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As a teenager, Laura Steven voted Conservative – then she immersed herself in YA and thought again... Here she explains how writers can change the world, one teenager at a time
‘Labour’s the good one, right?’ So begins an article by teen reviewer
Safah Ahmed in the Guardian last year about politics in young adult (YA)  ction. Aged 16 at the time,
and studying politics at AS level, Ahmed admitted that her knowledge was patchy at best, with many of the blanks  lled in by YA mega-sellers such as  e Hunger Games. ‘If we really want young people to watch the news more and have opinions on current debates, we need more YA  ction on these subjects,’ she argues – and went on to lament her peers’ lack of engagement with political issues.
Just 43 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted in the 2010 General Election, according to Ipsos MORI, rising slightly to 44 per cent in 2015. But that was BC – before Corbyn. By contrast, one of the big stories of 2017’s General Election was the high youth turnout, with 64 per cent of that age group casting their vote – overwhelmingly in favour of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.
 e result?  e ten constituencies with the highest proportions of 18- to 24-year-olds polled increases in the Labour vote of over 14 per cent. Clearly teen voters have the potential to swing an election, but it’s a power that they’ve never seemed very interested in using. Until now. So what inspired them to get out and vote on this occasion? A commonly cited explanation is Labour’s staunch campaigning on social media in the build- up to polling day. But could the surge in teenagers’ political interest also come from the culture they were consuming – including the books they read?
 e link between storytelling and politics runs deeper than you might expect; there are whole  elds of academia dedicated to studying the relation between the two. ‘Political socialisation’
is the process through which a person develops political opinions. Sociological theory suggests that we acquire our political and moral perspectives through ‘agents of socialisation’, which, according to Albert Bandura’s social learning theory, ‘can be as intimate as members of the family, or as remote
as heroes read about or viewed’.
Stories are powerful vehicles for imparting
moral values, and providing us with the ‘remote heroes’ from whom we learn so much.  rough reading  ction, we explore the world around us (and its politics) without even trying. And our usual cognitive defences – against preaching and indoctrination – are lowered while consuming ‘unchallenging’ pop culture. While reading about Tris and Four’s fear simulations in Veronica Roth’s Divergent, for example, we’re not focusing on the political subtext of the plot, and so are not primed to pose counter-arguments. As a result, the underlying messages are more likely to be internalised.
Formative years
In addition, our teenage years are the most formative in our lives. In his 1923 essay ‘ e problem of generations’, Karl Mannheim posits that it’s during this period we start developing the ability to think in abstract concepts, but strongly held political beliefs are absent or still not yet fully formed. Our minds are lumps of clay on a potter’s wheel, ready for shaping. Enter YA.
 e Harry Potter series seems an obvious case in point. With global sales of over 450 million, the political messages entrenched in the seven books have now reached the largest audience of any YA series since the dawn of time.
Political messages? What political messages? Isn’t it just a story about a boy wizard?
I could write an entire thesis on this subject, but I’ll have to be satis ed with this quick summary:  e central antagonist, Lord Voldemort, is driven by the concept of blood purity – the parallels with Nazi Germany are obvious.  roughout his rise to power, Voldemort persecutes, imprisons, tortures and murders anyone he considers to be ‘other’.  is Voldemort quote could have been plucked straight from Mein Kampf: ‘Many of our oldest family trees become a little diseased over time. You must prune yours, must you not, to keep it healthy? Cut away
that Voldemort quote could have been plucked straight from Mein Kampf
mslexia Dec/Jan/Feb 2017/18 5

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