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Using Literature to Help Troubled Teenagers Cope with Identity Issues

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The search for one's identity is an ancient quest reflected throughout history in stories where human glory and conquest are often layered with great pain and self doubt, meant to help people discover themselves and who they are. Today, this quest is found prevalently in young adult novels, where characters wrestle with modern dilemmas in order to find themselves. This reference resource provides a link for teachers, media specialists, parents, and other adults to those novels and how to use them effectively. Educators and therapists explore the literature where common identity issues are addressed in ways intriguing to teens. Using fictional characters, these experts provide guidance on how to encourage adolescents to cope while improving their reading and writing skills.

Twelve novels are examined from both a literary and psychological perspective, allowing the readers to meet the central figures as if they were living human beings. Each chapter is written by a literature specialist who has teamed up with a therapist and confronts a different identity issue, examining such dilemmas as body image, the father/son relationship, bigotry, and peer relations. This pair of experts tries to define the central character's struggle in each novel to discover who they are and to become self-actualized individuals. Each chapter also provides an annotated bibliography of other works, both fiction and nonfiction, that explore these same issues to give readers not only the insight into helping teenagers with similar problems, but also the tools with which to get teenagers reading and addressing these problems. This innovative approach is meant to provide the opportunity for adults and adolescents to better understand each other.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Using Literature to Help Troubled Teenagers series, provides a bibliotherapeutic focus for educators working with teens who are coping with grief and loss. . . . The book provides a wealth of information for educators hoping to provide guidance to troubled teens. . . . Large public libraries with extensive parent or teacher collections and school librarians would benefit form the purchase of this book."



"The literary analyses included are interesting and even entertaining."



"[W]ill be popular with teachers, library media specialists and public librarians. . . . Recommended as excellent background reading for persons entering the field who want to try to understand the teenage animal."


Reference for Students -- Reviews

"This book will be useful to teachers who are interested in making assigned books more relevant to issues faced by today's students, and to librarians for young adult collection development."


The Book Report

"In this interesting, well-written collection of articles, professionals in physical and mental health education suggest ways of helping adolescents cope with disability by means of literature. . . . this book is an excellent professional reference, with a no-nonsense approach that maps out concrete methods."


Readings:A Journal of Reviews and Commentary in Mental Health

"The search for one's healthy identity is an ancient quest reflected throughout history in myths and stories where human glory and conquest are often layered with great pain and self doubt. Today, this quest is found pravelently in young adult novels, where characters wrestle with modern dilemmas in order to find themselves. This reference resource provides a link for teachers, media specialists, parents and other adults to those novels and how to use them effectively. . . . This innovative aproach is meant to provide the opportunity for adults and adolescents to better understand each other."



Is it possible to take young adult literature too seriously? By encouraging therapists to analyze the main characters in young adult novels, the Using Literature series hopes to give educators a better understanding of teen trauma while providing ideas for interventions within the mock analyses. In supporting this theory of the relevance of YA literature, Kaplan writes, "teenagers always turn to art... to find approximations of their own lives." Each chapter is devoted to a single work, presumably selected for the clarity with which it addresses a particular issue. Included are Chris Crutcher's Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes (Greenwillow, 1993/VOYA August 1993), in which the theme of identity through body image is considered. M. E. Kerr's Deliver Us from Evie (HarperCollins, 1994/VOYA October 1994) offers a literary reference on the issue of sexual identity. Jenny Davis's Sex Education (Orchard, 1988) covers the topic of identity through intimacy. The analysis of the Crutcher novel presents a cleverly penned chapter that includes an imaginary dialogue between a therapist and Coach Lemry, a central adult figure in the story. The investigation of Kerr's Deliver Us is less successful, providing detailed character analyses so rigidly styled to address Kerr's fictional scenario that they become inextrapolative. Concluding each chapter are annotated bibliographies of related fiction and nonfiction, some classics and some out of print. An exciting volume in theory, Using Literature to Help suffers from "adult"eration. If, as Kaplan writes, teens turn to art for empathy, a heavy, adult voice directing the young reader might discourage individual interpretation. Although the literaryanalysesincluded are interesting and even entertaining, there is little room for realworld application. Index. Source Notes. Biblio. 1999, Greenwood, Ages Adult, 248p. PLB $39.95. Reviewer: Amy S. Pattee
Provides teachers, media specialists, parents, and other adults a guide to young adult literature that has taken over portraying the quest for identity that was once handled by myth and legend. A literature specialist and a therapist team up on each chapter to explore a particular identity issues, such as body image, relationship between father and son, bigotry, and peer relations. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

Meet the Author

JEFFREY S. KAPLAN is Assistant Professor of Educational Foundations at the University of Central Florida and Area Education Coordinator for the UCF Daytona Beach Campus.

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Table of Contents


Prologue by Joan Bauer

Identity within the Family: Phyllis Reynold Naylor's The Year of the Gopher by Lois Stover and J. Roy Hopkins

Identity through Body Image: Chris Crutcher's Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Patricia L. Daniel and Vicki J. McEntire

Sexual Identity: M. E. Kerr's Deliver Us From Evie by Rita G. Drapkin and Lynn Alvine

Identity through Intimacy: Jenny Davis' Sex Education by Marie Hardenbrook, et al.

Identity through Self-Awareness: Kathryn Lasky's Memoirs of a Bookbat by Patricia Crawford and Rosaria Upchurch

Identity within the Father-Son Relationship: Robert Newton Peck's A Day No Pigs Would Die by Charles R. Duke and Jon L. Winek

Identity within Societal Expectations: S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders by Mary E. Little and Mary Alice Meyers

Identity Confusion: Zibby O'Neal's The Language of Goldfish by Marcia F. Nash and David Daniel

Identity through the Realization of Prejudice: Carolyn Meyer's Drummers of Jericho by Tania Gartside and Kristen Sternberg

Identity from Destruction: Robert Cormier's Tunes for Bears to Dance to by Janet E. Kaufman and Lynn Kaufman

Identity through Peers: Paul Zindel's Harry and Hortense at Hormone High by Michael L. Angelotti and Terry Pace

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