So You Think You Know Young Adult Literature: At School
Jim Brewbaker, Columbus State University
It's a place that matters to kids, a place that matters to those who write for kids. Whether one's point of reference is Holden Caulfield booted out of yet another prep school, Finny and Gene working out as best they can "a separate peace," or HIV-positive Precious Jackson (in Sapphire's recent adult novel PUSH, Alfred A. Knopf, 1996) striving to pass her G.E.D. at "the alternative," what happens at school is pivotal in many adolescent novels.
If you know YA literature well, chances are you can match most of the school scenes and scenarios in eighteen novels of the seventies, eighties, and nineties (A-R), below, with the alphabetized list of authors and titles (1-18), following. Answers are on page 68.
School Scenes and Scenarios
- An aloof female teacher is hounded into resignation at a Virginia girls' school.
- After answering a notice for an after-school job, fourteen-year-old LaVaughn goes to work for Jolly and cares for her two illegitimate children.
- Complaints about Huckleberry Finn stimulate controversy regarding censorship and freedom of the press for George Mason High's school newspaper editor Barney Roth.
- Dillon is a triathlete coming to terms with his brother's suicide, while his friend Jennifer is a basketball star facing both sexual discrimination and abuse in this novel set in the Northwest.
- Elvin Bishop finds it almost impossible to find his place in an August camp for boys who are entering the ninth grade at a private school in New England.
- Following the death of basketball teammate Robert Washington, seriously depressed Andy Jackson writes on an English assignment, "It's dark where I am/and I cannot find the light."
- High school seniors kidnap their demanding English teacher in a "prank" that leads to tragedy.
- In Albuquerque, middle schoolers publish their personal stories in a class book.
- In the early sixties, fourteen-year-old Sheryl learns the hard way that African Americans in North Carolina live a very different life from what she was used to at home in Brooklyn.
- Kids have their rights; this novel raises the question of the extent to which they extend to publishing slanderous stories about an unpopular teacher in the Southfield Sentinel, an underground newspaper.
- Latino brothers drop out of high school, work in the fields, and attend junior college.
- Little Man refuses the battered hand-me-down textbooks issued to African American children at the beginning of the school year.
- Maladjusted Marsh Mellow and Edna Shinglebox form a friendship in Mr. Meizner's fifth-period class, one designed for kids who need in-school counseling.
- Mrs. Narwin, an English teacher, is victimized by circumstances, the education bureaucracy, and the press.
- Rollo and his buddies are "just having a little fun," but to Valerie Michon what they do in the upstairs hall falls somewhere between harassment and assault.
- Seth struggles to make the baseball team while Jimmy is on his way to a professional career Ñ until drinking threatens both his future and their friendship.
- Orphan Ponyboy and his friends Sodapop and Johnny Ñ Greasers Ñ vie for respect in a school where the Socs are the preppie rival gang, their sworn enemies.
- "They murdered him," is the first sentence in this riveting novel set in a private school, where the Vigils manipulate people, events, and the annual fund raiser.
Authors and Titles
- Avi, Nothing But the Truth
- Robert Cormier, The Chocolate War
- Chris Crutcher, Chinese Handcuffs
- Carl Deuker, Heart of a Champion
- Sharon Draper, Tears of a Tiger
- Lois Duncan, Killing Mr. Griffin
- Nat Hentoff, The Day They Came to Arrest the Book
- S. E. Hinton, The Outsiders
- M. E. Kerr, Is That You, Miss Blue?
- Chris Lynch, Slot Machine
- Norma Fox Mazer, Out of Control
- Carolyn Meyer, Rio Grande Stories
- Yvette Moore, Freedom Songs
- Susan Beth Pfeffer, A Matter of Principle
- Gary Soto, Jesse
- Mildred Taylor, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
- Virginia Euwer Wolff, Make Lemonade
- Paul Zindel, Pardon Me, You're Stepping on My Eyeball