Teenage Characters And Responsibility In Teen Novels, by Elizabeth Wein
One feature that I feel is characteristic of teen fiction is the divide between young people and adults. It can show up as a contrast – between the unfinished, dynamic character of a maturing teen and the more static character of adults who are stuck in their prescribed roles. Or it can show up as a simple lack of understanding between the adults and the teens in the novel. Where I find this divide most interesting, and probably most disturbing, is when it’s part of a power play. This is the kind of conflict that I find myself most often describing in my own novels.
Teenagers don’t appear to have much power in Western society. They can’t legally drink, drive, vote, fight in a war, marry, hold a job or live on their own until they reach a certain age that adults consider appropriate. Basically, they are dependent on the adults around them to make sensible decisions for them. These can include life changing or even life saving decisions and, to the maturing mind, not being able to make one’s own decisions is often a source of deep conflict.
The kind of relationship that I explore in all my novels is that of the teen breaking free from the control of the adult world and learning to make decisions and accept responsibility for those decisions. I don’t really have a moral message to deliver in my writing, but if I did it would simply be that I want people to accept responsibility for their own actions. That’s what being a teen is all about.
In Code Name Verity, my most recent novel, the young heroines find themselves involved in assisting the British war effort during World War II. Not only is the dire global situation created for them by adults, but the Air Transport Auxiliary pilot Maddie and Special Operations Executive agent ‘Verity’ find their lives almost entirely guided by the orders and restrictions of superior officers. When Verity is captured by the Gestapo and Maddie is forced into hiding, the girls’ literal movements and freedom become restricted by the older people in charge of imprisoning or hiding them. How the girls cope with these situations and win back their individual freedom, figuratively and literally, is the core of the book.
Even a reader with the most ordinary daily existence should be able to relate to this theme, because rebelling against authority or learning to work with it is what people do in their teenage years.
Fiction is good practise for real life. Perhaps the teen/adult divide is one of the hallmarks of what makes a book a ‘teen novel’ rather than an ‘adult novel’.
Elizabeth Wein’s author website: www.elizabethwein.com
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