- Contemporary Adolescent Literature and Culture: The Emergent Adult ed. by Mary Hilton and Maria Nikolajeva
In an echo of Caroline Hunt’s 1996 assertion that young adult literature has “evaded” theorizing,1 editors Mary Hilton and Maria Nikolajeva note in their introduction to Contemporary Adolescent Literature and Culture: The Emergent Adult, “Young Adult literature [capitals in original] has as yet generated far less critical scholarship than studies of children’s literature” (8). Hilton and Nikolajeva’s collection of critical readings, which is drawn from a diversity of scholars employing a number of critical apparatuses, represents an attempt to rectify this apparent lack. Indeed, the editors argue that the essays in this collection represent an endeavor to “stake out some critical territory in this rapidly expanding field through exploring aspects of the powerful metaphor that has been set up around the young adult experience” (9). Young adult literature, Hilton and Nikolajeva assert, links “society’s turbulence, its most pressing and disturbing issues, with the adolescent’s quest for identity in coming of age” (9) and, as it does so, constructs adolescence as a metaphor for political and social instability.
The essays in this volume engage with the question of metaphor in a number of ways and are notable for their address of American, European, South African, and Caribbean-American literature as well as for their implicit dialogue. For example, Georgie Horrell’s analysis of two works of South African young adult literature and Elia Michelle Lafuente’s discussion of Caribbean-American adolescent literature both consider nationhood a potential metaphor for adolescence. While Lafuente focuses on testimonio, literature describing the experiences of people living under repressive and dictatorial regimes, and Horrell examines literature set in South Africa under [End Page 117] apartheid, both argue that in these young adult texts, depictions of adolescent protagonists’ internal struggles, maturation, and political awakening serve as “metaphor[s] for the turmoil occurring in the countries at the time and vice versa” (Lafuente 35).
While Horrell and Lafuente consider the metaphoric potential of specific and politically tumultuous settings in young adult literature, David Whitley, in the collection’s first essay, addresses setting in broader terms. Acknowledging the predominantly urban realist orientation of contemporary young adult novels that tend to depict adolescence as “disengaged from the natural world,” Whitley argues that “questions of how the natural world may affect the transition towards adult identity within adolescence” nonetheless persist in young adult literature (30). Although the natural world is not the focus of Lafuente’s essay, the author provides inadvertent support for Whitley’s thesis, pointing out the use of natural imagery in service of the larger themes the books on which she focuses address.
While Horrell’s, Lafuente’s, and Whitley’s essays are in implicit dialogue with one another, essays by Clémentine Beauvais and Lydia Kokkola—both of which address the metaphoric potential of the body in literature—make this dialogue explicit. Beauvais’ essay, which makes the “hybrid child of a teenager union” (61) depicted in Marjorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, and Kokkola’s essay, which critiques the “incestuously abused adolescent body” of Precious, the heroine of Sapphire’s Push, make reference to one another as each author considers the ways in which “social ills” are “inscribed” on the fictional body (Kokkola 94). While Beauvais argues that the hybrid child represents a “visible crack in the segregating walls of society,” as it is “born astride socio-political divides” (61) and thus symbolizes both a challenge to the status quo and hope for a more unified future, Kokkola points out that the “sexual brutality and resulting pregnancies evident in” Noughts and Crosses, Twilight, and Push “suggest . . . that the pregnant teenage body is itself abject” (99). Kokkola and Beauvais refer explicitly to one another’s work and, by engaging directly with one another in the collection, suggest the instability of the ideologies that inform constructions of adolescence in young adult literature.
Unlike the earlier essays in this volume, which examine metaphors of adolescence advanced by individual or...