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>Is Passion Old-Fashioned?

>Over on the PUBYAC listserv, Jan Hanson of the Longview Public Library in Washington is looking for it: “A HS teacher called and is asking for ideas of books that illustrate a teen with passion, as in “a passion for dancing” or a “passion for football.”

I love this query; it’s requests like these that make us think about what books for kids do and don’t do. Off the top of my head I think of that Joan Bauer book about a girl with a passion for shoe-selling, Hope Was Here Rules of the Road, and several of Chris Crutcher’s early books feature teens with a passion for various sports. Oh, and that extremely high-minded but badly dated Madeleine L’Engle book about a fledgling actress, The Joys of Love. What else? Generalizing wildly, too often it seems that intense interest in something that isn’t another person is viewed in YA books as dysfunctional or simply as a way to i. d. a character; i.e. “Jane loves music,” but do we ever see her practice?

P.S. I put Harriet the Spy in the tags because she’s the most passionate person I know in children’s books, plus I’ve just started listening to Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost, an adult mystery that begins, anyway, with a very Harriet-like third-grader.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. >I LOVED “What Was Lost.” Loved it. The transition to the adult characters, especially in audio, may seem like a bit of a letdown, but hold on: they’re ultimately more rewarding.

  2. >Bruce Brooks’ “Midnight Hour Encores.” Passion for music, with practicing.

    Patricia Leitch, “All the Pretty Little Horses,” also published as “Fields of Praise.” Passion for horses, again with practicing!

  3. GraceAnne LadyHawk says:

    >Garret Freymann-Weyr’s The Kings Are Already Here are deeply involved in dance and in cheese, with passion and energy. It defines them, and they define themselves against those passions. It’s a great read about teens who are entirely untypical and utterly compelling as people.

  4. >Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman is about a teen girl who is quite the Austen fan.

  5. Anonymous says:

    >In the Plain Janes books, both the main Jane and her fellows are quite passionate about art as a social statement — “making the world beautiful,” as they put it.


  6. >In _someday this pain will be useful to you_, the protagonist is passionate about old houses – his grandmother’s house in particular.

    It’s hard to think of well-written books with well-rounded characters who are also passionate. A lot of current YA lit seems to veer either towards irony, or towards passions as lazy character development (the brainy one, the artistic one, etc.).

  7. >Of course, there are Hilary McKay’s wonderful Cassons and their various passions for art, guinea pigs, etc.

  8. >Hard Love has numerous teens passionate about zines.

  9. ladydisdain says:

    >The Bauer book is actually Rules of the Road.

    A Horse of Her Own by Annie Wedekind is another passionate horsey tale.

  10. Jill Murray says:

    >I think about this all the time because I tend to write about kids who *do* things. The protagonist of my first novel was passionate about breakdance. She practiced… not as much as she did in the first draft.

    In Catherine Jinx’ Evil Genius the protagonist has a passion for systems. The Book Thief, books, literacy, stories, family. In Dairy Queen and the Off Season, we have football. Gordon Korman’s protagonists sometimes have passions for art, music, money making schemes… In Nick Hornby’s Slam, we get skateboarding and Tony Hawk.

    I would note that writing about passionate characters can be tricky in that Editors may take a pass on a book if they judge that the subject the protagonist is passionate is not popular enough with real kids.

  11. >A La Carte by Tanita Davis is about a teen girl that’s passionate about cooking.

  12. Anonymous says:

    >The Mozart Season
    On Pointe
    In Lane Three, Alex Archer
    On the Devil’s Court
    more to come

  13. >I really like the Gilda Joyce series and the title character is certainly a “passionate” young woman.

  14. >Ditto on the Casson books and Dairy Queen/Off Season. E. Lockhart’s DRAMARAMA captures high school theatre passion quite nicely, I think.

  15. >How strange. If anything could be said to define the teenage experience (not just mine, but everyone I knew at that age), it would be passion. For books, music, science, a person, whatever it was, that’s what we all had in common. Can authors really be missing out on that?

  16. >Will Weaver’s “Striking Out” is a very fine novel about a teenage boy who’s passionate about baseball but has family conflicts that interfere. It was Weaver’s first YA novel, and I can only assume his subsequent ones are as fine or finer, though I haven’t read them.

  17. rockinlibrarian says:

    >I agree completely with mb. Recently I was doing word associations with either the word passion or several words relating to high school, in some order, but at any rate they kept coming back to each other. Everything you feel as a teenager is JUST SO INTENSE, how can you NOT be passionate about your favorite things?

  18. >Peter Abrahams’s “Echo Falls” mysteries, Miyuki Miyabe’s Brave Story, and Wendelin Van Draanen’s Flipped all feature intense, focused, passionate young protagonists.

    Also (and this one is hard to find, but it’s awesome), Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s Greensleeves. McGraw’s heroine is plenty passionate… but she’s not quite sure what she wants to be passionate about, which I think is true of a lot of young people.

  19. >Jennifer Donnelly’s “A Gathering Light”/”A Northern Light”: Mattie and her best friend Weaver are passionate about words.

  20. >Great question!

    My reader kids (12 y.o. girl and 10 y.o. boy) write a book recommendation blog (
    and I peeked at it to see whether they mention passion. My daughter likes the Bauer books and also Sharon Creech's Chasing Redbird especially for the characters' passion for their work & interests.

  21. >The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt by Patricia MacLachlan was a favorite of mine, as I played viola, too, albeit not as well as Minna.

    Thursday’s Children by Rumer Godden deals with kids who are passionate about dance (and music, too, as I recall).

    And how can one not mention the Shoes books by Noel Streatfield?

  22. >This is one of my very favorite children’s book themes and a bibliography I did for “Five Owls” is still available online, though of course it’s quite old now:

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