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12 Life Lessons From Young Adult Books That Are Valuable For Any Age

Mar 8 2016 - 1:00pm

Young adult literature is fun. Sure, novels aimed at adults can be really wonderful too, but there is something particularly magical about YA. Books aimed at teens tend to grapple with themes of first experiences, major life changes, and self-discovery, all of which continue throughout adulthood. However, because these are new issues to the adolescent audience of young adult literature, they are written with an urgency and profoundness that makes YA books hard to put down [1]. There is absolutely nothing wrong with reading these books as an adult; in fact, the youthful voice in which young adult novels are written can spark a fresh perspective on important issues that span far beyond the teen years. Here are a few of the lessons that you can take from some classic young adult novels regardless of your age.

It's Important to Have a Broad Worldview

In Lois Lowry's award-winning novel The Giver [2], the protagonist sees far more of the world around him than his peers. While Jonas is discovering colors in his formerly grayscale view, you can learn to broaden your horizons in other ways. Investigate other cultures and be sensitive to the needs of other people; don't get stuck in your own tiny corner of the world.

Don't Morph Into Your Partner

There are plenty of cautionary lessons in the Twilight [3] novels, but one lesson that's especially relevant to adults is the idea that you should maintain an identity separate from your significant other. The main character, Bella, exhibits overly needy tendencies and endangers her own life in the absence of her boyfriend. Eventually, she becomes exactly like him, turning into a vampire. While the story may be romantic, it can teach adults the importance of independence in relationships.

Holding Others to Unachievable Standards Will Always Result in Your Own Disappointment

J.D. Salinger's iconic YA novel, The Catcher in the Rye [4], follows a character named Holden Caulfield as he becomes painfully disillusioned with his peers. Throughout the course of the novel, readers realize that most of Holden's misery is the direct result of his idealistic expectations of the people he meets, which nobody can ever fulfill. Observing Holden's attitude can teach adult readers not to put their loved ones on a pedestal, since it just becomes hurtful for everybody involved.

Everyone Around You Is Leading a Very Complex Life — Don't Ignore Their Needs

Tris, the protagonist in Divergent [5], learns about her ignorance the hard way. Over the course of her experiences in the novel, she realizes that she is clueless about the inner workings of her loved ones' private lives; her brother is struggling with his identity, her boyfriend comes from a violent past, and Tris knows nothing of her mom's background. By following Tris's character development, you can also gain understanding about the complex lives of your own peers.

It's Your Choices, Not Your Past, That Define You

Of the many valuable lessons found in Harry Potter [6], perhaps the most important throughout adulthood is that choices make the man. J.K. Rowling's characters each struggle with issues in their respective pasts, but determine their own destiny through life choices. Harry guides his own wizarding adventure from the very start, when he insists that the Sorting Hat place him in a Hogwarts house other than Slytherin. His academically driven friend, Hermione Granger, becomes known as "the brightest witch of her age" despite her non-magical background. Many other examples of this idea can be found within the pages of Rowling's seven novels, and it serves to show readers of all ages that your actions mean more than your past.

If You're Unhappy With Your Life, Make a Change

Sherman Alexie's semi-autobiographical YA novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian [7], depicts the adventures of a young man who decides to leave his Spokane Indian Reservation. He struggles with the backlash of "abandoning" his childhood friends and family, but learns a lot through the experience. While most adult decisions won't be as drastic as leaving the place where your family has lived for generations, Alexie's novel can serve as encouragement to change the aspects of your life that make you unhappy.

Embrace Your Quirks

Quirky in itself, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children [8] follows a band of misfit adolescents with strange superpowers. As the kids learn to use their unusual features to the benefit of the group, readers can realize that quirky attributes may not be so bad. Embrace the things that make you different!

Find Friends Who Embrace Your Type of Weird

One of the most heartwarming aspects of The Perks of Being a Wallflower [9] is the protagonist's blossoming friendships with a group that accepts him without question. Charlie, through letters to an unknown confidante, describes his joy at discovering that there are people who understand him, know his flaws, and love him anyway. Even as adults, having the confidence to ditch fair-weather friends is difficult, but reading about the perks of doing so might serve as an encouraging lesson.

Don't Let Fear Hold You Back From Valuable Life Experiences

The protagonists of The Fault in Our Stars [10], Hazel and Augustus, struggle with debilitating medical conditions. However, there is a stark difference between their attitudes toward cancer: Gus wants to live and love without abandon during his potentially short life, while Hazel deprives herself of quintessential teenage experiences so that her condition doesn't hurt others along the way. As Hazel gains a new perspective about taking chances, readers learn to live life to the fullest alongside her.

One Person Can Change Everything

During the title event of The Hunger Games [11], Katniss Everdeen discovers that standing up to oppressive forces can inspire a movement. By visibly subverting the efforts of her totalitarian government, Katniss becomes the symbol for a revolution that spreads like wildfire. This lesson is indescribably valuable to adults who may feel overwhelmed by the pressures of life and responsibility: if you stand up for something, it can inspire change in others.

Every Person Is Equal

It seems silly that this remains an issue today, but unfortunately there are still many prominent debates about equality. To Kill a Mockingbird [12], Harper Lee's classic novel, is arguably not a conventional piece of YA literature because of its many dark themes. However, it features a young girl observing the actions of her admirable father in the face of despicable circumstances in her southern hometown, so we'll consider it adolescent literature. Scout's observations about equal rights in the novel are particularly relevant today, and many adults could learn a lesson or two from To Kill a Mockingbird.

Think Before You Act

In John Corey Whaley's Where Things Come Back [13], tragedy befalls a family because of the thoughtlessness of another person. The antagonist of the novel causes unspeakable pain to an Alabama household because he fails to think through his actions and instead acts irrationally and without regard for those in his path. As adult readers watch this story unfold, it becomes clear that it's always wise to think through a potentially life-changing decision.

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