Bad choices. Those two words go with young adult like, well, social media goes with real life. The adolescent life, like the central path of almost any novel, is about wanting something, probably desperately. It’s about the countless and seemingly insurmountable obstacles that get in the way. About the choices made from indoctrination, experience, or lessons learned. About happily-ever-after or exit-followed-by-a-bear. Penn’s own Dr. Frances Jensen, neurologist and expert on the adolescent brain, tells us our decision-making capability doesn’t go fully “online” until our mid-twenties. It’s no accident, then, that youth stands as metaphor for irresponsibility, recklessness, resistance. But then, what about Resistance? Influence? It’s a metaphor for those, too.
In this course, we will examine where adolescence and society cross, clash, mesh. Because the impact goes both ways. In a sense, we will stand on the median strip of a crazy road, looking in one direction at what young adults do to society, and in the other, what society does to them. We will read across era and genre, including works by such writers as Jane Austen, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, John Knowles, Stan Lee, Louise Erdrich, Alison Bechdel, Suzanne Collins, and Jason Reynolds, exploring literature of the long adolescence through two-and-a-half centuries, through war and a separate peace, high school and dystopian arenas (when they’re not the same thing), prose narrative to graphic novel to some forays into Instagram and TikTok. Requirements include two short response papers, a presentation on your literary passion, a critical or creative final project, and regular participation in class discussions. You don’t have to be a literary scholar to be part of this course. You just have to be open to exploring literature through multiple lenses, reflecting on where adolescence meets choice and choice meets criticism. Ready for a summer of high drama, passion, frenemies—who might literally be deadly? Yes or no; you choose.