YA lit & the quest for belonging

Many of the popular YA books right now seem to draw readers in who want to belong somewhere. I didn’t fully realize it until I finally got around to reading “Divergent” this morning. People keep telling me it’s great and I’d love it, but there are so many books in my to-be-read stack that I wasn’t motivated to try it until I found it it’s being made into a movie. That means my students are that much more likely to read (or at least see it), so I should know about it, too.

I’m already over 200 pages in.

It’s good. :)

But, the thing that made me think about the “belonging” aspect has to do with the groups of people in the book. Characters are part of one of five factions where they are expected to exhibit the main trait of the group: Abnegation (selflessness), Dauntless (courage), Erudite (wisdom), Candor (honesty), or Amity (kindness). The two that have been described the most in the book so far are Abnegation and Dauntless; the Abnegation faction lives a very simple life, with grey clothes and plain meals, while the Dauntless live in a crazy pit place full of jagged rocks and tattooed people.

It immediately made me think of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, where students are sorted into one of four different Houses. More people are familiar with them than with the factions, but I’ll list and describe them anyway: Gryffindor (courage), Ravenclaw (wisdom), Hufflepuff (kindness), and Slytherin (…powerful? My first reaction was to type “douchebags” but I guess I should try harder). Each House has a very different feel in where they live and how they decorate, with Hufflepuff down in a badger-like cozy den and Ravenclaw up in a tall airy tower, all in the colors that tie to their House.

I think one of the huge draws for Harry Potter was fans who sorted themselves into the House they most desired. As far as marketing goes, that was a godsend, because money poured in thanks to merchandise like scarves and wall banners representing one’s house (Ravenclaw forever!).

Obviously the Divergent-world factions parallel the Harry Potter houses fairly closely. Then there’s the Percy Jackson series, where demigods (children with one Greek god/goddess parent and one human parent) are sent to Camp Half-Blood and placed in the cabin of their Greek parent. The same themes are reflected again–Athena as the goddess of wisdom, Aphrodite as the goddess of love, Mars as the god of war, etc.–and the cabins have a very different atmosphere depending on what the attached god rules over.

Those are three enormous YA franchises, and like I said, I think the idea of belonging is big here. The teenage years are where we seek our identity, try to figure out who we are and what are goals are, and solidify what we value. So if you can be proud of relating to Gryffindor/Dauntless/Zeus, then it’s a tangible way to show people (and yourself) how brave you feel and how much you value strength and courage. It’s easy to choose who to root for, who you don’t respect, and identify who feels the same way as you. That provides a strong sense of belonging which can be important during the tumultuous teenage years as children seek independence and begin to pull away from their parents–they’re losing one way place they belong, and need another. How are they going to define it for themselves? Wrapping their values and the traits they take pride in up in a “go team!” mentality like the factions/houses/etc. do is an easy way to start working through a not-so-black-and-white issue.

This is why reading is so important. This is why we need libraries to stay in our cities and fiction to stay in our schools. Even if kids aren’t conscious of what’s happening as they read and connect with characters, it’s happening just the same, and it helps them grow.

Which worlds do you relate to, dear readers?

Pottermore sorted me into Ravenclaw

Pottermore sorted me into Ravenclaw

The Ravenclaw label makes a lot of sense, considering how much I value reading, intelligence, wisdom, common sense, and thinking. I “belong” there. :) I’d likely be in Athena’s house too, and to follow the theme I’d be Erudite. However, I don’t like the power-hungry description they get in the books, so I’m not sold on that yet. I don’t want to lead, I just want to read. I still have over half the book left to read, and then need to get my hands on the rest of the trilogy (if the third book is even out yet), so maybe I’ll have a better idea later!

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3 Comments

Filed under Reading

3 responses to “YA lit & the quest for belonging

  1. Pingback: 10 common misconceptions about Charlie Bone | The Charlie Bone Blog

  2. Pingback: Part 6 of Harry: An “Away in England” Original Movie | FanFiction Fridays

  3. I’ve noticed this trend in YA lit and wondered what it was about. Your explanation makes sense. I don’t remember this being a trend when I was a teenager, though. I wonder if there is something new about the teenage experience that makes the idea of a House particularly appealing.

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