Do Teen Readers Need More Than Realism and Morals?

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A speech by Marc Aronson

In “What Is Real about Realism?: All the Wrong Questions about YA Literature,” Marc Aronson (2001) laments that teens may be left without a connection to “the power of art” if the only fiction available to them represents certain realities and certain moral values (p. 79). He argues that genuine realism cannot be defined by a short and simple list of adult observations (p. 81). Aronson explains that young adult literature can and should “work its magic” (p. 80) so that teens may “find their own messages . . . in their own ways” (p. 83).

Should realism for teens endure?

Kelly Jensen (10 October 2012) posits that literary adherence to reality provides a foundation of thought which teens need for exploring new ideas and making it through life’s turbulence. Jensen points out that contemporary young adult literature offers a plethora of experiences (e.g., stories about disease, grief, cults, love, sexuality, drug use, and more) from which readers can build their own thoughts and self-realizations.

Aronson enhances Jensen’s view

Combining the views of Aronson and Jensen can guide young adult collection development. Literature that spans realistic, moralistic, and artistic/imaginative/created perspectives can coexist in quality fiction collections. Observations, plausibilities, and outright inventions can provide “opportunities for conversation and discovery” (Freedman & Johnson, as found in Latham & Gross, p. 174). This is so because young adult literature provides “windows” which look out into both realities and imaginations, and “mirrors” which reflect both observations and dreams (terms as per Bishop, as found in Latham & Gross, 2014, p. 75).

The result: powerful young adult literature

With some help from Lord Byron’s pertinent words, a powerful idea comes out of this discussion: Young adult literature can inform and unleash “the power of thought – the magic of the mind” (Byron [George Gordon Noel Byron], as found in Bartlett, 1919).


Aronson, M. (2001). Exploding the myths: the truth about teenagers and reading, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow.

Bartlett, J. (Compiler). (1919). Familiar quotations, 10 e, p. 551 [number 5701]. Boston, MA: Little, Brown. Retrieved from (2000) at

Jensen, K. (10 October, 2012). The next big thing: contemporary/realistic fiction. The hub: your connection to teen reads [blog]. Chicago, IL: YALSA (Young Adult Library Service Association). Retrieved from

Latham, D. & M. Gross. (2014). Young adult resources today: connecting teens with books, music, games, movies, and more. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

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