Themes of Identity and Relationships in Young Adult Literature/ MLA

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Themes of Identity and Relationships in Young Adult Literature/ MLA

This essay will discuss common themes of identity and relationships in young adult literature. It will explore how these themes resonate with young readers and the impact they have on shaping understanding of self and others. PapersOwl showcases more free essays that are examples of Adolescence.

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The key themes from the book are the themes of identity and relationships. These themes are valuable to young readers as these themes not only keep readers engaged through the personal connections that can be made, but they also help teach readers important core values and help readers develop an identity of their own. In the theme of identity, it is possible to look deeper into LGBTQ+ themes and within the theme of relationships follows themes of peer, family, and sibling relationships.

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Exposing young readers to these themes in literature is an excellent way to educate them on important global and social issues that are frequently happening in the world and may directly impact them as they are getting more involved with the adult world. Exploring identity and relationships, though reading gives young adults to develop and understanding of these topics in a safe environment.

Themes of identity are often found in YA literature which have aspects or components surrounding a character’s struggle for identity or how they choose identify. Young adult literature often has coming-of-age narratives which will follow the main character’s journey as they grow up searching figuring out who they are and where their morals stand. There is often a supporting character who accompanies the protagonist on their journey of self discovery and this character often plays an important role by influencing the protagonist’s development. The authors of “Explore the Themes and Genres of Young Adult Books” article state that “teens and young adults often feeling the need to discover themselves at this stage of their lives, it’s one of the most popular and reoccurring themes of young adult fiction.” (Gibbons et. Al)

In Nijkamp’s, This is Where it Ends young adult novel, the story is broken up to follow the experiences of five main characters- Claire, Autumn, Sylvia, Tomas, and Tyler- in the case of a school shooting. Each time the perspective changes, Nijkamp includes the character’s name before the section, so the reader can follow. The reader can easily favor one character over the other by identifying more with the choice of actions a particular character makes. Although the event in novel is only within the time frame of 54 minutes, the character’s personalities are revealed through their reactions to the shooting and through the connections they have to the shooter.

LGBTQ+ is an underlying theme to the novel even though the novel is not publicly advertised to be such. The history of LGBTQ+ themes in young adult literature can be traced back to the WWII era, as Michael Waters, the author of “A Brief History Of Queer Young Adult Literature” writes: “The rise of YA [young adult] literature has mirrored the rise of LGBTQ+ activism in fascinating ways. The same event that helped to define adolescence as a unique life stage — World War II — also created some of the first large-scale LGBT communities, as soldiers (especially women) were able to find others like them in the military.” Unfortunately, the introduction of queer characters was negative, early novels “depicted queer attraction as equal parts temporary and shameful,” but now having LGBTQ+ themes is a sign of positive inclusion and promoting open-mindedness. (Waters)

The emerging trend of incorporating LGBTQ+ themes in YA literature confronts the topic of gender identity and sexuality. For the conservative and closed minded parents of young readers it may be unnerving for their children to be exposed to these themes, but for the readers it provides an opportunity to explore their identity through reading and making personal connections. In This is Where it Ends, readers who are struggling with the idea of LGBTQ+ identity may be able to make connections with the characters Autumn, Tyler’s sister, and Sylvia, who is dating Autumn.

The authors of the “Explore the Themes and Genres of Young Adult Books” blog page, comment: “There is an emerging trend for YA [young adult] books that confront the topic of sexual and gender identity. From homosexuality to transgenderism, these novels can encapsulate the whole gender spectrum and may help readers who are struggling to define or embrace their own identities. For others, they shine an empathetic light on the unique issues faced by the LGBT community.” (Gibbons et. al) Following this, author Waters comments on how authors of LGBTQ+ young adult literature have been recently “able to take bigger risks — to explore the complexities of an identity that remains inherently political in our society.” (Waters) Modern day authors are able to openly share their personal self-discovery experiences and coming-out stories through their writing.

Concepts of relationships is another prominent theme in This is Where it Ends. These relationships can be between friends, lovers, or family members. All of these types of relationships can directly or indirectly influence one another. According to the “Sibling Relationships and Influences in Childhood and Adolescence” Article by Susan M. McHale, research suggests that “family processes, such as spousal conflict, coparenting, and parenting behaviors, are better predictors of sibling relationship qualities than is family status (O’Connor, Hetherington, & Reiss, 1998).” Hostility and conflict within a family household can spillover such that the negativity in a parent can link to violence and conflict between siblings. In This is Where it Ends we see how poor child-parent relationships extend to similar relationship dynamics in how it affects the sibling relationship and friendships of Tyler Brown and Autumn Brown. However, McHale also states how instead of a spill over on negativity, siblings can also form close relationships to compensate for family negativity which protect each sibling from adjustment problems. (McHale)

Throughout the time that sibling relationships have been a theme focused in young adult literature, there has been research constructed which evaluated the factors of gender order and age spacing of siblings and how these factors can influence personalities and personal qualities of sibling ties. In McHale’s article, the author covers the research a about a line of work which “examined siblings’ temperament (Stoneman & Brody, 1993) showing that difficult temperaments, in particular, were linked to sibling relationship difficulties.” The article also discusses studies which “tested temperament as a moderator of links between family conditions and sibling relationships, suggesting that siblings’ characteristics could exacerbate the effects of stressful family circumstances on sibling ties (Stoneman, Brody, Churchill & Winn, 1999).”

This statement provides support to the idea that the themes of sibling conflict between Autumn and Thomas within This is Where it Ends is caused by their family circumstance. By including this theme and information in the novel, readers who may unfortunately be under the same or similar circumstances may be able to make a connection with the characters which can help them cope with their own stressful and unpleasant situation. It may even lead them to realize that they can reach out to others like fellow students and teachers find help or resources. With this same research, it was concluded that “sibling relationships can serve as a training ground for aggression when siblings become involved in coercive cycles wherein escalation of negative behavior is rewarded by one partner giving in to the other’s demands.” The negative influences on siblings can more often than not generate a negative cycle which will keep escalating until either of the siblings or both reach a mental breaking point, which is exactly what happens with Tyler within This is Where it Ends. (McHale)

Themes of dealing with family conflicts took a long time to appear according to “The Parent Problem in Young Adult Lit,” author Julie Just states, “In American literature, children’s and adult books didn’t sharply diverge as categories until the 20th century… [the young adult category] fit in neatly with the classic narratives: its strongest stories were about orphans and lost boys of one kind or another. The hero’s “triumphant rise” often looked like a struggle for survival.” Young adult literature has since then expanded to how we know of it today, but the popular concept of a “distracted, failing parent became such a ubiquitous image” has been used in stories such as Coraline by Neil Gaiman where Coraline’s parents ignore her in order to meet the deadline of their gardening catalog. (Just)

Much of young adult literature appears to reflect honest confusion over the matter of what is in the job description of a parent, beyond the standard of providing shelter and food for children. Just believes that the confusion “isn’t surprising, after a decade in which “overparenting” became almost a badge of honor… In those days they said ‘Go play’ rather than ‘Go away,’ but the comparison surely says something about the expectations of both groups.” The confusion of the roles of parenting can fall back on child-parent interactions, children will react to their own parents based on how they think they should be parented. Siblings who have the impression they are not being treated fairly by their parents may build a closer bond with each other, but siblings who do not make that connection, due to different circumstances may have a violent or distance relationship. In the case of the Autumn and Tyler siblings in This is Where it Ends, the two do not have a strong sibling relationship due to the fact that their mother died when they were little and they were left with an abusive father. Autumn used dancing as an outlet for all of her stress from her family situation and Tyler suffered from depression, bipolar disorder and anger issues and violent tendencies which he took out on others.

Young adult works of literature which depict characters dealing with family conflicts are a great resource for young readers who may be struggling to understand their own family situations. These books and novels may also provide helpful tools, insight, and examples of how to approach difficult situations. A statement from Gibbons et. Al supports this notion, saying that “YA [young adult] fiction can be a great platform for discussing these difficult issues, challenging the ideals of the ‘perfect’ family and providing different perspectives on family life.” The publicization of these issues allow not just young adults, but readers of all ages to become activists and help provide resources to those who may be dealing with domestic abuse or violence. (Gibbons et. al)

Themes of identity and relationship go hand in hand, as many of of the components of both themes are related to the environment in which the characters are raised in or situated. Without the inclusion of these themes in young adult literature, young readers are able to gain a deeper understanding of the experiences they themselves may or may not be experiencing or had experienced. It is important for these themes to be present in literature because if not, there are only another few limited resources where young adults can get exposure to these kinds of topics in a pressure free and judgment free environment. The comfort of being able to think to oneself and make personal connections without opinions from others can only be done between oneself and a book, an inanimate object. The greatest benefit from being able to experience these themes from text is that even young adults who may be sure of their identity and content with their family and relationships can build an empathy and understanding of those who may be going through hardships, through the journey of the characters in the novel.”

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Themes of Identity and Relationships in Young Adult Literature/ MLA. (2021, Jun 17). Retrieved from