Week Six Readings: Realistic Fiction

The students’ toilet was at the other end of the long corridor with the spinach-green classroom doors.  Racing against time, Bastian ran as fast as he could and just made it.
As he sat there, he wondered why heroes in stories like the one he was reading never had to worry about such problems…
“Probably,” Bastian now said to himself, “these things are just too unimportant to be mentioned in stories.”

I’m not sure that whether or not Flipped matches a common experience of tweens is really a useful question.  I don’t know that many tweens have raised chickens, tried to save a tree, or have a mentally disabled uncle.  Or that many have come to the realization that their dad is a bit of a bigot, have a grandfather living at home, and go to a middle school where the booster club auctions off students as a fundraiser.  I think, as in fantasy or science fiction, what readers often relate to in realistic fiction are the larger themes – like facing up to your mistakes and learning to understand others.

Granted, one could generalize the plot and say it’s about a changing friendship, families in crisis, and humiliation in middle school, and most tweens have certainly been through several of those.  But one could say the same of many genre books.


We tend to think of realistic fiction as presenting solutions to young readers real life problems, that is what the genre used to be called, after all.  But as Lesesne point out in Naked Reading, that’s not always what readers want, or what is best for them:

This process, called bibliotherapy, can have disastrous consequences. After my daughter died a few years ago, well-meaning teachers encouraged my grandchildren, Natalie, Cali, and Corrie, to read books where a main character died. What those kids did not want was to be reminded of their loss. Instead, what they needed was to find some relief from their sadness. We read books with gentle good humor, happy to find a reason to laugh. It has only been recently, some four years after their mother’s death, that the girls are reading books like The Afterlife by Gary Soto and The Sledding Hill by Chris Crutcher.

All readers want to be able to identify with the protagonists once in a while at least, but that doesn’t always have much to do with why people choose to read realistic fiction.


I think that in some ways realistic fiction is rather like fan-fiction in that instead of building a world yourself, you play in someone else’s.  Except that in this case the world is the one we all live in, not a figment of someone’s imagination.  Still, the issues are the same; realistic fiction feels realistic not because of how many readers have experienced what the protagonist has gone through, but because of how well the writer matches the accepted cannon.

I think the trick to writing good realistic fiction is not to make it like reality, but rather, to make it something slightly more – but still believable.

With that being the question, I can say that yes, I think that Flipped feels very grounded in reality and the characters in it are very relatable and recognizable.  While most tweens have not gone through what Juli and Bryce have, many would act as they did, given the same circumstances, and the circumstances are well within the realm of what is likely.


Quote from:


Ende, M.  (1984) The Neverending Story.  New York, NY: Penguin Books


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