Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis open access



First Advisor

Victoria Aarons

Second Advisor

Betsy Tontiplaphol


In Young Adult (YA) fiction, romanticized cancer nullifies social taboos for the protagonist, giving her license to act on her desires without consequence. This new freedom alters her life path and forces the young, dying woman to reconstruct her identity. Compared to normal teenagers, the young dying protagonists in YA cancer fiction get to become fulfilled pseudo-adults. And this unique identity speaks to a generational anxiety that surrounds coming of age in contemporary America because these novels offer an alternate identity to the anxiety-ridden identity many adolescents have. The liberated, though terminal, female protagonist in these novels gets to experience true love and become a fulfilled adult, which starkly contrasts with the fear most millennials have for the future. Young adults are drawn to and relate to this alternative story of fulfillment in contrast to their own anxiety-ridden futures. And while it is true that escapist narrative can be seen as a dangerous fantasy that distracts adolescent from acknowledging their real problems, most critics believe that the positive physiological relief of such an escape from anxiety for these adolescents validates the YA cancer novel’s purpose in the literary world. Moreover, the popular appeal of YA cancer novels demands our attention, and we cannot condescendingly disregard teenage interests that speak to the concerns of the millennial generation. Young adult fiction, such as the six cancer novels evaluated in here, gives voice to the problems that many adolescents may feel difficult to express and which adults may not see or ignore.