The Value of Popular Fiction
During the past decade or so, the emphasis of literary studies has been moving away from the studying of specific works and moving toward students' participation and involvement with writing. This shift has included the idea that students need to take an active role in discovering knowledge rather than being passive receptors of information. Traditionally, the great works of literature have established what is in the literary canon, and those works needed a teacher to decipher, explain, and interpret them for the uneducated masses. However, contemporary theory prefers teachers to be the "guide on the side" who encourages students to make connections with literary texts that students find significant, compelling, and worthwhile. Few debate the importance of reading aesthetic texts. What is debated, however, is the types of texts in which high school students should experience this aesthetic reading.
The adolescent and adult worlds are not one and the same; the primary concerns of young adult readers are not the same ones that adults have. High school readers who may not be ready for Anna Karenina can still discuss the thematic topics of young love, societal bounds, and faithfulness. Popular fiction titles like The Last Song are more accessible than many other adult titles in the literary canon. Unlike many more traditional titles, The Last Song is straightforward and accessible. This is empowering to the readers: readers who can relate to the characters can readily affirm or contradict what they read. The point of reading literature is to engage in idea as well as to develop literacy. Contemporary, popular fiction titles like The Last Song should be used in classroom settings as a bridge from childhood to adult reading. Although some students may cross that bridge earlier than others, all students deserve the opportunity to read something that resonates with them.