by Dr. Judith A. Hayn
SIGNAL is the International Reading Association's Special Interest Group Network on Adolescent Literature; our mission is promoting the reading and use of young adult literature. We define adolescent and/or young adult literature (YAL) as books written specifically for adolescents, young adults, teens. These books have a young protagonist who deals with issues that other young people face, or might have to face. Additionally, adolescent literature is anything that young adults choose to read. Publishers have an impact when they select to market a book as YAL.
An example of a book that was written for adults but has been marketed as young adult is The Dry Grass of August (2011). The year is 1954; Brown vs. Board of Education threatens to end an entrenched way of life in the segregated South. June Bentley Watts (Jubie) is 13 and growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina. In a week and a half of one summer, she develops from a sheltered, gawky adolescent into a young activist without completely understanding what happened. This transformation begins when Mama takes her three daughters, Stell, Jubie, Puddin’, and baby Davie to Pensacola to visit her younger brother Taylor. Mary, their black maid, accompanies them. Disaster looms from the first page of the novel, as tension and danger mount with every mile. The family has fled Daddy and his alcoholic rages as they have before; Jubie’s flashbacks reveal the developing discord at home that prompted the vacation.
The author Anna Jean Mayhew grew up in Charlotte in the 50s, so the voices ring unflinchingly true with authentic regional color. Jubie is another compelling heroine, and older teens or mature younger readers will appreciate this book with its powerful message laced with historical accuracy.
Dr. Judith A. Hayn is an Associate Professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
This article is part of a series from the Special Interest Group Network on Adolescent Literature (SIGNAL).