Speak Up: Contemporary Young Adult Fiction and Its Place in the Literary Canon

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Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature


Steven Thomas, English


Despite its undeniable popularity, young adult fiction has always had a low-brow reputation when compared to other literary and canonical works - in part because its association with popular "chick lit" novels. Some nineteenth century fiction that was first marketed to young adults and dismissed because of its appeal to mainstream audiences has come to be recognized for its merit while more recent, contemporary works are often disregarded as superficial and sensational. I will attempt to reevaluate its canonical value by examining similar arguments about canonical standards made by past critics and theorists such as Michel Foucault and Jane Tompkins. A canonical young adult fiction book must not only be culturally timely, but it must also contribute to a larger cultural conversation. Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak is the primary contemporary text through which I will support this claim. When compared to the classic young adult novel The Catcher in the Rye, we can conclude Speak - and other socially challenging books like it - can carry its weight in the literary canon.