Today I turn eighteen.
Today I'm legally allowed to get lottery tickets. And spray paint. And children! I can adopt a child!
Er, perhaps I'll hold off on that for a while.
Anyway. I've long heard about this mysterious age, eighteen. Word has it that at eighteen, protagonists turn into world-weary folk no longer suitable for the YA section. At eighteen, protagonists enter the mysterious realm of New Adult. Heck, at eighteen, protagonists are practically fossilized, you know?
|me, as of today.|
So what is it, exactly, that'll turn me into an adult? Certainly not an arbitrary number of years past the date of birth. By my calculations, approximately eight million coming-of-age stories have been written to try and pin down the moment when the boy becomes the man; when the girl becomes the woman. I believe that almost every YA story has a coming-of-age element—and I have three theories to share about this special moment (or period of time). It's different for every personality, every story, but just as many plots are comparable, I believe many characters' transition to adulthood are similar:
YOUR MAIN CHARACTER GREW UP ...
1) When They Lost Their Innocence
In The Hunger Games, exactly when did Katniss lose her innocence—was it the first murder she saw in the Arena, or holding someone she loved in her arms as they died ... or was it the experience as a whole? In Lord of the Flies, when did one certain boy realize that the other boys had turned from young men into beasts? In my opinion, this isn't usually so much a moment as a slow transition. It may take months, or years, but when the character emerges from this transformation, he/she is wise. Before, he/she may have been smart, but now he/she is wise. He/She has knowledge of the world, of its faults, and the maturity to accept it. This is rather depressing at its heart, but hey. Now they get to give sage advice to people! You win some, you lose some.
2) When They Knew What to Do
This transition, unlike the above, is one you can pinpoint; one you can spot at the height of the climax. It's where the plot comes together and the main character realizes, I have to sacrifice myself to save my friends! Or maybe, I have to let go of my memories to move on from the past. Or perhaps, I have to take charge of this army and lead them across a sunny field while raising my sword and crying, "FOR NARNIA!" You know. That type of thing. This is a clearly marked turning point. It's where a young person, who has been led by circumstance, often guided by adults and restrained by his/her own self-doubt, bursts free of adolescent fears. This is a culminating moment, a glorious moment of surety. The moment he/she takes charge, accepts responsibility for his/her actions, and bears the weight of independence and what that entails.
3) When They Changed
Sometimes we aren't the same people at the end of a journey as we were at the beginning. (Hi there, Frodo.) Often, the most fascinating dynamic characters are those who emerge with traits that weren't evident at all at the beginning (Hi there, Harry). Whether that's a sense of bravery, heightened respect for others, or newfound humility, a wonderful way to add a feeling of maturity is to work in a different face to the character, a different type of emotion altogether. A new dimension; another facet. After all, adolescence is about exploration, the discovery of who we really are. Coming out with more self-knowledge will always be the hallmark of a good ol' learning experience.
There you have it—my three categories. Now, having talked about growing up for a while ... I'm off to build a fort out of pillows and blankets, complain about school, and eat unhealthy food. Legal adulthood? Ha! You're only as old as you feel. And I feel positively embryonic! (Ew.)
*clears throat* And on that ... evocative note ...
How old do you feel? And do you have a favorite Bildungsroman?
Riley Redgate, enthusiast of all things YA, is a bookstore-and-Starbucks-dweller from North Carolina. She blogs here and speaks with considerably more brevity here.