Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What Happens After High School in YA?

Recently on her blog, Frenetic Reader, my buddy Khyrinthia (jokingly) made a list of things YA novels have/have not prepared her for. Among the "have" was what to do if a supernatural creature is in Bio class with her and among the "have not" was how to handle college talk. While I usually agree with pretty much everything Khy posts, this is one case where I don't. While she's wondering: do YA characters even go to college? I'm wondering: why aren't characters without college aspirations represented?

Seriously. What about the characters going to vocational school? The ones who get married right out of high school and don't go to college? The ones who go to community college and continue living at home? As far as I can tell, a lot of YA protagonists are in one of two camps, post-high-school-wise. They're either going to a well-known (typically Ivy League) university with a large scholarship or they're going to a well-known university that is not the university their parents want them to attend. This is, in my opinion, an extremely limited point of view or experience.

I'm going to assume I'm in the minority here but most of the people I knew well when I was in high school and a lot of the friends I grew up with did not take that path. Many of them didn't go to college, a few (like me) started out at a community college, some went to a vocational school, others started at one college and then transferred or dropped out or... or... or...

there are so many experiences. There are so many perspectives. My thoughts on college aren't the same as yours and that's perfectly okay. What I wish though, were that there were more YA novels showing these differing perspectives. I want the books about Ivy-bound students, sure, but I also want books about students who are going to a community college, entering the workforce right away, taking a gap year, going to vocational school, or doing something totally different. I want characters -- both teenagers and the adults in their lives -- who don't see college as the most important thing. I want both characters who know exactly what they want to do and those who have absolutely no idea.

And, because I'm a fan of the varying perspectives on the whole subject of OMG WHAT TO DO AFTER HIGH SCHOOL?? here are some books with characters who make both traditional and non-traditional choices.

I Now Pronounce You Someone Else
Erin McCahan
This story of a high school senior who ends up getting engaged to her perfect boyfriend is absolutely incredible and the choices Bronwen makes along the way are non-traditional and completely believable. I adore this book.

Bitter Melon
Cara Chow
Set in the 1980s, this is the story of a Chinese-American girl with an incredibly strict mother who has her future all planned out for her. However, Frances discovers a love for public speaking that challenges her mother's dreams for her.

Suite Scarlett
Maureen Johnson
In this case it's not the protagonist, but instead her older siblings (especially her brother, Spencer) whose choices are interesting. Spencer, who takes a year after high school to pursue his acting career (with parental support) is especially interesting and hilarious.

The Kid Table
Andrea Seigel
This is one of the few books I've read where the protagonist honestly has no idea what she wants to do after high school. Aside from the fact that I really enjoyed this book, that fact alone makes it realistic in my opinion.


  1. I am starting Bitter Melon next! =0

    Also I wish there were more of any "what-to-after-high-school" books because I can't think of any books where the characters think that far ahead, whether they are going to college or not. D:

  2. Trish Doller
    Can't wait for your book. :)

    If you haven't read I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU SOMEONE ELSE yet, that one is SO GREAT. But now that I mention it maybe you were the one who recommended it to me? Ha, I don't know.

    I sort of feel like making a list of YAs that represent "what-to-after-high-school."

  3. Two books on this list I haven't read yet, yay! I'm going to remedy that immediately. They sound pretty awesome (I Now Pronounce You Someone Else and The Kid Table).

  4. Or started working right out of high school. I am hard pressed to think of anyone I know who has actually gone to college. Most people here work. One of the most successful people I know, who makes a quarter of a million dollars a year, dropped out of the 8th grade.

    Not everyone goes to college. :)

  5. Hannah
    Yay! Hope you like them both!

    Yep, that was exactly my point: college is NOT universal. Not everyone has the means to, not everyone wants to, not everybody's parents are college graduates or have college as a priority. I so wish there were more YA books showing characters who just don't go to college. Let's not assume that because a person doesn't go to college that they're not smart, not interested in reading, or that they don't also deserve to be represented fictionally.
    blah, sorry... i get ranty on this topic.