Young Adults vs. Children: Age Makes a Difference in Interpretation
There is a measurable difference between children and teenagers and how they think; and while I lack the scientific data and figures to prove this point with hard-hitting and reliable evidence, I have the anecdotes and life experience to persuade you.
When I was in fourth grade, reading Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, I would constantly pretend to be the main characters, the Baudelaire Orphans. I readied myself for VFD members to steal me away from my bed, under the dark cloak of night. My cousin and I spent countless days wearing blankets as dresses and my mom’s thick glasses from the 1980’s, recreating the life and times of Violet and Klaus Baudelaire. We did research and spied on neighbors and strangers whom we believed to be in cahoots with Count Olaf. We believed that a certain reality existed for these characters; for storytelling to children is a wonderful and imaginative thing, children are so trusting in the world, they have no reason to expect a story-world is complete fiction. Teenagers are smarter than that.
When I was sixteen, reading Suzanne Collins’ dystopian masterpiece, The Hunger Games, I did nothing at all: I didn’t dress up as Katniss (beside for movie premiere purposes) and I definitely did not believe the happenings in The Hunger Games world took place elsewhere in our world. Gone were my days of taking what was printed on the page as truth. As a high schooler, my interactivity included taking the time to think about how war and poverty were represented in the novel versus real-life. My friends and I even discussed the differences between dystopian regimes and real-life dictatorships over brown-bagged lunches in the cafeteria. I also ruminated on Peeta’s name being very similar to one of my favorite sandwich breads, the pita, which was hilariously smart because Peeta, the character, is a skilled baker.
While both novels affected me in different ways, they both had an impact on my way of thinking and going about my day. Did I think more about words and good vs. evil after reading ASOUE? Of course I did, even as a child I recognized those themes. Did I understand why Katniss and her District wanted an uprising against a powerful and restrictive government all the while thinking about why 16-year-olds have a hard time letting their true feelings come out when faced with questions about relationships and friendships and general hardships? Sure thing.
No matter what we read, books have an effect on us. We vicariously learn lessons and make mistakes through well-crafted characters. When writing, authors make meticulous choices to teach us lessons and make intellectual points using symbolism, character traits, and sentence structure. To put it plainly, Young Adult literature mirrors the real world and that is because authors make it so. Teenagers are smart enough to see novels as a mirror, not blatant fact.