It is fascinating the number of books that portray rebellion against “the rules” as being worthy of praise. From realistic fiction all the way up to high fantasy, it seems as though many of the most popular stories contain main characters who are willing to rebel against their parents, their teachers, their schools, or even the rules that govern their society—and that’s okay, because they do it with a “greater good” in mind. They don’t have to follow the rules because….
They’re saving the world.
They’re following their hearts.
They’re doing something more important.
Insert explanation here—but it’s true. Rules are, as far as most writers are concerned, made to be broken.
Of course, it’s a moral quandary. The characters frequently know that what they are doing is wrong, and they may well struggle with their decisions—but ultimately, they decide that their reason is enough to justify breaking the rules. They shouldn’t apply to them because they are simply above them.
Popular literature has always been littered with rebellion, hasn’t it? Recall your favorite books—both as a child and today. How many of them contain acts of rebellion against family, faith, and society as a whole? Most women are suckers for a forbidden romance.
But what message is that sending to our children?
Consider the popular Harry Potter series. How many times throughout it do Harry, Ron, and Hermione break every rule in the school—including those that are in place for very good reasons, and even some that are normally moral absolutes—all in the name of the “greater good”? And these are teenage wizards. They see themselves as being better equipped to figure out these dangerous situations than the grownups around them—wizards with far more experience and far greater control of their own powers. Still, their rebellion always ends in congratulations, and even adults who try to stand in their way are chastised.
Or what about James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series? Every time Max and her “flock” allow adults to take over, something “bad” happens in their lives. Over and over again throughout the series, Max concludes that she must take care of things herself, because if she doesn’t, someone is going to get hurt.
In the Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss starts a rebellion, not only against those specifically in authority over her, but against an entire government. In Twilight, Bella rebels against the conventions of an entire world. In Matched, the main character once again refuses to adhere to the bounds of her society and breaks out against it.
All justified. All for a greater good. All within the context of the story, because of course, if there is nothing to fight against, there is no great story to be told.
And yet the rebellion is there, creeping into your child’s consciousness, constantly reminding him or her that for these characters, the way out of a situation in which they were unhappy or things weren’t going their way was as simple as digging in, setting themselves against the norm, and going their own way. In a fictional world, reckless decisions are balanced by sheer luck and authority figures who just happen to have a soft spot for the determined main character. Not so in the real world—particularly when it is fictional characters against which they are rebelling.
In at least some way, rebellion must be tempered with reason. It is a difficult lesson to teach, and an even more difficult lesson to find.
What books do you recommend that balance this particular trait of young adult adventure books?