*First I would like to take a moment to explain the terminology I am using in this post. When I reference Young Adult literature I am describing literature written for teenagers (ages 12 to 19). These works can and do appeal to younger children and to adults as well. For example, my friend’s 70+ year old grandmother simply loves the Hunger Games. She reads it with a different perspective than her granddaughter, but the enjoyment of a good book is the same for both readers no matter their chronological age.*
Young adult literature is a relative new literary genre, but it has a richer history than many critics would credit. Many scholars note that the first book written especially for teenagers is Seventeenth Summer, by Maureen Daly (1942). Prior to Daly’s work, books were written either for children or adults. Works about adolescents existed—just look at Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—but the concept of novels specifically targeting adolescent readers began with the Seventeenth Summer.
Daly’s work interests me because of her ties to the Midwest. Although she was born in Ireland, she grew up in Wisconsin. Seventeenth Summer, which she wrote at the age of seventeen, is set in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. It has sold more than a million copies worldwide (Fox, 2006).
The novel is a coming of age story that centers on Angie Morrow. The summer before she leaves for college, she meets the local basketball hero, Jack Duluth, and they fall in love over the course of the summer. Other romances play out in the novel, including those of Angie’s sister and friends, Friz and Margie. By the end of the summer, Angie and Jack face the life-changing decision on whether or not to continue their romance.
Daly explains: “I was so wildly and vividly happy about love and life at a particular time in my existence. I wanted to get all that fleeting excitement down on paper before it passed, or I forgot the true feelings . . . it was not until the reviews came out (and the royalties came in) that I realized I had recorded universal emotions and joys — and people would want to read about them year after year” (Fox, 2006).
But—seventy-plus years out—how does the book hold up? Does it evoke the “universal emotions” that the author believed people “would want to read about” year after year? You be the judge:
“The sun was warm on our backs and Jack stood with water drops running from his hair and glistening on his face. I had a sudden impulse to reach out and run my finger lightly over the even, dark arch of his eyebrows as he stood looking at me. But there was an odd look in his eyes, an odd, warm look that made my lips tingle as his eyes met mine, and I knew it would be better not to touch him, not even to talk to him, just then.”
Daly wrote a ground-breaking novel that resonated with readers world-wide and introduced a new literary genre. It is hard to overstate her importance on the current literary landscape where young adult novels dominate the bookstores and the movie screens.
Fox, M. (2006). Maureen Daly, 85, Chronicler of Teenage Love, Dies. New York Times: Books. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/29/books/29daly.html?_r=0