Entering the world of teens naturally ushers the youth worker into the school system-an integral component of the teen experience. The socialization that occurs in school is significant for the young transitioning to adulthood. How can the youth worker enter the academic life of teens? Adolescent literature, largely untapped, is a valuable resource for youth workers. Literature-classic or modern-helps a young person address issues essential to his or her development.
Literary critics often argue for a holistic approach to analysis, suggesting that literature speaks to both heart and mind. Such critics believe that serious literary study cannot separate the emotion and information of a particular work. To deny the “heart” of literature often denies its very intent to communicate to the whole person. The commonalities of human experience emerge in literature and rest in the reader (identification). Even the most experimental story contains aspects of humanity. Literature, therefore, is bound to humanity.
For the young person, literature is a means for defining oneself and nurturing one’s growth into adulthood. English teachers realize the importance illustrating a story’s relevance to youth. As an adolescent reader identifies with characters of a story, learning how they feel in certain situations or reading their interactions with others, the young reader sees part of him- or herself. This is possible because the reader has nothing at stake from the outcome of a story or behavior of its characters. The young reader can enter the feelings of several characters at once and can watch the interplay as one character’s feelings are affected by the action of another.
In terms of “real life” issues of adolescence, even those stemming from dysfunctional families, the youth worker’s presence in the young adult’s analysis of literature is valuable. A youth leader can assist the classroom teacher by providing youth a solid moral perspective that will offer further insight to a literary work while facilitating one’s self-definition and identity.