In much of current YA literature readers will find the that the main character is well off, does not have to work, travels often, and has everything designer (car, clothes, electronics, etc.). This does not reflect the reality of most teenagers or new adults, today. While it can be nice to read about something that is different than one’s daily life, characters should also be relatable.
I work at a school library and I see kids every day that come in to finish their homework, sometimes forgoing their lunch, because they have to work directly after school and do not get home until 11 o’clock, or later. Then they wake up and do it all over again. They deserve a lot more credit than they appear to receive. The following list of books includes characters that work while going to school or managing another difficult aspect of life. They work to get what they want. These are often things that teens today have to do. Many come home from school, change and head to work, then finish their homework after getting home late at night. These real teens are strong, hard workers. It is important to show them that they are not the minority and that the idealized life is not necessarily one where someone has everything handed to them. Some of these situations may not be ones that your average teenager might find themselves in, but the work ethic is very relatable.
The main characters in these books all have to work to help support themselves and their families.
Macy in The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
The Truth About Forever is the story of Macy’s summer after her father passes away. She is prepared for a monotonous summer of working a quiet job, studying, and coping with her loss. When she decides instead to take a job at a catering company, Macy meets an eclectic group of people that change her summer. By choosing a job that she is interested in and working hard, she turns her possibly depressing summer into one she will never forget.
Annie in The Ruining by Anna Collomore
In The Ruining Annie is moving from her stagnant hometown, to gorgeous California. She has been accepted to school out there, but needs to work to afford her tuition. In order to not lose out on her dream she accepts a job nannying for a family. Annie has found the perfect job, because the family is willing to assist her with her tuition as long as she meets their needs. Sound like it’s too good to be true? In a story like this, it is, but that doesn’t stop her from working hard. When everything appears to be falling apart around her and she feels off track, Annie works hard to keep herself where she needs and wants to be.
Katniss in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Katniss is a whole different type of working teenager. Not only does she work, but she is the sole provider for her family. She hunts for their food, along with whatever else she can sell. She risks her life by putting her name in for the Reaping multiple times, just so her mother and sister can eat. She is not afraid of doing what it takes to keep her family alive. Her work continues as she goes to the Games, and as her life changes afterwards.
Juliet in The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd
After Juliet’s father is banished from London’s high society and her mother dies, she is forced to forgo her lavish lifestyle and work to survive. She goes from balls and carriages, to being a maid at a college. She scrubs the floor while the society she used to mingle with doesn’t even bat an eye at her. As difficult as this is on her, she does so to live, and to find out the truth about her father…and possibly even bring him home.
Doug in Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
When Doug’s family moves he is forced to work to help pay for things for the family, as well as anything he might want himself. He works for the local deli, delivering groceries, which he does with a little red wagon. From this job he earns other jobs, such as babysitting, and even acting in a play. Actions from his brother and his father often wreak havoc with the trust his boss, and customers, have in him, but he does not let that get him down. Doug works hard to prove his worth and shows that he is so much more than they even know.
Romy in All the Rage by Courtney Summers
After being assaulted by a fellow student, Romy must suffer attacks on her integrity on a daily basis. Needing to work, she takes a job in the closest town nearby, where no one knows her. Every day she must go to school, deal with her harassers, go to work, come home, and start all over again the next day. On top of this, another girl connected to the boy who hurt her goes missing. Soon her personal life follows her to work and the friends she has made outside of her small town. Romy uses her job to attempt to keep her life as on track as possible.
Kacey in Ten Tiny Breaths by K.A. Tucker
In this new adult novel, Kacey is forced to move to Florida from her Michigan hometown to protect herself and her little sister, Livie. Having not graduated or gone to college, Kacey feels limited in her job choices, but knows that she must find something. Her neighbor helps her get a job bartending and she takes it, despite her reservations. By working this job she is able to provide for herself and her sister, but is also able to come to terms with the traumatic accident that took the life of her parents.
Scarlet in Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
All of the characters in The Lunar Chronicles work hard, but Scarlet stuck out to me more than the others. She runs her grandmother’s farm single handedly after she disappears. She continues delivering food to the restaurants that buy from them, as well as taking care of all of the crops and land. While doing this she also deals with speculation and ridicule from her fellow townspeople. Scarlet doesn’t ask for anything from anyone and will fight and work to get what she needs.
All of these characters are hard workers and do not sit around and wait for things to be handed to them. They are wonderful role models for the readers of their books. I hope that teenagers that work, along with balancing school and home life, get more credit and representation in today’s literature. Is there a hardworking fictional, teenager that you would add to this list?
— Tegan Anclade, currently reading The Invisibles by Cecilia Galante