Now Entering Sweet Valley, California: The Evolution of Young Adult Literature and the “Sweet Valley High” Series
Unlike that fi ction written for adults, literature for children and young adults is created on behalf of its audience by authors and editors who are no longer among that audience and who, as many critics and scholars of children’s literature and childhood have argued, often have distinct ideas about childhood that inform the parameters of possibility with regards to literature and media created for that audience. As such, children’s and young adult literature is defi ned in part by its address to a youthful audience, an audience considered en masse and primarily as a construct, a product of its historical, social and cultural situation. The nature of this construction of the young audiencehow the creators and facilitators of children’s and young adult literature defi ne, imagine and wish for this audience-will, in part, inform the content of the media created for it, as will, as Jack Zipes has argued, “the vast institution of children’s literature” which “operate[s] more and more within the confi nes of the culture industry in which the prevailing commercialism and consumerism continue to minimize and marginalize the value of critical and creative thinking, and with it, the worth of an individual human being” (2001, p. 40). Thus, as products, children’s and young adult literary artifacts depend on the reifi cation of a cohesive defi nition (or defi nitions) of youth, the form of which is suitably recognizable so that products addressed to this audience are distinguished as such, and the content of which remains within parameters of appropriateness and accessibility as defi ned on behalf of this audience. Beginning with the early twentieth century recognition of adolescence as a distinct and separate phase of human social and psychological development, a “discovery” that encouraged thinking and imagining about the particular needs of this demographic; the subsequent mid-century re-conception of this age
group as a consumer demographic, for whom specifi c and unique products might be created; and continuing as the popular and academic conceptions of adolescence and young adulthood fragmented along gender, racial and social lines, the history of adolescent literary publishing stands as an example of this process of demographic and audience formulation.