The Potential of Youth

By Lani Harac — August 12, 2005 2 min read

There’s a certain power in “potential,” the idea that an inner force is coiled and ready, just waiting for the right moment to emerge. Recognizing this, recent novels for kids ages 15 and up are saturated with characters discovering the potential within and around themselves. In Resistance (Marshall Cavendish), by Janet Graber, 15-year-old Marianne can’t understand why her mother would risk their lives by joining the French opposition movement, even to avenge her father’s death at the hands of German soldiers. The bittersweet story, set in 1942, details Marianne’s attempts to protect her family as she reluctantly joins in the effort, aided by a young German sergeant stationed with them. The title character of Seeing Emily (Amulet) feels resistance of a different kind; she wants to establish her own identity—she’s American, not just Chinese. Joyce Lee Wong’s novel is written in free verse and follows the teen as she works to assimilate the multiple sides of herself.


Hava, a punk fan and Orthodox Jew, has to work even harder to reconcile the different pieces of her identity in Matthue Roth’s Never Mind the Goldbergs (Push). When she leaves her insulated New York community for Hollywood to star in a sitcom about a Jewish family—and she’s the only Jew in the cast—she gets a little closer to achieving that balance. In Boy Proof (Candlewick), by Cecil Castellucci, high school senior Victoria intentionally isolates herself in a world of science fiction and cinema because it’s the only way she can feel in control. After a while, though, she realizes the world she’s created for herself is as imperfect as the real one, and much lonelier.

Never Mind the Goldbergs Cover

Boy Girl Boy (Harcourt), by Ron Koertge, is told in the alternating voices of three friends who have never experienced the world without one another. Their bond starts to splinter after high school, but each one realizes it might not be so bad to discover his or her own individuality. Alex Crusan already knows who he is, and he knows how everyone else sees him: as the kid with HIV. Fade to Black (HarperTempest), by Alex Flinn, also uses alternating viewpoints to recount the teenager’s ordeals with scared, prejudiced, and sometimes violent classmates.

In Open Ice (Wendy Lamb), by Pat Hughes, Nick Taglio is a zealous hockey player who’s accustomed to violence; it’s part of the game. One too many concussions, however, leaves him with a doctor’s warning to quit the sport—and no idea who he’ll be if he does. Rachel, the protagonist of Alyssa Brugman’s Finding Grace (Delacorte), unexpectedly finds herself the caregiver for a woman with a brain injury. It’s just a job, though, until she discovers a box of mementos that help her see Grace for who she was and herself for who she could be.