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Heartbreak, Death, and Sometimes a Rainbow: Young Adults and Literature

ENGL 0776.301
also offered as: GSWS 0776
TR 3:30-4:59pm


In this course, we will explore where adolescence and society cross, clash, mesh. The young adult 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 anxiety. 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. And where does this come into play more than in the construct of gender, the fundamentals of sexuality, the question of what you are being differentiated from who?

We will read (and watch) across era and genre, including works by Jane Austen, Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, Malinda Lo, Jason Reynolds, Charlotte Bronte, Leigh Bardugo, and Stan Lee, among others, exploring literature of the long adolescence through two-and-a-half centuries, prose narrative to graphic novel to forays into Instagram and TikTok. Assignments will include several short essays, a presentation on your literary passion, and a final project where you can choose to be fiercely critical or wildly creative. Class participation mandatory. Melodrama optional.


English Major Requirements
  • Literature Seminar pre-1900 (AEB9)
  • Sector 2 Difference and Diaspora (AEDD)
  • Sector 5 19th Century (AE19)
  • Sector 6 20th & 21st Centuries (AE20)
English Concentration Attributes
  • 20th-21st Century Concentration (AE21)
  • Gender/Sexuality Concentration (AEGS)
College Attributes
Additional Attributes