Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Disability, Adolescence, Adolescent, Literature, Fiction, Young Adult

Major Advisor

Katharine Capshaw

Associate Advisor

Clare Eby

Associate Advisor

Margaret Higonnet

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Campus Access


This dissertation explores the ways in which disability—or biological difference—functions in contemporary literature written for and about adolescents. Disability theorists have long criticized uses of disabled literary characters; as a result, this project begins with an assertion that disability appears in Adolescent (or Young Adult) Literature—much as it does in all literature—in distinct and often marginalizing ways: as political identities, as catalysts for growth, as literary metaphors, and as the very voice of adolescence. Such literary tropes, however, are not always marginalizing and reductive in Adolescent Literature—precisely because adolescence and disability occupy such similar, often malleable, roles in literature and culture. Close readings of these novels, all of which prioritize both disability and adolescence, reveal that the most progressive among them confuse, subvert, and even destroy familiar, traditional, and problematic literary representations of disability.

Very little scholarship linking Disability Studies and Adolescent Literature exists, and this project intervenes productively in both fields. Adolescent Literature offers to disability rights movements a political and literary medium for expression; characters who embrace disabled identities are prominent and deserve empathy and pride. These powerful novels, which argue artfully for inclusion and acceptance among heterogeneous disabled identities, suggest that Adolescent Literature may address larger calls for political cooperation and equal rights. The oft-maligned genre has the capacity and rare ability to engross, entertain, provoke, and argue effectively for more progressive understandings and representations of all beings. Likewise, a Disability Studies approach offers cause for valuing and reclaiming Adolescent Literature (even when dismissively called Young Adult Literature and Problem Novels) as a body of work with political and literary importance.