The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: A Qualitative Study of How Young Adult Fiction Affects Identity Construction

Jessica Kokesh, Miglena Sternadori

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


This study explores portrayals of girls and women in 10 popular young adult novels published between 2000 and 2010, and complements the textual analysis with in-depth interviews with 14 teenage readers. The goal is to determine how depictions of girls and women in young adult fiction affect teenage readers' gender identity construction and social attitudes. The novels' analysis suggests a prevalence of stereotypical narratives focused on mean girls, competitive friendships, and unrestrained desires for beauty and riches. Although more recent young adult books include some independent and emotionally secure characters, the genre enforces traditional femininity through an overall insistence on clingy, insecure, and ever-dieting heroines. The interviews with young readers suggest they often identify with and form parasocial relationships with characters in the novels. The interviews suggest that girls tend to use these novels as a guide to life. Not only do they idolize their favorite characters, but some (especially those in their early teens) also believe the majority of events described in the novels to be true to life. The coexistence of divergent ideals of womanhood–both in young adult texts and among their readers–reflects an increasing ambivalence about contemporary construction of femininity, foretelling the complexities of an upcoming fourth wave of feminism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-158
Number of pages20
JournalAtlantic Journal of Communication
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 27 2015


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