Why We Should Take Young Adult Literature Seriously
Updated: Oct 9, 2020
An Exploration into Progressive Themes of the Genre, a study of the works of Lauren James; discussing Women in Positions of Power, LGBT+ Representation & The Reclamation of Feminist Identity & Sexuality.
This study explores the Young Adult (YA) genre focusing on the novels of Lauren James. Young Adult novels are often dismissed as being a lesser form of literature, the genre typically ranked lower by critics and the general public as less serious fiction. This study aspires to explore the complex issues that the genre creates a platform for, discussing the progressive nature of the narrative that inspires social and moral values in young readers.
The exploration of these ideas will focus on James novels; The Next Together, The Last Beginning, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe and The Quiet at the End of the World. The young adult genre has unique place in literature, exploring themes that are progressive and crucial for the development of moral and social beliefs in their readership. Using Lauren James' novels as a case study, this dissertation aspires to provide evidence of the complexity of ideas explored within the genre.
I would like to thank my tutor Dr Deborah Longworth for her advice throughout the process of writing my dissertation and encouraging me to pursue a genre that I am truly passionate about. A massive thank you to Lauren James for generously taking the time to answer all the questions I sent her, going above and beyond the call of duty.
Young adult (YA) fiction is typically disregarded as inferior literature to its contemporaries, a genre looked down on by critics such as Aidan Chambers who labels the genre a ‘bastard and unwanted hybrid.’ A common assumption of the genre is that it is less challenging, written for those who are incapable of reading finer literature, arguing that ‘Young adults should not have to be babied into reading decent prose. If they are of a certain intelligence, they should read the good stuff. Thus a whole community of readers are led to underestimate their own reading ability and limit the value they place on what they take away from novels. In addition, this dismissive attitude sabotages the intentions of such novels; instead of complex and progressive ideas and concepts being forwarded, their raison d'être is reduced to that of a simple, easy read.
Thankfully, for every critic there are those who defend the YA genre; Michael Cart exposes the snobbery that surrounds literary critics observing, we ‘get so concerned with the nutritional value of literature that we forget it should taste good to.’ Despite this retaliation, a distinct hierarchy remains in the ranking of literature genres; placing YA towards the bottom on the list, alongside ‘chick lit’ and romance, aka; novels typically read by women. This hostility towards YA literature correlates to a casual disregard of younger generations in wider society. Feminism has also been similarly disregarded; the movement is constantly underestimated and is deemed to hold no significant importance to readers and place in wider literature. It follows that YA literature that boasts a feminist identity is almost invariably the victim to a crossfire of scrutiny.
The current social moment is often referred to as post-feminist. The term is frequently misunderstood to imply that the work of the feminism has been achieved and is no longer necessary. However as Phoca and Wright note, ‘Post-feminism does not mean feminism is over. It signifies a shift in feminist theory.’ This ‘shift’ highlights a significant development in the evolution of feminism, namely the concept of what a feminist identity means in a society that is post-feminist. Phoca and Wright’s statement illustrates the problematic associations that accompany naming an era ‘post-feminist’ as it encourages a dismissal of feminism, a negative reaction that can result in a hostility towards people would believe that feminism is still required in modern society.
Alongside the belief that feminism is now redundant, there is a negativity that is attached to those who continue to claim a feminist identity. In response to those who argue that feminism is now a moribund cause, a new brand of feminism is appearing, often referred to as fourth wave feminists, or ‘NEW GEN FEM’. They are a vocal group who actively contest the argument that feminism is redundant and provide a voice on issues of equality that still exist in society. It is understandable how some may argue that the work of feminism has been achieved if one observes the milestones achieved by the earlier waves of feminism. However, once further investigation of the subject is made it is apparent that such a notion is false, and feminism still has an important role in modern society.
In the UK ‘Only 27 percent of men and 35 percent of women consider themselves to be feminist, despite the vast majority of people agreeing that men and women should be equal in every way – a total of 81 per cent’. This research by YouGov illustrates an issue that has emerged in the UK, centred on a misunderstanding of the term feminist. Negative connotations of ‘feminist’, reminiscent of angry, bra burning women, have tarnished the term for some of the younger generations. This association has had such a negative impact that ‘nearly one in five people in the UK think that being called a feminist is an insult.’ As such, there appears to be a divide in young people; those who are proud to be feminist and those who are hesitant to claim such an identity for fear of any negative stigma. This divide is a result of a miscommunication about what feminism represents in the context of a post-feminist era.
I believe literature has a vital role in voicing the ideals of feminism in a constructive manner which showcase its true meaning. YA fiction in particular is successful in this regard as the genre tends to focus on protagonists, normally teenagers, questioning their belief systems and forming their own opinions. As developing moral and social attitudes is a process that any 12+ reader is experiencing, the YA genre has the unique opportunity to appeal to the reader via the shared experience of developing personal believes in adolescence.
YA author, Lauren James, is conscious of the pressure on the genre, ‘YA writers have the ears of a whole generation, and the huge responsibility that comes along with that’. Thus, by creating protagonists who are on a similar journey of self-discovery, authors of YA are able to evoke empathy with the issues explored by the protagonists of the novels. James is also aware of the negativity now associated with feminism and expresses
contempt for such close-minded views arguing, ‘anyone who thinks that we’ve achieved equality hasn’t done their research’ James’ candour regarding feminism and literature finalised my decision to feature her novels as a case study to explore the progressive topics that feature in YA novels. I will provide close analysis from a span of James’ authorship, discussing her novels, The Next Together, The Last Beginning, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe and The Quiet at the End of the World. I will explore tropes associated with the YA genre and analyse how James uses characters to challenge social issues.
In chapter one I will explore the theme of feminist identity and James’ portrayal of female characters. I aim to explore how feminist issues in society influence the development of characters and how these portrayals impact upon a young adult readership, using characters from the aforementioned novels as case studies to provide evidence of a feminist identity being integral to the fundamental beliefs of the characters. I will discuss these ideas by concentrating on the theme of ‘women in positions of power,’ in James’ novels. Chapter one will focus on James’ protagonists as female leaders, exploring the personality traits of the protagonists that subvert traditional gender roles and create ambitious female role models for the reader. This concept will be explored by close reading the relationship between Kate and Matt in The Next Together. In addition chapter one will focus on the significance of women in scientific roles in James’ novels, providing examples of female characters who serve as standout role models for young readers, striving to achieve the goal of normalising women in roles traditionally occupied by men.
In line with her feminist ideals, subverting gender stereotypes is a continuous feature of James novels, further evidence which will be discussed in relationship to James’ thoughts on writing for young women. To accompany this discussion, chapter one will feature thoughts from secondary sources in order to provide a wider post-feminist context, supported by sources from Rosalind Gill and Natasha Walter; providing further insight into the significance of a feminist identity in modern society.
Chapter two will explore YA fiction and the LGBTQ+ community, citing critics including Michael Cart, exploring YA fiction and sexuality, introducing a symbiotic pairing that highlights the importance of the YA genre for LGBTQ+ readers. This chapter will argue for the importance of inclusion and diversity in YA novels specifically, tracing the change of attitudes and representation of sexuality. I will provide evidence of James’ strong beliefs on the subject of inclusion and discuss the progressive nature of her novels.
Chapter two will look specifically at the protagonists from ‘The Quiet at the End of the World’ and ‘The Last Beginning.’ Characters Lowrie and Clove are members of the LGBTQ+ community and are candid about their sexuality. I will look specifically at how James approaches the subject of each woman’s sexuality, particularly how their sexuality is introduced in each novel. The case study will explore how LGBTQ+ representation is changing in a post-feminist era, highlighting the nature of YA novels at the forefront of liberal discussion. The chapter will conclude by observing the importance of the genre of YA as a platform for exploring sexuality.
Chapter three aims to relate the themes that are attached to the post-feminist era to the context of James novels. Chapter three will analyse the notion of a feminist identity in the modern era, exploring what being a feminist means in society at present and how this impacts upon the presentation of women in YA novels. Considering attitudes towards female empowerment following social change, such as the ‘Me-Too’ movement and the centenary of the suffragette movement. Grounding James' novels in historical context, chapter three will explore how social change influences young women, critically analysing what social pressures fall upon women specifically and make the argument that YA novels provide a much needed refuge from regressive attitudes towards women.
Making the argument for unapologetically feminist characters; I will close read the progressive attributes James bestows on her protagonis, citing evidence of secondary context about feminism in modern society, to track the influence societal change has on women in literature, looking specifically towards feminist critics such as Maclaren, highlighting social issues concerning appearance that impact young women in society. The critics discussed are necessary to illustrate the importance of young women reclaiming their own sexuality. I will explore this concept by analysing the character Romi in James’ novel, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, evaluating the unique approach James attributes to the character exploring her sexuality in isolation, discussing this concept as a larger metaphor for the independence that young women of the I-Generation now have via the internet. This link is intended provide evidence of progress that accompanies rebelling against limitations set on young women by society. This discussion aims to ground the issues experienced by YA readership in the safe haven of Lauren James series of novels.
The conclusion of this discussion will focus on the progressive nature of YA novels and argue for the positivity that feminism can inspire in a post-feminist era. By analysing Lauren James’ novels this discussion aspires to provide an insight to an overlooked genre of literature and highlight its importance to young readers. The themes of each chapter are tailored to mirror those of significant social issues happening in the current moment, highlighting the relevance YA novels have to current affairs. As well as aspiring for the YA genre to be taken into more serious consideration, I aim to communicate the importance of continuing to project feminist ideals to a society which is becoming troublingly stubborn in accepting the concept of the movement. I believe that the examples I will discuss via the novels of Lauren James will provoke empathy for the issues they highlight and should inspire in the reader a newly refreshed opinion of what it means to claim a feminist identity in a post-feminist era.
Women in Positions of Power:How YA Novels Inspire Feminist Ideals
Trends of feminism can be observed through history via their effects on women in society. Distinct changes can be observed each inspired by a wave of feminism, such as the right to vote and own land that accompanied the first wave. The current, fourth wave is commonly referred to as post-feminist. Attitudes of positivity and female empowerment that were previously associated with feminism have been tarnished with the emergence of post feminism, as the original meaning of the term has been misconstrued, whether deliberately or accidentally. Consequently, there has been much debate as to the ‘point’ of feminism, resulting in confusion about the true ideologies of feminism and reducing feminists to implacable misandrists. To those who claim a feminist identity, reasons for feminism are glaringly obvious; in the UK, the gender pay gap rising to 18.4% as of April 2017, 1.3 million women being victim of domestic abuse and 85% of women experiencing sexual harassment. These issues, rife in contemporary Britain, are experienced daily by women and serve not only as clear evidence of a lack of equality between men and women in society, but as justification for the continued advancement of feminist ideals.
In a period where attitudes towards feminism are becoming increasingly hostile, the need for positive examples of feminist ideals has become all the more important in popular literature. As literature has a unique ability to showcase ideologies, YA novels are particularly important to this cause given the young age of the readership and largely female fan base.
As well as being a successful author, Lauren James is a graduate from the University of Nottingham having studied Chemistry and Physics. Consequently, as a self-proclaimed feminist and endorser of encouraging women to pursue careers in STEM, James does not shy away from her passion of creating female characters that are smart, witty and scientifically focused. James is vocal about the importance of creating such characters for her readership, her intention being to create, ‘nuanced, flawed but ultimately empowered female characters’. James is conscious not only of her overwhelmingly female readership but also the issues that arise from creating female characters who are ‘perfect.’ Therefore she showcases the characters’ mistakes and shortcomings as well as accomplishments. In creating such characters James confronts a problematic trope in YA literature: the notion that only exceptional women can achieve great things.
The trend of creating sensationalised female characters can be seen in many books where the female protagonists are portrayed as geniuses or incredibly beautiful, an issue that has been openly discussed by the likes of J. K. Rowling and Daniel Handler. Rowling and Handler are vocal about their writing choices concerning the depictions of their young female protagonists, chiefly the characters Violet and Hermione. Aware of young people’s habit of projecting themselves onto their favourite characters, both authors kept descriptions of the girl’s physical appearance to a minimum and focused on their interests and personalities. This line of focus creates a positive association with action rather than appearance and encourages empathy of character rather than envisioning impossible perfection.
I believe that this distinction is fundamental to the popularity of James’ work amongst a predominantly female readership. In the manner of Rowling and Handler, James shies away from creating an image of a ‘perfect’ female to be her protagonist. Normalising the appreciation of good character above appearance is a paramount concern for feminist authors in their writing; this conscious emphasis on personal skills and abilities is a reaction to societal pressure on personal appearance that only seems to grow with the influence of mainstream media.
Expressing her awareness of the responsibility of authors James comments, ‘I ensure my girls aren't always likeable - women should be allowed to be abrasive and coarse without being disliked.’ James observation highlights the negative associations that can accompany strong women, being resented when boasting a figure of authority. In so doing, James highlights an issue that is an undercurrent in modern society; the issue of women in positions of power. The overwhelming presence of men in positions of power (e.g. parliament and corporate CEO's) lead many to the conclusion that these roles are inherently masculine. This presumption can provoke women to presume that they cannot provide the mythic masculine attributes that are necessary to fulfil a traditionally male job role.
Natasha Walter identifies this phenomena as the result of masculinity and femininity being seen as ‘mutually exclusive’, leading women to worry about losing their femininity if they step into such roles, or not having the necessary masculinity required. Walters observes a pattern of women who are ridiculed for achieving such a position; they are accused of abandoning her femininity, resulting in her peers scrutinising her decision as it ‘makes her seem not quite human, as though she has given up something essential about herself.’ This assumption suggests that there is an unspoken masculine trait necessary to be in a position of power leading to the conclusion that women are incapable of achieving such a role; unless she sacrifices that which defines her as a woman entirely. This trend is destructive to the self-esteem of women and reinforces the glass ceiling. In order to discredit such beliefs it is vital to normalise women in positions of power.
James insistence on creating imperfect characters is a reaction to the need of providing realistic role models for young women. By creating characters that are imperfect, James aspires to normalise the woman in power, highlighting the double standard that exists for men and women who seek power.
Each of James’ novels feature female characters who subvert traditional gender roles, specifically their interests and aspirations. The Next Together, James first novel, is narrated by multiple incarnations of Kate. Several versions of Kate exist within the novel, alongside versions of her love interest Matt. Although they feature different occupations and lifestyles, Kate is consistently the more confident and active member of the partnership. James avoids the conventions of gender tropes in their portrayal; as Kate is the romantic pursuer of Matt in each timeline, James does not succumb to clichés of the male/female courtship, ‘I wanted to write something that felt new and original and didn't lean into the gender roles that the historical periods and power dynamics (Matthew being Katy's boss etc.) could have easily created.’ In this example James highlights a trend in young adult fiction that limits the originality of a relationship due to gender expectations; this trend is problematic as it encourages an unconscious acceptance of men and women being placed in traditional roles, resulting in the perceived limitation of women. This concept is not limited to this genre; however, I believe its presence can be problematic in books aimed at a young demographic.
James continues to question and subvert gender stereotypes via her narration of ‘gaze’. In The Next Together, it is Kate who first takes notice of Matt, considering his appearance and clothing. Once details about Matt’s aesthetic has been analysed, it is concluded, ‘She was delighted to note that despite his doubtful fashion choices he was exactly her type.’ In this stylistic decision James both subverts the traditional male gaze to Kate’s female, but also introduces Kate as the instigator of the couple’s courtship. This trend continues as Kate’s attributes are revealed to be more traditionally male; she is more confident than Matthew, exuding self-assurance and determination. A particular feature of Kate’s character, that is a theme of the women in James’ novels, is Kate’s career in science. The first incarnation of Kate is a biology student, as is Matt, establishing the pair as equals and normalising Kate’s presence in a male dominated realm of education. James includes features such as these in her major characters as she believes this portrayal will inspire her young female readership.
James actively avoids preaching to her readers about female empowerment and feminist ideals, but rather makes them traits in her characters. This subtle approach to the inclusion of feminist ideals is successful as feminism is not vocalised; the character traits are introduced without hesitation or explanation. We are simply presented with a confident, successful, empowered young woman.
James says, ‘I talk to a lot of teenagers about science, and hear a huge amount of enthusiasm. But it's hard to see that progressing to the university level in admission numbers,’ her conversations only serve to illustrate that despite conscious portrayal of feminist role models in literature, equality and feminist acceptance remain elusive.
YA novels have the opportunity to influence young people’s expectations of what is ‘normal’ or expected from men and women.
James subverts gender expectations and discredits the myth of masculinity and femininity being mutually exclusive constantly in her novels. An example of this can be read in the portrayal of women and men in The Quiet at the End of the World. Lowrie is never described as a ‘tomboy’, her interest in construction and mud larking are never commented on as being an unusual point of interest for a young woman; organising her tools is simply described as being her ‘favourite thing to do, bar none.’ There is a trend in literature to put emphasis on a female character that enjoys traditionally male hobbies as a rare, novel person. Their perceived difference against other women is fetishized, thereby reinforcing Walter’s observation that women are seen as inherently less female should they showcase such traits. James avoids such depictions of Lowrie and normalises her by providing no explanation for the ‘masculinity’ that she portrays. This role inversion extends to Lowrie’s love interest Shen, who ensures his work being aesthetically pleasing above simplicity, an approach to creative expression that is stereotypically attached to women. This example is highlighted in by pair’s different styles of construction, ‘[Shen] always wants fancy things like dovetail joints, whereas I’m more of a hammer-and-nails sort of girl.’ Small indications of personal styles such as these normalise the subversion of gender expectations.
James’ refreshing approach to the presence of gender is progressive and encourages young readers to be confident in their passions by avoiding the tendency, common to much fiction, of scandalising men and women who take an interest in hobbies that are not dominated by their gender. Lowrie and Shen are fine examples of how easy it is to present people subverting gender roles without explanation or apology, summed up perfectly by the action Shen dipping Lowrie as they dance, only for Lowrie to spin around are dip him in return, simultaneously removing the pressures the action being deemed strictly masculine or feminism and asserting the pair as equals.
In order for women to become normalised in positions of power, equality has to be established between the genders. James’ novel The Loneliest Girl in the Universe is particularly successful at showcasing a young woman stepping into a position of power, focusing on the psychological pressures that burden responsibility. The novel follows Romy, a teenage girl, a soul traveller and commander of a spaceship on route to discovering Earth’s salvation planet, Earth II. The novel explores the issues that Romy faces; her self-confidence and questioning of her intelligence, themes which echo James’ earlier comments regarding the paucity of women in science due to their misguided belief that they are not smart enough to peruse such careers. Romy is an example of a young woman who is entirely capable enough to be in a position of power and yet doubts herself constantly. When completing complex mathematics Romy muses, ‘I can barely write enough to keep up with my brain, scribbling down time dilation equations […] I get swept up in the joy of stretching myself, of being able to feel just how clever my brain can be sometimes.’ Not only does James showcase Romy’s capability but also that she enjoys pursuing her scientific talents. However, this refreshing example of Romy’s confidence in her abilities is only fleeting as she soon reverts to questioning herself, ‘But then as always, I start criticising myself. A voice in my head tells me that don’t know what I’m doing, that nothing I’ve written is right.’ James illustrates a self-destructive tendency that is not isolated to young women but common in most people, a lack of self-worth.
Romy is smart and has the ability to be successful in the field of science; however she lacks self-confidence and belief. Romy’s ultimate acceptance of her ability is entirely a response to her situation; if she doesn’t fulfil the demands of the ship the mission will fail and she would die. Such fantastic situations do not occur in the life of the average YA reader; though James, manages to provoke in the reader frustration and irritation with Romy for not realising her own potential earlier. By deliberately highlighting the issue of self-esteem, an issue for so many young women, James provides evidence of empowerment and growth of power. Also, by avoiding the creation of a perfect protagonist, Romy serves as a role model with whom it is possible to empathise with as her struggle is revealed throughout the novel in honest depictions of self-doubt and anxiety. Her confession, ‘I start panicking that really I’m not clever at all’ reflects graphically and all too realistically to what many people feel when they are put in authoritative positions. Similarly, Romy’s success at the conclusion of the novel not only demonstrates that women can be successful in positions of power but also normalises the problems and issues that people struggle through to arrive at that point, humanising the women who are active in such roles and inspiring readers to realise that they too may achieve similar objectives and goals.
Importance of Representation: LGBTQ+ Inclusion in YA Novels
The LGBTQ+ community has a strong relationship with YA literature as the genre is considered a safe haven for those exploring their sexual identity. This compliments the personal discovery that typically accompanies the narrative of YA texts.
Attitudes to what is appropriate in literature rely entirely upon societal perception and are continuously evolving. Over the past 50 years, a clear shift away from homophobia towards liberal attitudes may be observed, particularly in western culture. Michael Cart notes this pattern of behaviour in YA novels as the advent of ‘taboo busting’ Cart identifies a unique relationship between YA fiction and breaking taboos which roots LGBTQ+ discussions within the genre. This symbiosis is a positive for the LGBTQ+ community, as it encourages liberal views in a young readership and is the reason that the YA genre is particularly important to LGBTQ+ readers. This relationship highlighted by Cart is beneficial as it serves to progress liberal views on sexuality, however there is an issue that is born out of including LGBTQ+ characters simply for the sake of meeting an expected level of diversity.
What is important when considering the inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters in novels is to normalise diverse sexuality rather than including them simply as the titillating ‘Other’. A move away from this problematic trend of featuring diverse characters simply to enforce diversity has been observed by Sarah Odedina, m.d. of Hot Key Books, ‘one time gay characters might have been the focus of “issue” books, but being gay is now just part of the story.’ Odedina isolates the latest trend of featuring LGBTQ+ in YA literature; it is not enough simply to throw in a gay best friend to meet a quota in characters. It is also important to move away from the concept of sexuality being the plot problem that has to be resolved. Johnathan Alexander appreciates this trend in his review, Writing Youth and urges writers of YA to ‘move away from the problem novel’ and ‘need to push past marketable gays.’ The ‘marketable gays’ being the cliché gay best friends who are present exclusively to give the illusion of diversity and aid the protagonist.
Normalising diversity is made possible by displaying a colourful cast of characters none of whose sexuality is the primary reason for inclusion in the story. Similarly, if the protagonist of the novel is gay that does not have to be their entire story-line. It is a consequence of the ‘taboo busting’ of earlier novelists that it is possible to expect such standards of diversity are more readily apparent in more recent literature. However issues of inclusion remain topical popular modern literature. J K Rowling came under scrutiny due to her controversial decision to openly describe famed character Albus Dumbledore as gay, once the series was completed. Although this shoehorned diversity could be argued to be positive, the decision was deemed too little, too late by many fans of the franchise, most importantly by those who are members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Richard Morgan stresses the impact a character such as Dumbledore being gay may have had on a wider 1997-2007 readership (as the books were released), ‘when same-sex marriage was illegal in most U.S. states and in Britain -- the children reading her books could have had a beloved gay character, which might have given gay life some sorely needed heroes.’ Morgan identifies an issue of representation, or rather lack of representation, which affects young people specifically. Role models in novels are a source of comfort for personal discovery; in a society that can scrutinise for sexuality, Morgan highlights the comfort Rowling may have provided for countless readers by including the most minimal diversity.
Lauren James has spoken publicly about her disappointment in Rowling also, ‘A boy in my class, thinking that he might be gay, would have found the ultimate idol in Dumbledore. He’s a gay man who isn’t defined by his sexuality.’ James’ disappointment mirrors Morgan’s, illustrating that the inclusion of one line in a series of seven books could have provided a hero for a whole community. Conscious of this shortage in YA fiction, James seamlessly includes LGBTQ+ characters in her novels alongside heteronormative characters. Avoiding the issues previously discussed by Cart and Odedina, James features LGBTQ+ characters simply as people, their sexuality being of no consequence to the plot.
As an advocate of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, James actively supports LGBTQ+ communities. James novel, The Last Beginning boasts a protagonist one is a member of the LGBTQ+ community. The protagonist of the novel is Clove, her sexuality established by the third page of the novel. In a chat between Clove and her best friend Meg, Clove jokes ‘heterosexuality is gross,’ to which Meg replies, ‘don’t be heterophobic.’ In this preliminary exchange, James reveals the dynamic between the two friends and provides an insight into the liberalism of the world of the novel. Clove and Meg quip about being heterophobic in a manner that implies being homophobic is ridiculous enough to wordplay on the subject. This conversation reveals the relaxed, mature attitudes towards sexuality that are implied in the original exchange. Further study of the language used to discuss Clove’s sexuality reveals the distinct ordinariness of the exchange; there are no shocked reactions or quizzical comments. Clove’s sexuality is introduced in a way that is entirely matter of fact; Clove’s sexuality is not her defining feature and it is introduced without any stigma or comment.
Lauren James introduces the sexuality of Lowrie in The Quiet at the End of the World, in a similar manner. Lowrie is something of an amateur archaeologist; when she discovers a lost purse she is keen to track down the owner and find out as much about her as possible. Set in an apocalyptic future in which there are only two young people left in the world, Lowrie and a boy, Shen, Lowrie longs for a female peer. Once she discovers Maya’s purse and what is left of her online presence she discovers mutual ground between the two; both are bisexual. Maya mentions her sexuality casually online in a post about her favourite television show, ‘Whenever I watch Loch & Ness, I’m hit by the continuous realisation that I want to date BOTH Lyra Loch and Jayden Ness, and I can’t, in fact, date either of them.’ Like the aforementioned example of Clove, Maya discusses her sexual preferences unapologetically and completely casually.
James’ writing style is light-hearted and creates an atmosphere in which one’s sexuality is conversational and the furthest thing from taboo. Despite never having any issue with her sexuality, this discovery still has a profound effect on Lowrie. Upon reading the post, ‘Something lights up inside my chest. There’s no one my own age I can talk to about this stuff, and just seeing Maya living her life and posting about boys and girls make me feel less alone.’ In this refection by Lowrie, James manages to capture the isolation that a LGBTQ+ member can feel, even in the most understanding of environments. What is important for Lowrie, as a young person, is not only being accepted but also having an opportunity to empathise with others about her sexuality, a feeling which reflects James’ own opinions of inclusion in literature. The experience of Lowrie reading about Maya (someone she admires) and realising that she is also a bisexual provides massive comfort for her, providing a refuge via reading.
Ultimately, the difference between understanding and mutual experience is summarised by Lowrie’s explanation, ‘Shen understands, or at least tries his best to be supportive, but it’s not really the same as having someone who can actually relate.’ Shen is Lowrie’s best friend and eventual love interest, his support is important to Lowrie but he can never have the same significance as, Maya who is the same as Lowrie. In this cogent comment James highlights the importance of an LGBTQ+ community to young people. Put simply, YA novels are a form of community that can provide a similar experience to readers that Maya provided for Lowrie.
The openness that is present in James’ novels is possible due to the more liberal society that exists in our current post-feminist era. Society being in a post-feminist moment is a result of liberal discussion which has paved the way for is a more general understand of believes and sexuality. This openness is apparent in The Quiet at the End of the World by Shen’s questioning about Lowrie’s sexuality. Lowrie was originally wary of talking to Shen about being bisexual. However, her worries were short lived, Shen saying it was cool, ‘like having the same taste in music.’ The liberal tone of the novel is refreshing and provides a solace for an LGBTQ+ young person, providing evidence of the acceptance that is available when discussing sexuality. Consequently, Shen and Lowrie engage in a healthy discussion to aid Shen’s curiosity; when Shen questions the difference of having a crush on a girl compared to a boy, Lowrie replies, “It’s like comparing your favourite foods, or sweet and savoury. They both taste delicious, but for completely different reasons,” a witty metaphor to explain the nature of being bisexual and evidence of how easy it is to discuss sexuality. The conversation also sheds light on how a heteronormative person can show interest in their friends’ sexuality without being invasive or judgemental. Crucially, it provides further evidence of the importance of featuring diversity in novels, not only to provide positive role models for the LGBTQ+ community but to provide a better understanding for heteronormative people of the LGBTQ+ community.
James addresses curiosity that heteronormative people have about LGBTQ+ people with a realistic, straightforward manner, removing any interpretation of negative stigma attached to the questions, this example being all the more significant due to Shen’s romantic interest in Lowrie. James makes a point that Shen expresses nothing but a desire to obtain a greater understanding of the person he cares about when questioning her bisexuality. This choice by James is particularly relevant as a response to common social disregard to the legitimacy of bisexuality. Public perception in the UK alludes to discrediting bisexuality compared to the likes of simply being gay or lesbian. Bisexual people are often dismissed, offhandedly being accused of being greedy or confused. This scrutiny results in isolation of a community, this is observed in the findings of N. Hayfield, V. Clarke and E. Halliwell who found the British bisexual women interviewed for their research felt excluded from both heteronormative and LGBTQ+ communities. The research revealed a common perception of ‘bisexuality as a temporary phase on the path to a fully realised lesbian or heterosexual identity and bisexuals as immature, confused, greedy, untrustworthy, highly sexual and incapable of monogamy’ These finding published in 2014 reveal the oppression that is felt by bisexual women in the UK, proving the need of presenting an honest and positive example of female bisexuality, such as in the character of Lowrie. This example provides evidence of the hostility that still looms over subgroups of the LGBTQ+ community, despite social landmarks like the legalisation of gay marriage in the UK in 2013.
The introduction to Lowrie’s sexuality is introduced as seamlessly as Shen’s ethnicity when Lowrie remarks, ‘He always reverts back to Chinese when he gets upset.’ James writing style is deliberate in its casual inclusion of diversity. Shen’s ethnicity, like Lowrie’s sexuality is not included to become an issue of the plot, simply to add further information about the characters. By normalising diversity, James succeeds in creating minority heroes for a YA readership who may not until picking up The Quiet at the End of the World have seen themselves in the protagonists they read about.
James recognises the shortcomings of popular YA novels and deliberately excels expectations set from her peers and succeeds in normalising diversity. This point is prevalent by her inclusion of Maya openly celebrating her trans boyfriend via a social media post, ‘Happy trans day of visibility! I am dating the greatest and most underrated trans boy in the world and I couldn’t be more proud of him.’ Trans-rights and awareness is an issue at the forefront of social discussion, by introducing Maya’s partner as trans as casually as Clove and Lowrie’s sexuality are introduced, James creates a tone of dialogue which is accepting and openly celebratory. Ultimately, the characters created by James represent the ease of understanding that is possible when characters that increase diversity are viewed not simply for their difference but as the equal of their heteronormative counterparts. As James herself expressed on discussion of LGBTQ+ representation in her novels, ‘I didn't want to write about the experience of being LGBTQ+ That part is incidental!’
In the context of James novels, homosexuality is so rare it is considered an extinct opinion. Clove only sees her sexuality as issue when she makes a joke about explaining her girlfriend to a man from eighteenth century; an insight to how outdated such attitudes are to James. The only point when Clove experiences any scrutiny for her sexuality is when she teleports to an alternate reality in which homosexuality is illegal. Clove is reprimanded for wearing a multi-coloured wristband, an act that makes her feel physically sick, as she had ‘never, ever felt ashamed of her sexuality,’ until met with an alternate reality. In the context of the novel Clove is from Scotland, 2056, a society James prophesies to be liberal to the point that Clove has spent her life thus far carefree about being a lesbian.
By providing an example of bigotry towards LGBTQ+ only in an alternate reality James showcases her optimism about how accepting society may be in the not so distant future. The context in which James includes negative attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people in the novel are only in the distant past or in a separate reality, emphasising James’ opinion as to where such attitudes belong. The Last Beginning grounds Clove’s experience within the reality of the novel. The acceptance Clove experiences by her peers is the reality some members of the LGBTQ+ community experience. However, the fact that Clove exists in an envisioned future highlights the work that is still needed to reach a time as absolutely liberal as Clove enjoys. James provides an impression of what it could like for a young LGBTQ+ person in the UK. By normalising Clove’s experience James creates an LGBTQ+ role model for her readers and continues the work of progress for the community within the genre of YA.
The Reclamation of the Feminist Identity and Sexuality in a Postfeminist Era
To conclude this discussion chapter three will highlight the importance of YA novels in the current post-feminist era, focusing on theme of feminist identity. In order to appreciate the impact of fourth wave feminism and its influence on literature, it is necessary to distinguish what causes women to claim a feminist identity. I aim to isolate examples that encourage women to embrace a feminist identity, exploring the advancement of technology and how it changes accessibility to new ideologies and form opinions.
I will provide evidence of the impact the media has, discussing this significance of celebrity endorsement and the impression of feminism media presents to young people. I will discuss whether the feminist identity has lost creditability or fetishized into a consumerist trend. In order to illustrate media influence, I will analysis the cultural significance of the ‘Me-Too,’ movement, tracking its influence on young women and illustrating the movement’s role towards the normalisation of female sexuality. I will explore the presence of feminism in Lauren James’ novel, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, highlighting the importance of grounding fantastical stories in the reality of issues that concern many young women. I will highlight the necessity of protagonists who face issues of low self-esteem and problematic sexualisation, illustrating how James creates characters who readers can empathise with highlighting the importance young people focus on novels for guidance.
Despite hostility that can surround the term there is still a large portion young women who deem themselves fourth wavers. Excitement surrounding young feminists can be observed in a recent spike of popularity for feminism; this peak of interest can be partially attributed to the centenary of votes for women in the UK that took place 2018. The resurgence of feminism that accompanied the anniversary was overwhelmingly positive and it became ‘cool’ to be a feminist. Advertisement of the centenary was unavoidable on social media, in fashion and the news. Consequently, the centenary rekindled enthusiasm for the movement inspiring media content that celebrated women, including a special episode of The Secret Life of Five-Year-Olds, revolving around the theme of suffrage. I mention this example specifically to highlight the commercial re-branding that the feminist movement received due to the centenary and the impact an impressive media presence can have to change the reputation of a movement; revamping feminism for young women.
Gill recognises that young feminists are moving away from the rigidity and masculinity that was deemed necessary to claim a feminist identity; instead creating the impression of a feminist to one that is that is ‘desirable, stylish and decidedly fashionable.’ This glamorised version of the feminist has been inspired by an increasingly liberal society, observable in the general shift of attitudes towards female sexuality from prudishness to liberal. It is no longer a requirement of a feminist to be sexless to be considered the equal of a man. What Gill correctly isolates as a change from third wave feminists to fourth, is the removal of an apology for femininity. This shift away from the stereotype of a feminist having to be hyper masculine, serves as evidence that Natasha Walter’s concern that masculinity and femininity are ‘mutually exclusive,’ is no longer an issue for the feminist. The fourth wave feminist is identified by her ability to embrace her femininity alongside her feminism beliefs, not having to sacrifice one for the other in order to be deemed legitimate.
Further evidence of media impact may be observed in the ever increasing list of female figure heads who proudly proclaim their own feminist identity. Emma Watson, made famous as Hermione in Harry Potter, was appointed as UN women’s goodwill ambassador in 2014; sparking a fresh wave of interest by providing a feminist icon for the youngest generation. Further evidence of media influence can be observed by the impact that female celebrities had with the popularity of the ‘Me-Too’ movement. The term became popularised via American actress, Alyssa Milano when she used the term on twitter in October 2017. The trend followed the outcry of allegations towards Harvey Weinstein and inspired many high-profile actresses to speak out about sexual abuse and harassment by men they had experienced in the work place. The existence of such a trend and the millions of women who identified with the issues discussed via the movement serves as proof that there is an undercurrent of sexism that remains in society. A conclusion can therefore be made that that feminism is still necessary; equality has not yet been achieved so long as such movements exist.
Rosalind Gill observes that an obstacle which prevents women claiming to be feminist is negative stigma that has become attached to the term. Issues raised during the ‘Me-Too’ movement inspired women to identify as feminist, as the trend provoked a resurgence in the need for feminism and removed many of the shibboleths that had become attached to the term. It has been argued that the popularity of the ‘Me-Too’ movement and subsequent trends like ‘This is What a Feminist Looks Like,’ have reduced feminism to a trend of fashion. These beliefs are typically associated with the opinion that feminism has 'gone too far.' Doris Lessing, previously identified as a feminist, has given voice to the backlash arguing that the popularity of feminism in young people has resulted in, ‘an unconscious bias in our society: girls are wonderful; boys are terrible.’ Lessing's negativity towards feminism is ironic as her criticism is born out of the success of feminism being spread throughout society, an ambition she used to endorse. Such negative comments are a result of confusion surrounding the popularity of fourth wave feminism, inaccurately associating the appreciation of women with a hostile viewpoint of men, an opinion that is not related to the motives of feminism. A similar issue is present in an observation by Gill who states that the term feminism has been belittled to the point that it has been reduced to a ‘cheer word’ losing coherence by being attached to a cultural trend. Although Gill highlights issues that face feminists in a post-feminist era, it is important that women continue to use the word feminism despite the loaded implication that asserts a negative reception.
Whilst the ‘Me-Too’ movement returned feminism to the news, it is vital that the movement is not reduced to a fashion trend. Lauren James is conscious of the possibility of feminism being reduced to consumer hype but argues, ‘you have to use words like feminism even though they’ve lost weight, because otherwise people just don’t know what you’re talking about.’ James is making a fundamental point; if feminism is to succeed in a post-feminist era, it must be unapologetic and unafraid to identity itself.
Feminist campaigns like the ‘Me-Too’ can assist in removing the taboo away from speaking out about abuse and normalise discussions about sexual encounters thereby removing the shame from such experiences and providing support for women. I believe this trend can be observed in the change of topics in popular YA novels. During the 90s and early 2000s issue-based plots were the focus of fiction for young people. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky was first published in 1999 and was praised for the delicacy in which it novel discussed the topic sexual abuse. YA novels developed this relationship with being an issue based genre to start a conversation about sensitive topics, like abuse. Now that victims coming forward is being destigmatized, the need for issue based YA fiction has lessened. This example highlights the nature of YA literature being consistently at the forefront of liberal thinking, responding to social change quickly, providing evidence of the importance of the genre.
Increase in social media has led to an increase of information available online has resulted in a healthy opportunity for women to confine in one another and assists in the understanding of their sexuality by removing from the risk of embarrassment or shaming to which previous generations of women have been exposed to. Lauren James has a refreshingly realistic outlook on young people and sexuality, as well as featuring the aforementioned LGBTQ+ characters in her novels, James provides an honest depiction of a heteronormative young women’s experience discovering her own sexuality. Despite the fact that Romy Silvers is an astronaut, she is a character that almost every young woman can empathise with. Romy is the protagonist of The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, and as the title suggests Romy lives in complete isolation due her upbringing taking place on a space ship and the untimely death of her father. The nature of her isolation breeds honesty and provides an environment in which Romy’s thoughts can be expressed without filter as there is no judgement, sans the reader.
Romy’s candidness allows for transparency about her thoughts, casually making statements like, ‘I think about sex a lot.’ Romy’s isolation has resulted in an unfiltered stream of conscious narrative and confessions such as this establish an intimacy with the reader. The writing style removes any taboo or consequence from Romy’s thoughts. Romy’s isolation can be read as a larger metaphor for the issues many young people encounter when growing up, specifically about their sexuality; illustrating the loneliness the many young people experience in those formative years.
Romy’s struggle to understand her own sexuality is understandable as she has no one to ask or experience any normal human interactions with, she relies on information from the media to create her own opinions about romantic relationships. The culture of seeking help online during adolescent has become a norm for young people. Romy is unaware of the negativity that can accompany social media due to her naivety and becomes romantically invested in an older man she has never met, resulting in dire consequences. James warns about the danger that exploring sexuality online can have in the extreme case of Romy’s romantic interest lying to her about his age and ultimately attempting to kill her; a dramatic and effective parable dangers of social media.
Pauline Maclaren highlights an additional issue that accompanies the anonymity of social media and the ease of sexual content. Maclaren argues that the availability of such content has resulted in a culture of pornification. Maclaren’s study highlights the tailored impression of sex that are relayed via technology, highlighting that the regularity of sexual content online has a negative effect on young women, arguing the ‘sexual performance and self-objectification have become forms of work,’ suggesting that the so-called female empowerment attached to normalising female desire is actually reverting women back to the time of the second wave.
Although Maclaren’s argument is controversial it does provide an insight to the care that is required when considering the formation of ideas about sexuality in an increasingly media dependent age. It can be argued that there is pressure enforced on young women when they are exposed to such an expanse of information regarding sexuality, leading some to entertain the notion that the role of a woman is to be seen as a sexual object in order to receive gratification, (reminiscent of Natasha Walter’s concerns of regression). An example of media induced paranoia can be seen in Romy’s reaction to meeting the man she had been communicating via email. Romy suddenly agonises over her appearance, ‘I need to start getting ready so I look like the girls in films, all smooth and beautiful.’ It is not until the possibility of being judged by a man is introduced that Romy begins to scrutinise her appearance, worrying about whether she may be considered sexually appealing. Romy falls victim to the common pressure in modern society, ‘to create and maintain erotic capital,’ placing self-worth solely on the amount of interest you receive from your desired gender. The particularly troubling specification Romy highlights as the paramount aim of her makeover is ‘I want him to see me as a woman.’ Although unintentional, Romy’s language is regressive and places the identity of being a woman as being approved by a man and to be perceived as an object of desire. In this example James highlights a prevalent issue that the advancement of technology has enabled; an obsession with physical appearance.
Romy’s lack of self-worth places her as ‘objectified woman, so often celebrated as the wife or girlfriend of the heroic male rather than the heroine of her own life. In this definition, Walters highlights the troubling reality that awaits Romy if she continues to judge herself primarily by her sexual appeal to men, underestimating her own self value. James’s desire to create female characters that are imperfect is particularly prevalent in The Loneliest Girl in the Universe as the reader has to empathise with Romy with increasing dread as she makes mistakes, placing her desire to be loved above her better judgement. Romy is a realistic young female protagonist in this regard as she makes mistakes. The most sympathetic of all being her desire for a man that she knows has lied to her expressing, ‘I still want him and I hate myself for it,’ illustrating the desperation that accompanies being a young woman who feel isolated.
As the novel progresses, Romy forges an ability to form her own self-worth removed from the context of appealing to a man, a transformation she achieves in isolation by the sheer determination of her character. The success of Romy as a protagonist is due to her character being grounded in the reality. Despite being a work of science fiction, Romy’s growth is dependent on discovering the importance of having self-belief. The reason that the man in the plot is a threat to her is because of the sexual predatory he represents as a grown man, evoking a common threat to young women via social media. Romy manages to outsmart and kill Johnathan, serving as a bleak warning of the care young women must take when exploring their sexuality online. Romy is empathetic to a female reader, not only is she an inspiration to adolescents but to older readers who can reminisce on the necessary struggle that Romy faces growing up.
Proukou addresses the requirement of such stories to be experienced by young people, highlighting that ‘young protagonists are not young because their intended readership is young. They are young protagonists because it is necessary.’ Romy’s emulates an emotional response with the reader, as her personal growth is a critical part of growing up that the reader is either experiencing or reflecting on. James appreciates these traits of a young protagonist and the significance a strong character can have on their reader, as revealed by her dedication of The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, ‘For all the girls who’ve never felt brave enough to be the hero in an adventure story.’
Lauren James’ work has been praised for featuring characters who are diverse, smart and a positive influence on young people. James is an example of an author who is optimistic about the impact YA literature can have, writing to inspire moral and social values in her readership. Throughout this discussion I have aspired to highlight the change YA novels can promote, outlining their role in the formation of ideas and inspiring young people the impact their beliefs may have in society. James is outspoken about this distinctive feature of the genre, arguing that ‘YA just has more modern values that I want to see in my reading material,’ than literature written for adults. James highlights that importance of modern values is a consistent ingredient to YA, serving as an incentive for adult readers who continue to read YA novels past their teenage years, and confessing herself that ‘I find it very hard to read books written for an adult audience now - not because it's too complex or mature, but because it doesn't have that level of feminism and equality embedded in the text.’ Alongside an absence of social values, James alludes to the disregard that critics often have adults who read YA; that they are incapable of reading anything else. James highlights that this is not the case, rather that the narrative of YA novels are more active in presenting moral values and that is an experience of reading that is limited outside the YA genre.
James addresses the theme of feminist ideals in YA novels noting, ‘most YA I read is female written and intrinsically feminist,’ highlighting the importance YA readers place on experiencing a positive social influence when reading, expecting to take something enlightening away from the novel. This desire to draw inspiration from a novel is a common ambition for the YA reader, revealing the irony of the dismissal of YA as easy reading, as YA readers place a large social dependence on moral lessons from the genre.
In this study I have provided evidence from Lauren James’ novels as an example of the platform YA novels provide for raising social awareness about topics that are at the forefront of discussion in modern society. The gender pay gap is an issue that impacts millions of women, and it is important that young people are aware of their rights and what they are entitled to. Protagonists in James’ novels are all women in positions of power, providing evidence of the capability and strength of women in roles of leadership. An important distinction to observe in the characters of Romy, Clove, Katherine and Lowrie is that they do no seek out the power that is thrust upon them, it is only by embracing the responsibilities placed on them and having confidence in their own strength that they overcome the issues they face. This detail in James’ novels serves as inspiration to their young female readership, empathising the normality of underestimating yourself and providing evidence of what women can achieve. James gifts protagonists that the reader can empathise with, instilling a hopeful outlook to her readership and in so doing advocates the necessity of feminism in a post-feminist era.
I chose to focus on Lauren James novels as they capture the positivity young people can take away from reading, inspiring moralistic views, tolerance and social opinions that are paramount to the process of growing up. Although creating characters who the reader can empathise with is not a feature unique to YA, it can be argued that the genre is tailored to inspire beliefs in the reader in a more proactive way that others. Lauren James is outspoken about the import influence YA has in the formation of world views, such as attitudes towards LGBTQ+ rights.
Following the popularity of her first novel The Next Together, James did not hesitate for the sequel to be centred on a lesbian couple following the heteronormative couple of the first. Instead of limiting the span of diversity in her novels, James expanded the spectrum of sexuality outwards, providing a much needed lesbian hero for young female readers. James was aware that she had the opportunity to provide a hero for the LGBTQ+ community but also to expose straight readers to a gay love story. By creating the sequel to a heteronormative couple to centre around an LGBTQ+ couple, James provides her readers an opportunity to expand their typical reading experience, whilst simultaneously equating Katherine and Matthew’s love story as the equal of Clove and Ella. This approach is non-invasive and has the positive effect of introducing an LGBTQ+ discourse alongside a typical YA romance, reflecting the increasingly liberal attitudes that are progressing in the world towards sexuality.
Parallels between the progression of the attitudes in society and normalising LGBTQ+ characters highlights the opportunity YA literature has being written for young people. The trend can be observed throughout history; young people are consistently the most liberal in society as they are at the front of progressive movements; due to their new ideas and enthusiasm to invoke change. James recognises this optimism of young people and provides stories that encourage liberal thinking, as seen in the acceptance of Clove, Lowrie and Maya, whose relationships cover the LGBTQ+ spectrum and are unapologetic for doing so.
The ability to adapt quickly to the progression of increasingly normalised attitudes towards sexuality empathises the unique approach YA literature has to react to social change. This trend of change is observable in the depiction of LGBTQ+ characters in YA going from taboo, to tolerated, to the subject of issue, to now, where Lauren James has the freedom to showcase the spectrum of LGBTQ+ characters proudly.
YA novels have a socially connective relationship with their reader due to the influence novels can have on young people. In this regard YA literature can be argued to have a moralistic reason to exist, as one of the main aims of the genre is to instil values that the writers feels are essential for young people to have in society. I would argue that this pressure secures YA as an important genre, as writers of YA deliberately intend to have a positive influence on their readers, a reality that is a stark contrast to the casual dismissal that is typically attributed to the genre.
Writers such as Lauren James appreciate the opportunity that novels represent to young people, recognising the difference that liberal, positive beliefs can have on a young readership who are more susceptible to influence and inspiration than their more pessimistic counterparts. This opportunity of influences places a unique responsibility on YA authors, as they have a significant impact on their young readership, meaning they must be thoughtful of the messages they choose to convey.
The content of James’ novels provide inspirational worlds in which LGBTQ+ discrimination is a thing of the past and racial difference is not an issue of the story. James recognises the existence of bigoted views and does not patronise the reader into pretending that they do not exist, but provides interactions that showcase evidence of the positivity possible if the reader were to adopt the liberal views displayed in the novels, particularly in the likes of The Quiet at the End of the World and The Last Beginning that elude to the negativity that accompany bigotry without exposing the protagonists directly to such views. It is crucial that young people who are forming their own opinions should have access to, and be aware of, literature like this, as James not only normalises the strength of female protagonists and diversity but does so in a manner that is witty, casual, and fun.
James is deliberate in her decision not to preach to her readers and this is evident by the manner in which she introduces social topics to the narrative; with subtlety. When discussing female sexuality, I highlighted the significance of Romy being isolated from society and how this affected her opinions on sex and relationships. Many young people seek comfort in novels when they encounter questions of sexuality and relationships, longing for comfort and support in fictional characters. Lauren James eludes to the significance that literature can have on young people by recognising the importance Romy places on fictional characters. Romy finds comfort in the relationship between characters Loch and Ness. This meta-fictional example of depending on a story for comfort, illustrates the significance the YA genre has for young people.
This dependency is particularly relevant in current society considering the widespread use of technology. James eludes to the negativity of technology as Romy’s issues arise from chatting to man online that she has not met. This issue is prevalent in society and provides further evidence to the importance the literature still has for young people who can put trust into YA literature that introduces them to the world of sex and relationships independently on the risk the accompanies technology. Technology undoubtedly has advances for young people exploring their sexuality, however this example provides evidence of the unique comfort that literature provides that is unlike other external sources.
I have chosen to conclude this discussion with these examples to highlight the value that the young adult genre provides as a form of literature. It is undoubtable that young people are becoming increasingly vocal in social issues and are enthusiastic about making an impact, as seen in the success of young activist Greta Thunberg. Young people have their role to play and embrace stepping into political and moral issues. I belief that literature has a vital role in this relationship. Lauren James’ novels create a space that explores liberal attitudes expressed by emotionally empathetic characters, introducing the reader to the reality that features people who hold positive moral values. To a shy, introverted young woman, questioning her sexuality, a novel such like The Last Beginning would provide a crucial ray of hope. Although literature features fictional characters, the ideas that are explored at the heart of the novels are grounded in reality.
Critics may mock the fantastical features associated with the YA genre, however it cannot be denied that the values at the centre of the YA novel will consistently be about self-belief and growth. This is the key feature of YA that places it as an important genre of fiction; literature written for young people is intended to inspire and remains relevant as its readership ages. This ambition is present in the liberal and empowering messages throughout Lauren James’ novels, whose protagonists serve as inspirational influences to young people. The liberal attitudes to LGBTQ+ and sexuality that are recurrent themes in James’ novels already exist in the world, what James provides is evidence of the acceptance that people are capable of, encouraging them to seek out people who emulate the beliefs of James’ characters and to strive to be a powerful as their favourite protagonists.
Introduction  Aidan Chambers “Alive,”p. 87, cited in, Michael Cart, From Romance to Realism: 50 years of growth and change in young adult literature, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996), p. 248.  Michael Cart, From Romance to Realism: 50 years of growth and change in young adult literature, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996), p. 242.  Michael Cart, From Romance to Realism, p. 251.  Sophia Phoca and Rebecca Wright, Introducing Postfeminism, (Cambridge: Icon Books, 1999), p. 3.  Rosalind Gill, ‘Post-Postfeminism?: New Feminist Visibilities in Postfeminist Times’, Feminist Media Studies, 16 (4) (2016), 610. Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith, ‘2 charts that show what Britain thinks of feminism’, The Independent, 10 November 2015, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/nearly-1-in-5-people-in-the-uk-think-being-called-a-feminist-is-an-insult-a6728446.html.  Ibid  Lauren James, ‘The Most Important Post I’ve Ever Written’, Lauren James Blog, https://laurenejames.co.uk/2015/01/17/the-most-important-post-ive-ever-written [accessed 25 April 2019].  Interview between Lauren James and the author, (Wed 05/12/2018), [email].
Meghan Elkin, Domestic abuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2018(research report). https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/domesticabuseinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2018 (accessed 26 April 2019).  YouGov, Stop Street Harassment (Interal YouGov report: published, 2016).  Interview between Lauren James and the author, (Wed 05/12/2018), [email].  Ibid.  Natasha Walter, Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism, (London: Virago, 2010), p. 211.  Ibid.  Interview between Lauren James and the author, (Wed 05/12/2018), [email].  Lauren James, The Last Beginning, p. 11.  Lauren James, The Quiet at the End of the World, (London: Walker Books Ltd, 2019), p. 44.  Lauren James, The Quiet at the End of the World, p. 101.  Lauren James, The Quiet at the End of the World, p. 62.  Lauren, James, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, (London: Walker Books Ltd, 2017), p. 56.  Ibid.  Ibid.
Chapter Two  Michael Cart, From Romance to Realism: 50 Years of Growth and Change in Youth Adult Literature, p. 189.  Charlotte Eyre, ‘LGBT YA is on the rise’, The Bookseller, February 14, 2014, https://www.thebookseller.com/news/lgbt-ya-rise. Jonathan Alexander, Writing Youth: Young Adult Fiction as Literary Sponsorship, (Maryland: Lexington Books, 2017), p. 125.  Johnathan Alexander, Writing Youth, p. 123.  Richard Morgan, ‘It’s not enough for J. K. Rowling to say her characters are queer. Show it to us.’, The Washington Post, March 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/gdpr-consent/?destination=%2flifestyle%2f2019%2f03%2f18%2fits-not-enough-jk-rowling-say-her-characters-are-queer-show-it-us%2f%3f&utm_term=.48e998dd8847.  Lauren James, ‘The Most Important Post I’ve Ever Written’, Lauren James Blog, https://laurenejames.co.uk/2015/01/17/the-most-important-post-ive-ever-written [accessed 25 April 2019].  Lauren James, The Last Beginning, p. 15.  Ibid.  Lauren James, The Quiet at the End of the World, p. 54.  Ibid.  Lauren James, The Quiet at the End of the World, p. 108. Lauren James, The Quiet at the End of the World, p. 160.  N, Hayfield, V, Clarke, and E, Halliwell, ‘Bisexual Women's Understandings of Social Marginalisation: The Heterosexuals Don’t Understand Us But Nor Do the Lesbians’, Feminism and Psychology, 24(3) (June 19, 2014), 352.  Lauren James, The Quiet at the End of the World, p. 30.  Lauren James, The Quiet at the End of the World, p. 187.  Interview between Lauren James and the author, (Wed 05/12/2018), [email].  Lauren James, The Last Beginning, p.185.
 Rosalind Gill, ‘Post-Postfeminism?: New Feminist Visibilities in Postfeminist Times’, p. 611.  Natasha Walter, Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism, p. 211.  Barbara Ellen, ‘I have nothing in common with feminists. They never seem to think that one might enjoy men.’, The Guardian, Sun 9 Sep, 2001, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2001/sep/09/fiction.dorislessing.  Rosalind Gill, ‘Post-Postfeminism?: New Feminist Visibilities in Postfeminist Times’ p. 611.  Interview between Lauren James and the author, (Wed 05/12/2018), [email].  Lauren James, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, p. 176.  Pauline Maclaren, ‘Feminism’s fourth wave: a research agenda for marketing and consumer research’, Journal of Marketing Management, 2015, Vol.31 (15-16), p. 1735.  Lauren James, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, p. 176.  Rosalind Gill, ‘Post-Postfeminism?: New Feminist Visibilities in Postfeminist Times’, 610.  Lauren James, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, p. 177.  Natasha Walters, Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism, p. 125.  Lauren James, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, p. 203.  K. Proukou, Young Adult Literature: Rite of Passage of Rite of Its Own’, The Alan Review, 32(3) (2005), p. 62.  Lauren James, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, p. V.
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Chambers, Aidan “Alive,”p. 87, cited in, Michael Cart, From Romance to Realism:50 years of growth and change in young adult literature, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.
Eleftheriou-Smith, Loulla-Mae, ‘2 charts that show what Britain thinks of feminism’, The Independent, 10 November 2015, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/nearly-1-in-5-people-in-the-uk-think-being-called-a-feminist-is-an-insult-a6728446.html.
Ellen, Barbara, ‘I have nothing in common with feminists. They never seem to think that one might enjoy men.’, The Guardian, Sun 9 Sep, 2001, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2001/sep/09/fiction.dorislessing
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Eyre, Charlotte, ‘LGBT YA is on the rise’, The Bookseller, February 14, 2014, https://www.thebookseller.com/news/lgbt-ya-rise.
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