what about that time in between—the magic, the mischief, the mystery, and the mania of middle school? Sharon Maughan, in her Publishers Weekly article “Navigating Middle Grade Books,” gathered publishers, editors, parents, and teachers alike to debate the state of Middle-Grades literature. Together, they discussed the publishing landscape, what the categories are within this body of literature, and who, specifically, is the targeted audience. Middle-grades literature typically encompasses the ages of 8–12 years old; however, debatable considerations are given to whether the age demographic applies to the reader or to the characters. And middle-grade books take more into account than just age. This so-called “tween lit” can run a gamut of topics, like familial and sibling bonds in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series; the effects of being “the chosen one” in the epic tale of Percy Jackson; or the realistic complexities of simply existing in everyday life by running mile for mile with Jason Reynolds in his track series.
Middle-grades literature holds weight not only in the publishing market, but also in the broader media industry—from the Netflix adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and the HBO production of His Dark Materials, to the global, cultural phenomenon that is the world of Harry Potter. Disney is also involved in middle-grade adaptations, producing Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl, streaming on Disney+, and a feature film based on Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. Young Adult authors, too, are joining in on the middle-grade experience, with acclaimed author Nic Stone debuting two middle-grades reads, Clean Getaway and Shuri (Spring 2020), and Angie Thomas (The Hate U Give and On the Come Up) considering publication of a middle-grade novel.
Against this social, cultural, and literary landscape, we wondered about the role of middle-grades literature in the broader arena of literature for adolescents. What is the appeal of middle-grades literature? Which authors are publishing middle-grades books and why? How is this literature defined, and who is included in its readership? What is it about this special age that appeals to younger and older readers alike? How is diversity handled within the pages of this literature, and how do these young protagonists deal with their lived experiences differently than their young adult counterparts? In this special issue dedicated to Middle-Grade and Tween literature we seek to participate in the discourse surrounding the popularity and evolving landscape of tween literature.
We invite correspondence about ideas for articles, as well as submission of completed manuscripts. In addition, we’ve generated a partial list of topics, meant only to suggest the range of our interests for this issue:
- How is “middle-grade literature” defined? By the age of its readers? An author’s intended audience? The content of the book? Or the age of the protagonist? Are middle-grade and “tween” the same things? Why do these definitions matter, and what are the consequences of these choices?
- How can middle-grade novels, and how we define them, provide insight into the work of young adult literature? How are middle-grade novels positioned between early readers and young adult literature? Does middle-grade literature fill that gap, or is there more needed to fill that gap?
- What is the range of genres within middle-grades literature? What accounts for the popularity of some genres over others? And how does this compare with literature written for younger or older audiences? What topics and issues are explored in middle-grade novels and why? Are certain topics taboo for young readers? Should topics be explored by age or experience?
- In the vein of #disrupttexts, how might middle-grade/tween literature be used in the classroom to not only decolonize the canon but to promote civic engagement and foster youth activism?
- Graphic novels provide a solid and strong competing backbone for middle-grade literature. Raina Telgemeir’s collection has entertained and inspired a new generation of readers to understand and accept the awkward phases of growing up and moving on, while Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Jeff Smith’s Bone series changed the way readers consumed literature by topping the NYT bestsellers list for each debut. Consider the impact that graphic novels currently have on middle-grade readers, classroom libraries, and even teaching pedagogies. Why are graphic novels so popular? What is the future of graphic novels? How have various areas of diversity been portrayed in graphic novels, such as Cece Bell’s El Deafo?
- Jerry Craft recently won the Newbery Medal for his graphic novel New Kid. Included in it is his tagline for writing, “I make the books I wish I had when I was a kid.” Consider the popularity of other graphic novels, James Patterson’s Middle School Series, and Svetlana Chmakova’s Berry Brook Middle School series, and explore how these books cover the awkward yet endearing discovery of the emergence of adolescence via visuals. With today’s media- and visual-driven generation, are graphic novels the books that future generations will “wish” were written during their adolescence?
- How do the middle grades and middle school get portrayed in this literature? How do these representations construct who middle-grade readers are or can be? How might these representations be expanded, and what opportunities might these afford to middle-grade readers?
- How do awards, such as Newberry, Coretta Scott King, Schnieder Family, Pura Belpre, Robert F. Sibert Informational, and Stonewall, affect how you think about middle-grades literature? What books stand out? Which award winners are finding an audience with middle-grade readers and why? How do awards influence the ways that teachers, librarians, and publishers curate and circulate books in their collections?
- Since 2015, there has been an increased awareness of the lack of diversity in children’s literature with the We Need Diverse Books and #OwnVoices movements. How have middle-grade novels recently been used within these movements? How is diversity addressed within middle-grades books?
- How do we account for the popularity or staying power of series books in middle grades, such as Percy Jackson, The Unicorn Rescue Society, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, Jake the Fake, The Last Kids on Earth, etc.? Does the translation of these books in broader media increase the exposure of the literature and, in turn, contribute to the popularity of series books?
- There has been a recent surge of books in young adult literature that focus on mental illness and mental health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 10% to 20% of adolescents experience mental health conditions. With mental health issues and struggles being addressed with teens, are there middle-grade books that address the issues and concerns of mental health? How might these books appeal and aid in the development of young readers? Is mental health taboo when talking with readers at such a young age?
For this guest edited issue of TAR, please submit all manuscripts to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please see the ALAN website (http://www.alan-ya.org/page/alan-review-author-guidelines) for submission guidelines.