A few years ago, I was visiting my sister and her family in Chicago. My nephew, a tween at the time, was obsessed with baseball. Still is, by the way, and he’s pretty darn good at it too. But what I remembered most about this time in his baseball career was the lone girl who played on his team. Like my nephew, she was baseball-obsessed.
This little girl could hit, run bases, field balls and spit out sunflower seeds in the dugout with the best of ‘em. I remember thinking: go, you! Dream big dreams, little one. Don’t ever be discouraged that you’re the only girl on a boys’ team. Don’t ever be discouraged that you might be considered different.
This little girl didn’t join the boys’ baseball team because she was trying to make a point. She simply loved the game and wanted to compete and the boys’ Little League was her only option. Fortunately the coaches recognized her enthusiasm, encouraged her and she thrived.
One of the awesome benefits of young adult fiction, particularly contemporary fiction, is that teens get a glimpse of the what-ifs. They’re dared to dream big dreams when they connect with relatable characters that refuse to limit themselves with societal conventions or life circumstances. They’re shown that risk-taking, particularly those taken in the pursuit of a passion, can lead to accomplishment, personal satisfaction, and even unanticipated challenges and outcomes.
Teens dream big. They experience emotion at lightning speed and in Richter-scale proportions. But when your whole life stretches before you, what a perfect time to test your wings. And what better and safer place than in the pages of a book.
When I was a kid, I devoured the Little House and Little Women books. I’m pretty sure I set the record for having checked out On the Banks of Plum Creek more than any other student at Roosevelt Elementary School. Nothing captured my imagination more than reading about a fearless girl who was less concerned about being “normal” and fitting in than venturing down roads less traveled. Bonus points were given to any novel with main characters who lived in a culture or setting different from my own.
Fast forward to present day young adult fiction. Books like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, while fantasy, still contain fearless yet relatable characters that tweens and teens devour, even as they’re battling an oppressive regime or He Who Must Not Be Named. The storylines may evolve and change with each new generation but the most relatable character motivations certainly have not. Is Laura Ingalls any less brave or fearless than Katniss Everdeen in the pursuit of her goals or the protection of her family?
In my upcoming debut young adult novel Hooked, a Native American teen girl dares to dream big dreams. She joins the all boys’ varsity golf team at her high school and her life changes in ways she never expected. I’ve always been intrigued by characters that push the convention envelope in the sports arena. In Hooked, not only does our fearless teen overcome barriers in the pursuit of golf excellence, but she also has to battle the constraints of her own culture. Success does not — nor should not — come easily.
In 25, 50, even 100 years from now, I’m prepared to bet that authors will create new worlds, new obstacles and perhaps even new sports. However, I’d guess that the characters will still behave a lot like Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter and Laura Ingalls but perhaps with cooler names and hipper clothes.
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