Too Good to Be True: The Fall of the Ideal Youth, from <em>Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm</em> to <em>The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants</em>
Within half a century of the publication of G. Stanley Hall’s Adolescence, the qualities of ideal and dangerous adolescents flip: ideal adolescents actually behave in a disturbed fashion, while seemingly well-adjusted youth are understood to be courting danger later in life. A comparison of seemingly ideal characters in adolescent novels from two periods—the first decade of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first—helps to illuminate how and why these desires and fears for youth shift. In Kate Douglas Wiggin’s 1903 novel Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Rebecca represents the ideal youth common before Hall’s publication and the subsequent spread of anxiety about the psychological health of adolescents. Ann Brashares’s The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and its sequels, published from 2001 to 2007, reflect a distinct change in thinking, given the books’ focus on a potentially ideal teen, Bridget, who is undermined and written off as too good to be truly authentic. In these examples, it is not only apparent that the conception of the ideal shifts, but it is also evident that the “squeaky-clean” ideal adolescents are in fact the ones who are less controllable and more dangerous to the existing social order.