Date on Senior Honors Thesis


Document Type

Senior Honors Thesis

Degree Name




Degree Program

College of Arts and Sciences

Author's Keywords

young adult literature; play; liminal; language play; drugs and alcohol; romance


Play is an unavoidable element of literature intended for younger audiences. Many scholars have taken up the task of describing, analyzing, and criticizing displays of play in young adult (YA) literature. Involved in discussions of play are the concepts of performance and innocence. Another way of examining play is through the characters’ state of liminality. Their in-between status provides them with the possibility to push against social expectations, escape the realities of their daily lives, and subvert authority figures. Because characters occupy both childhood and adulthood in terms of societal expectations, they possess some positive and some negative qualities of both categorizations. This study analyzes Paul Zindel’s The Pigman, Benjamin Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Patrick Ness’ The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Nicola Yoon’s The Sun is Also a Star, and John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down. These texts, while all contemporary, tackle several social and personal issues through various subgenres, including historical fiction, romance, and magical realism. My argument is informed by, and builds upon, relevant scholarship on childhood, adolescence, play, performance, liminality, and innocence. Bakhtin’s carnival theory also informs the ways in which adolescent characters subvert their authority figures through their play. Through specific examples of language play, experimentation with drugs and alcohol, and romantic performance, it can be argued that liminal, adolescent play invites characters to test the boundaries and enjoy the privileges of adulthood.

Lay Summary

This study examines how play and liminality appear in young adult literature. Play involves elements of pretend, performance, and nonsense, and liminality describes the state of being in between. In this case, adolescent characters are in between childhood and adulthood. These liminal characters use play to explore their surroundings, subvert authority figures, and come to have a deeper understanding of themselves as burgeoning adults. Additionally, this essay incorporates, and builds upon, relevant scholarship regarding both children’s literature and young adult literature, specifically regarding play. Broken into three sections, I look at play in terms of language play, experimentation with drugs and alcohol, and romantic performance. These elements come together to show that liminal, adolescent play allows teenage characters to experiment with adulthood while also incorporating innocence and childhood.