Sea: The bildungsroman in YA literature

Bildungsroman: a genre of the novel which focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood; in German, literally means novel of education; a novel which concerns itself with the development of a youthful protagonist as he or she matures; a story that accurately captures that time when you grow up – when our perception of how the world works is irrevocably altered, for better or for worse.

Sound familiar?

Sea fits exceptionally well into this category. Although we only follow Sienna for about two or three weeks, we see monumental changes and maturation as she battles ghosts from her past; trials and heartache in the present; and the possibility of the future.

In “Bildungsroman Novels for Young Adults,” the authors add these criteria to the definition:

Within these novels, a character, usually the protagonist, learns an important lesson and shows social, spiritual, or psychological maturity.  The growth of the individual is of the utmost importance.  All-around self development betters the character and leaves him [her] more knowledgeable than when we met him [or her].

These types of novels appeal to readers, especially YA readers, because the process is universal — we’ve all been there, and it’s a tough, tough world out there. These books reassure us that we’re not alone in our struggles.

Here are some contemporary examples of bildungsroman novels (some may surprise you!):

  • Prom and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (who also wrote Wintergirls)
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
  • The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
  • The Key to the Golden Firebird and The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson
  • His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

For more information, here are some great sources:

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