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Classic Young Adult Novels

Written by Megan Powell, Lucy Carr, and Michael Calder

For today’s feature we have decided to reveal some of our favourite classic novels that fall into the YA (young adult) category. There were so many beloved classics to choose from and many may surprise you as being YA. These novels follow many remarkable characters through coming of age stories and are presented through a young narrator and/or explore topical adolescent concerns. They are also not exclusive to their targeted audience, as their popularity is prevalent amongst adult audiences too. These YA novels have remain loved throughout the ages and for all ages.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye follows Holden Caulfield, a sixteen-year-old who returns home to New York City after being expelled from school. Holden has repeatedly failed his classes, forcing him to leave school. But, unable to tell his parents of the expulsion, he rents a hotel room until Christmas break. Alone and alienated, the character’s need for interaction grows, leading him to nightclubs and then back to the hotel where a prostitute called Sunny visits. However, Holden only wants a conversation, earning him a punch to the stomach. His angst increases, as does his need for connection, so he invites Sally, an ex-girlfriend, to spend the day with him, where they depart with anger after Holden impulsively asks Sally to run away with him. Holden meets more friends, who he also upsets, and eventually goes to his family home. Through his time in New York, the character reveals he wants to be the “catcher in the rye,” and save children from adulthood.

Salinger’s classic remains a popular YA novel – not just through being included on school curriculums, but also through the relatability of the themes explored. The Catcher in the Rye was not always considered a young adult book, as the book was originally written for an adult audience. However, the reception from adolescents has caused the novel to fall into the YA category. Published in 1951, its popularity soared, establishing Salinger as the cause of changing literature post World War II. The novel still sells widely each year, totalling over sixty-five million sales.

The Outsiders by S.E Hinton

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton is a seminal coming of age novel which explores themes of identity, divided communities, self-sacrifice and brotherhood. Published in 1967 when Hinton was just eighteen, the novel quickly became a widely regarded classic, laying the groundwork for the YA genre.

The story takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Hinton’s hometown. It follows two weeks in the life of fourteen-year-old Ponyboy Curtis, who narrates the novel, and his two older brothers Soda and Darry. The boys are “Greasers;” a class term referring to young men who live on the poorer side of the town, known as East Side. The Greasers have a rival gang named the Socs, made up of the rich kids who live on the West Side. When a fight involving Ponyboy results in the death of a Soc, Ponyboy and his friend are forced to go on the run.

The novel is a story of brotherhood, love, hate and friendship all intertwined. It explores dynamics of social and class conflict, loyalty and friendship, and violence and loss, whilst painting a vivid picture of what it’s like to lose childhood innocence. If you’re a fan of YA literature or classics, it’s definitely worth adding The Outsiders to your TBR (To Be Read list).

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Credited as a classic of 19th century American literature, Mark Twain’s pioneering novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), narrates the antics of the eponymous youth and claims notoriety as an originator of an independent American literature. Exploring themes of social injustice, moral righteousness and the limitations of freedom, Twain alludes to the fractured identity of America through setting and social division. While these themes define the novel as a paragon of early American literature, the central struggle of Tom Sawyer’s character arc will be familiar to any Young Adult reader – the struggle against maturity in favour of childhood fantasy.

In the fictitious town of St. Petersburg, the exuberant Tom Sawyer shows tact, ingenuity and charm, turning punishment into success and capturing the heart of Becky Thatcher. However, at only twelve, reality and immaturity soon thwart the spirited protagonist. The harsh truths of looming adulthood haunt Sawyer and his friend, Huckleberry Finn, culminating when the search for a wart cure deteriorates into murderous chaos. Swearing each other into oaths of silence, the boys retreat from the world into infantile imagination, but cannot escape expectation. The novel becomes a depiction of the universal battle between youthful ignorance and savage reality, enthralling any reader with the truly relatable growth of Tom Sawyer.

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