Psychology and YA Literature

I’ll admit it: as a former student of both English and Psychology, and a perpetual sucker for personality typology…I’m a little bias. I can’t help but read YA novels from a psychological perspective. This isn’t to say that I’m actively seeking out a moral “lesson” to assign the book value. But I believe that the nature of reading any story – of briefly adopting the perspective of a character – is beneficial for anyone. No matter your age, no matter your reading level. Any story you read briefly replaces your inner-narrative with its own. Sure, you can (and should) maintain a slightly removed, critical view of the story, but it is the experience of letting someone else’s perspective into your mind that makes reading such a powerful psychological practice…regardless of whether you consciously identify the psychological impact.

What do I find most fascinating about YA Lit in terms of psychology? Personality development.

Holden Caulfield from Salinger’s Catcher In the Rye is a great example of a teen who is beginning to define himself by his opinions. However, his opinions are still shallow and wishy-washy, leaving him in turmoil.  His beliefs and judgments of people are rarely consistent. However, like the rest of us, he craves consistency, and expresses this subconsciously by repeating several terms  excessively in his narration (phony, moron, goddam, etc).

Whether readers realize they are identifying with Holden or not, everyone can relate to the complicated process of self-definition. In Holden’s case, his actions rarely reflect his thoughts, and when they do he ends up regretting acting so rashly (i.e. punching his roommate and yelling at Sally). Readers may be able to identify Holden’s inability to properly define himself as a negative influence on his life. They may not consciously identify that his struggle is partly rooted in his unformed opinion on the world, but the experience of adopting his perspective may lead them towards fulfilling an unconscious need within themselves.

We’re so complicated and vulnerable and wonderful inside, all of us. Reading YA Literature with a psychological lens is a great way to explore issues of personality development and the benefits of reading for pleasure.

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