Adolescent Literature Common Themes

Adolescents often lose their love for reading as they make their way through middle and high school. However, there are many books now that target adolescents and discuss themes that are very applicable to the age group. I read six books meant for adolescents. These books had several common themes, some of which are facing challenges and coming of age. These themes are prevalent in adolescent literature.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

This book follows the life of a young Indian who is trying to find a way to become educated and maintain hope while holding onto his culture. It is a true coming of age story.

“I think all of us are always five years old in the presence and absence of our parents.”

As the story progresses, the reader realizes that, while Junior (the main character) has many different challenges that many people face, at the heart of the story is the struggle to find out who you are. Junior faces this challenge as do most adolescents. As they are growing, changing, and experiencing so many new things, they must make the transition from childhood to adulthood. It is a rocky transition, fraught with troubles. Junior struggles to find a way to connect the future he wants to the past that he has. This is a struggle that it is very good for many adolescents to look at in their own lives.

One thing that many adults, including teachers, forget is what it felt like to be an adolescent. We felt like we wanted so much, but had no idea how to get there. That is something that is important for adults to remember and help with. As adolescents make the move toward adulthood, it is our job to provide the avenue for them to feel and be successful. There will be challenges on the way, but Junior's story is a great example of how we can face those challenges and win.

Animal Farm

The novel Animal Farm is a clear example of what happens when we forget where we have been before. It is a coming of age story in a different way. In the novel, a farm full of animals rebels against the evil farmer. Over time, the animals forget why they fought so hard for their freedom from the tyrannical farmer and end up giving power to a couple of tyrannical pigs.

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

The animals certainly face challenges here. And while the tale is generally considered an allegory for the Russian Revolution, there are many themes and lessons that can be learned from the experiences and decisions of the animals. As adolescents are faced with challenges in their own lives, it is important for them to remember where they came from and where they want to go. The Revolution can happen on an individual basis. As adolescents come of age and enter adulthood it can be easy to forget the idealism of youth. We all need to remember the past to truly be able to define the future.

In order to help adolescents recognize the themes of facing challenges and coming of age within this popular allegory, adults need to understand the history of so many of their students. Only then can they effectively guide adolescents to a healthy and independent future.

The Giver

The Giver is about a dystopian society that has removed anything that may cause pain or illustrate differences. The main character, Jonas, is chosen to be the new Receiver of Memory, and as such must take on the memory of pain, suffering, and differences. It is a beautiful illustration of the growth from innocence to understanding, and possibly even to wisdom. In other words, it is a coming of age story.

“If everything's the same, then there aren't any choices! I want to wake up in the morning and decide things!”

Choice is an imperative part of growing up. As Jonas realizes, having the ability to make choices can also lead to making bad choices. Sometimes adolescents are afraid of making choices for the fear of making a bad choice. This can be true for so many people. Part of coming of age is the ability to make choices and accept the consequences, then to try to be better in the future. One thing that can be learned from The Giver is that we cannot be so afraid of choice and change that we are unwilling to move.

As adults, we can often by stymied by choices that we have to make, but we can forget that there are some many small choices in adolescence that can seem important even if they are not, or really are important. In the classroom, the theme of coming of age and facing the challenges that come with that can really help students to have the confidence to move forward and face the consequences of their decision.


This book is an autobiography of a girl who grew up in Iran during the 1980s, a pretty tumultuous time for the country. The challenges Marji faced may be extreme for many adolescents, there are many lessons they can take from her tale. They can survive difficult things, and still maintain a sense of humor and hope. Additionally, Marji's is a coming of age tale. She goes from the innocence of youth to being aware of the world around her.

As adults, we may be more aware of the world around us, both the good and the bad. We can therefore help students learn about the world in a safe environment, especially when it comes to some of the harsh realities of the world we live in. There may be a loss of innocence, but we can try to guide that so adolescents can arrive at adulthood prepared to face the world on their own.

Chinese Cinderella

Chinese Cinderella is another autobiography of a young girl with a rough early life. Unlike Marji in Persepolis, though, Adeline did not have loving and caring parents. Adeline's struggle was that of being treated as an unwanted creature by the very people who should have loved her. This is another type of coming of age story. Part of coming of age is finding self-worth. This is certainly an aspect of growing up that many adolescents struggle with. Their image of themselves is defined by the people around them, especially their peers.

Adults need to remember how important peers are to adolescents and utilize that for good. Help adolescents find and keep good friends. Using Adeline's story, students can realize that where they come from does not define them. Their past may create challenges that they must face, but they get the say over their future.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

This book is about a young man starting high school. That fact right there is enough for plenty of adolescents. High school is prime time for coming of age, and there are many challenges that go with it. Charlie, the main character, struggles with things such as finding friends and fitting in, doing well in his classes, and basically surviving high school. He also struggles with a rough past, anxiety, and depression.

“We accept the love we think we deserve.”

While Charlie's exact situation may not apply to many students, the way he feels might. The book shows the innermost thoughts of a teenager, and opens a sense of vulnerability in the reader. Adults can harness that to address issues that are challenges for many adolescents. Recognizing that they may not understand what is happening to them, adults can guide them to a safe environment where they can learn to handle the issues they struggle with. This is a part of coming of age, a loss of innocence and a growing awareness.

As practitioners and students deal with these issues, there are some tools that could be used. Dealing with very applicable themes such as facing challenges and coming of age, it could be beneficial for students to keep a journal of their thoughts and feelings. These do not need to be journals that teachers or other adults read, but is a place for the students to analyze how they relate to the characters in the books. As a result, they should learn more about themselves.

Another tool could be guest speakers. There are many adults who have experienced difficult things who could come and speak with students. This way, they could answer questions directly rather than having discussions (which would be good as well). In person meetings can have a great effect on adolescents.

The journey from innocence to awareness is a constant theme in literature, and a constant theme in life


Created with images by Comfreak - "book writer read" • Noah Dibley - "book"

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