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Disturbing the Universe

Power and Repression in Adolescent Literature

Roberta S. Trites

Publication Year: 1998

Disturbing the Universe: Power and Repression in Adolescent Literature by Roberta Seelinger Trites is the winner of the 2002 Children's Literature Association's Book Award. The award is given annually in order to promote and recognize outstanding contributions to children's literature, history, scholarship, and criticisim; it is one of the highest academic honors that can accrue to an author of children's literary criticism. "What makes Trites' book so significant is the grandness of its theme. She not only expounds upon the role of power in young adult literature, but she also points out that some of this literature has the potential to empower its adolescent readers. o --Mark I. West, president of the Children's Literature Association "Informed by theorists ranging from Lacan to Eagleton to Jameson to Foucault to Barthes, Disturbing the Universe is a cogent and thought-provoking work that breaks new ground in young adult literature and postmodern studies. o --Sherrie A. Inness, associate professor of English, Miami University "For many working within the field of children's literature, this book will come as a welcome addition to an expanding corpus."--The Yearbook of English Studies TheYoung Adult novel is ordinarily characterized as a coming-of-age story, in which the narrative revolves around the individual growth and maturation of a character, but Roberta Trites expands this notion by chronicling the dynamics of power and repression that weave their way through YA books. Characters in these novels must learn to negotiate the levels of power that exist in the myriad social institutions within which they function, including family, church, government, and school. Trites argues that the development of the genre over the past thirty years is an outgrowth of postmodernism, since YA novels are, by definition, texts that interrogate the social construction of individuals. Drawing on such nineteenth-century precursors as Little Women and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Disturbing the Universe demonstrates how important it is to employ poststructuralist methodologies in analyzing adolescent literature, both in critical studies and in the classroom. Among the twentieth-century authors discussed are Blume, Hamilton, Hinton, Le Guin, L'Engle, and Zindel. Trites' work has applications for a broad range of readers, including scholars of children's literature and theorists of post-modernity as well as librarians and secondary-school teachers. Roberta Trites is associate professor of English and associate dean, College of Arts and Sciences, at Illinois State University, where she teaches children's and adolescent literature. She is author of Waking Sleeping Beauty: Feminist Voices in Children's Novels (Iowa), which won an ALA Choice Award.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xv

I remember complaining to a friend in 1975 that I was tired of reading the books in our middle school library because "they're all about kids with problems." Maybe with that succinct analysis of the 1970s problem novel, I damned myself to a lifetime of studying adolescent literature. In any event,...

Chapter 1. "Do I dare disturb the universe?": Adolescent Literature in the Postmodern Era

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pp. 1-20

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Chapter 2. "I don't know the words": Institutional Discourses in Adolescent Literature

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pp. 21-53

Avi's Nothing but the Truth ends with the statement, "I don't know the words" (177). Nothing but the Truth is a postmodern novel about a ninth-grader named Philip Malloy who gets expelled from Harrison High School...

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Chapter 3. "Maybe that is writing, changing things around and disguising the for-real": The Paradox of Authority in Adolescent Literature

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pp. 54-83

We can investigate power and repression in adolescent literature by analyzing textual discourses about institutional politics and social construction. We can also assess how adolescent literature...

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Chapter 4. "All of a sudden I came": Sex and Power in Adolescent Novels

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pp. 84-116

The protagonist of Norma Klein's It's OK if You Don't Love Me (1977) experiences orgasms easily. Twice she climaxes "all of a sudden" (78, 142), which is in marked contrast to the protagonist of Judy Blume's Forever (1975), who says, "at last I came" (149--150). For both girls,...

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Chapter 5. "When I can control the focus": Death and Narrative Resolution in Adolescent Literature

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pp. 117-141

In Chapter 4, I discussed Foucault's concept of sexuality as a human construct invented to control the biological aspects of sex (History 35). Death is another biological imperative. It is, perhaps, even more powerful in the human mind than sexuality, for although in theory some individuals can...

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Chapter 6. Conclusion: The Poststructural Pedagogy of Adolescent Literature

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pp. 142-152

The dynamics of power/repression I have discussed in the previous chapters are interrelated. Certainly no institution exists in isolation; no discursive construct possibly can. Since institutions such as school, religion, church, identity politics, and family are invested in...


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pp. 153-161


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pp. 163-175


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pp. 177-189

E-ISBN-13: 9781587293337
E-ISBN-10: 1587293331
Print-ISBN-13: 9780877458579
Print-ISBN-10: 087745857X

Page Count: 207
Publication Year: 1998

Edition: 1