College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

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young female protagonists, feminism and young adult literature, empowerment agency transformation, girls identity, coming of age


"Although the primary purpose of the adolescent novel may appear to be a depiction of growth, growth in this genre is inevitably represented as being linked to what the adolescent has learned about power. Without experiences gradations between power and powerlessness, the adolescent cannot grow" (Seelinger-Trites, x). The quote above asserts that an analysis of power must be considered when analyzing young adult literature. Rebecca Seelinger-Trites further explains that adolescents (in society and in literature) are both powerful and disempowered. Coming of age presents an opportunity to grow toward adulthood and gain certain power and privileges, while simultaneously losing certain power and privileges. "We judge our adulthood as well as that of others in reference to institutions and practices, mentalities, worldviews, and sensibilities that are quasi outside of ourself' (Blatterer,2). But who defines these practices and what makes them necessary? In addition to examining powerful social structures that affect character' sexperiences, in this thesis, I am gendering this analysis by examining how the young female protagonists explore their own power through acts of resilience and resistance, and how young female readers respond to this exploration. I begin to answer questions such as, how does gendering this project change the kinds of power utilized? Does it? How do female characters resist oppressive power? What does a female coming of age story look like? How diverse are the voices present in young adult literature? What does empowerment and transformation mean to these characters? I argue that young adult literature is an important space within feminist scholarship and critique. I argue that empowerment and transformation must be discussed when examining young female protagonist's experiences. In addition, after an extensive literature review, I selected five books with young female protagonists to examine specifically. The books I have selected to analyze are Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block, Lost at Sea by Brian Lee O'Malley, Story ofa Girl by Sara Zarr, A Girl Like eke Guevara by Teresa de la Caridad Doval and Keeping You A Secret by Julie Anne Peters. I think these books exemplify the trans formative power of young adult literature through their characterization of three dimensional and complex young female protagonists. Finally, I utilized this research to create a proposed thematic unit lesson for a girl's leadership camp or afterschool program. The program is entitled, "Empowerment and Identity Exploration: Young Adult Literature & Creative Expression." Utilizing the five books (Dangerous Angels, Lost at Sea, Story ofa Girl, A Girl Like Che Guevera, and Keeping You a Secret) as a point of departure, students in this program will focus on the major themes in the books: girls' coming of age experiences, friendship, bullying and harassment, identity, race, class, etc. In doing so, they will connect their own life experiences to the experiences of the five young female protagonists through a creative project ofjournaiing, zine making, spoken word or creating an art work of their choice.