Above: Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes as the star-crossed lovers in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.
A RANKING OF THE BEST FICTIONAL ADOLESCENTS
TO GRACE PAGE OR SCREEN
1. HUCKLERRY FINN
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain. 188
• The hero of what some (like Hemingway) have called the Great American Novel is a free spirit with a conscience who runs away from his foster home at 14 years old. Huck assists a fellow runaway, Jim the slave, and forges an unconventional and inspired (for the time and place) concept of right and wrong. One of the most frequently banned books in America due to its frequent use of a racial slur.
2. ROMEO AND JULIET
Age: 13 (Juliet), 15 or 16 (Romeo)
Romeo and Juliet. William Shakespeare. 1595
• Some love this play and some feel they had it rammed down their throats in high school, where it remains a staple of lit studies. Either way, the characters remain a byword for youthful love. Wikipedia lists 40 film or TV versions of Romeo and Juliet, beginning with a 1908 silent version and including Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1994).
3. HARRY POTTER
Age: 13-17 in last five installments of 7-book series
Harry Potter series. J.K. Rowling. 1999-2007
• Harry is the star of the series, but it’s hard to isolate him from Ron, Hermione, and even Draco Malfoy. The characters turned 13 in the third HP book and 17 in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
4. HOLDEN CAULFIELD
The Catcher in the Rye. J.D. Salinger. 1951
• Some adore the prep-school dropout who wanders around New York making funny/ bitter comments like, “That guy Morrow was about as sensitive as a toilet seat.” Others find him a whiny rich kid. Professor Peter G. Beidler of Lehigh University called Caulfield “an icon of the troubled youth of the 20th century,” but The New York Times in 2009 reported that “what once seemed like courageous truth-telling now strikes many (students) as ‘weird,’ ‘whiny’ and ‘immature.’”
5. JANE EYRE
Age: 18 (when employed by Rochester)
Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte. 1847
• Jane is 18 when she enters the employ of the mysterious Mr. Rochester. Readers young and old still love this British classic, one of the ultimate chick-lit treasures. What makes it timeless is Jane’s grit and resolve, and the great gothic weirdness of the crazed-wife-in-the-attic angle.
6. ARCHIE ANDREWS
Archie Comics. Created by Bob Montana. Debuted in Pep Comics, 1971
• Betty Cooper? Or Veronica Lodge? For more than six decades the red-haired Archie, called “Comic Land’s oldest 17-year-old” by the Associated Press, has tried to choose between the blond, sweet Betty and the raven-haired rich girl, Veronica, while hanging out with Jughead Jones, Reggie Mantle, Midge, and Big Moose at the Chok’lit Shoppe in the fictional town of Riverdale.
7. JO MARCH
Little Women. Louisa May Alcott. 1868
• The other March girls — Meg, Beth and Amy — have their charms, but most readers prefer the strong-willed, tomboyish Jo, who is 15 at the start of the novel. She is the character who most resembles the author.
8. LUKE SKYWALKER AND PRINCESS LEIA
Age: 18 (Luke), 16 (Leia)
Star Wars. Directed by George Lucas. 1977.
• Described as “a farm boy with heroic aspirations who looks much younger than his 18 years” in the Star Wars screenplay, Luke lacks charisma (everyone prefers Han Solo) but functions as the original trilogy’s (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, The Return of the Jedi) central hero. Princess Leia shows spunk in Star Wars and inflames adolescent boys with her skimpy slave costume in Jedi.
9. NANCY DREW
Nancy Drew and the Secret of The Old Clock. Edward Stratemeyer (alias Carolyn Keene). 1930
• The Hardy Boys books debuted three years earlier, but super-sleuth Nancy has aged better. There was a TV series in 1995, a TV movie in 2002, and a feature film in 2007. Nancy was 16 for the first 29 years of the series, and then turned (and stayed) 18 from 1959 on.
10. KATNISS EVERDEEN
The Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins. 2008
• In a vicious future world, one boy and one girl from 12 districts are chosen to participate in the kill-or-be-killed Hunger Games. Katniss and the District 12 boy who loves her survive the Games, but the way they triumph infuriates the evil President Snow, leading to dark days ahead in the sequels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay.
11. PETER PARKER (SPIDER-MAN)
The Amazing Spider-Man. Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. 1962.
• While most superheroes are depicted as rock-jawed adults, Peter Parker started out as a geeky teen who lived at home with his Uncle Ben (until he got killed) and Aunt May and struggled with a bully named Flash Thompson at school. Beginning in 2002, a series of successful films starring Tobey Maguire and later Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man made the brand and character more popular than ever.
The Three Musketeers. Alexandre Dumas. 1844
• The newest member of the Musketeers of the Guard is an ambitious 18-year-old who serves as the protagonist of Dumas’ 1844 classic. D’Artagnan introduces the Musketeers motto, “All for one, one for all,” and plays a leading role in the apprehension of the evil Milady de Winter. There have been more than 20 film versions of The Three Musketeers, with d’Artagnan played by Gene Kelly, Don Ameche, and Douglas Fairbanks, among others.
13. THE LITTLE MERMAID
“The Little Mermaid.” Hans Christian Andersen. 1837
• The fifth daughter of the Sea King gets to view the above-water world on her 15th birthday, and likes what she sees — especially the handsome prince. She saves his life, falls in love, and trades her voice for legs. What does that get her? The prince marries another, and the ex-mermaid throws herself into the sea. The original Little Mermaid had no name (Disney called her Ariel in 1989) and no happy ending.
14. ÁNTONIA SHIMERDA
Age: 14 (at first)
My Ántonia. Willa Cather. 1918
• Pronounced “AHN-to-nee-ah,” the heart of Cather’s most widely read novel is a Nebraska farm girl from Bohemia with “the most trusting, responsive eyes in the world; love and credulousness seemed to look out of them with open faces.” Jim Burden, her neighbor, narrates this sometimes sweet, sometimes stark tale of an earthy girl growing up amid the blond cornfields of the New World.
15. TOM JONES
Age: 14 (at first)
Tom Jones. Henry Fielding. 1749
• Tom is an unconventional English hero with a runaway libido. One of the great comic novels of all time was turned into an Academy Award-winning film in 1963, starring Albert Finney as Tom.
16. ALADDIN AND JASMINE
Age: 18 (Aladdin)
Aladdin (film). Walt Disney studios. 1992
• The original Aladdin lived in China, not Arabia, and had no specific age. Although he’s always been known to be young, the 1992 Disney feature distinctly made him a teenager. Considering ancient marrying customs, Jasmine must have been as young, if not younger, than her “street rat” suitor.
17. JIM STARK
Rebel Without a Cause. Directed by Nicholas Ray. 1955
• If you’ve never seen this movie you’ve likely seen the Rebel image of Dean in a red leather coat with a cigarette in his mouth. The movie about a troubled high-school kid made Dean, who died in a car crash shortly after the film’s release, a perennial youth icon. Even the super-cool Fonzie from TV’s “Happy Days” had a poster of Dean on his closet wall.
18. MARCIA AND GREG BRADY
Age: early to mid-teens
“The Brady Bunch.” Created by Sherwood Schwartz. 1969-’74
• While Greg was the funnier of the two eldest Brady children, especially in his Johnny Bravo moments, Marcia is more of a teenage icon. Pretty and popular, she is a torment to middle sister Jan. “All day long at school I hear how great Marcia is at this or how wonderful Marcia did that!” the middle sister says. “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” The Bradys refused to die when the show went off the air in 1974. Five Brady specials aired from 1976 to 1993, and The Brady Bunch Movie (1995) and A Very Brady Sequel brought the idealized blended family to the big screen.
The Tempest. William Shakespeare. 1611
• Prospero’s daughter has been raised on an island with her dad, a spirit of the air named Ariel, and a son of a witch named Caliban who has the hots for her. The good news: The lovely Ferdinand washes up on the island, and after a few twists and turns, love prevails. Miranda is most memorable for her “O brave new world” speech.
20. CARRIE WHITE
Carrie. Stephen King. 1974
• The book version of Carrie White is plumper and grumpier than the character played by Sissy Spacek in the 1976 movie, but just as deadly. While Stephen King hated the first Carrie film (there was a 2013 remake), the screenwriters and Spacek made the character a lot more sympathetic.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Victor Hugo. 1831
• The lovely gypsy street dancer who bewitches Quasimodo and others “is about 16 years old,” according to Wikipedia. Sentenced to be hanged, she is rescued by the hunchback, who spirits her away to the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Many buxom actresses have portrayed Esmeralda, including Maureen O’Hara, Gina Lollobrigida, and Salma Hayek.
22. BELLA SWAN
Twilight. Stephenie Meyer. 2005
• A new student at a backwater Washington state high school, Bella can’t understand why the smoldering, chalk-faced Edward seems to hate her. Oh, wait, that’s not hate — it’s love! The forbidden and potentially fatal passion of a vampire for a Virgo dominates Meyer’s four-book series, which continues with New Moon and Eclipse, and concludes with 2008’s Breaking Dawn.
23. PONYBOY CURTIS
The Outsiders. S.E. Hinton. 1967
• The parents of the Curtis clan died in a car crash, which serves them right for naming two of their boys “Ponyboy” and “Sodapop.” A sensitive 14-year-old, Ponyboy is the narrator of this tale about clashing gangs of “Greasers” (poor kids with well-oiled hair) and “Socs” (short for “socials” — tough rich kids). A 1983 film version introduced a battery of soon-to-be-star actors, including Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, and Diane Lane. C.Thomas Howell played Ponyboy.
24. MARTY McFLY
Back to the Future. Directed and co-written by Robert Zemeckis. 1985
• In 1985, 24-year-old Michael J. Fox portrayed the teenage Alex Keaton on the fourth year of TV’s “Family Ties,” plus 17-year-olds Marty McFly in Back to the Future and Scott Howard in Teen Wolf. McFly’s time-travel tale includes an Oedipal twist in which he meets his teenage mom, who apparently has “the hots” for him. The film in the trilogy was followed by Back to the Future Part II (1989) and Back to the Future Part III (1990).
Gidget, the Little Girl with Big Ideas. Frederick Kohner. 1957
• Kohner got the idea for book about a surfing teenager from his daughter, nicknamed Gidget, a cross between “girl” and “midget.” The elder Kohner enjoyed the antics and colorful nicknames of daughter’s friends, which included “Moondoggie,” “Bubblehead,” and “Tubesteak,” and wrote write eight Gidget books from 1957 to 1968. The character won wider fame with a 1959 movie starring Sandra Dee and a 1961 sequel plus a 1965-66 TV series starring Sally Field.
26. TESS DURBEYFIELD
Age: 16 (at the start)
Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Thomas Hardy. 1891
• Our heroine is just 16 at the beginning of what may be the most depressing coming-of-age-and-dying novel ever, summed up by the name of Tess’ baby — “Sorrow.” Despite all the gloom, Hardy’s novel ranked 26th in a 2003 BBC poll of the UK’s “Best Loved” books.
27. DANNY ZUKO
Grease (play). Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. 1971
• The early-70s nostalgia for all things 1950s resulted in the 1971 stage creation of the ultimate greaser, Danny Zuko. Seven years later, John Travolta played the 17-year-old high school senior alongside Olivia Newton-John’s Sandy Olsson, with 34-year-old Stockard Channing stealing scenes as the tart-tongued Rizzo in the film version of the musical. There have been two Broadway revivals of Grease, plus numerous other adaptations.
28. JEFF SPICOLI
Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Screenplay by Cameron Crowe. 1982
• “All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine,” says Ridgemont High’s perpetually stoned sophomore slacker, identified as a 15-year-old in the screenplay. “Are you in my class?” asks a science teacher on a field trip to the morgue? “I am today,” says Spicoli, who dreams of saving Brooke Shields from drowning, only to blow the reward money by hiring Van Halen to play at his birthday party. Entertainment Weekly in 2006 ranked Fast Times as the second-best high school movie ever made, behind The Breakfast Club.
29. PHILIP PIRRIP (PIP)
Age: Varies, but he’s clearly a teen when he travels to London to become a gentleman.
Great Expectations. Charles Dickens. 1860
• Possibly Dickens finest novel, this is filled with many memorable characters, including Pip, Herbert Pocket, Miss Havisham, Mr. Jaggers, and Estella. There have been at least 10 film versions of the novel including a 1946 David Lean adaptation that won two Oscars. It’s a fine film, although it’s hard to watch 38-year-old(!) John Mills playing the teenage Pip.
Tintin (comic strip). Created by Hergé. 1929
• The red-headed kid with the plus fours and the dog named Snowy has been an internationally popular comic-book character since Hergé (real name Georges Remi) debuted the character in a children’s supplement of a Danish newspaper in 1929. In 2011, director Steven Spielberg brought the globe-trotting kid to the big screen with The Adventures of Tintin.
31. FERRIS BUELLER
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Written and directed by John Hughes. 1986
• Ferris is a super-popular teen who skips school and has fun with his nerdy pal and gorgeous girlfriend. He is the most likable of director John Hughes’ teen characters, which include those played by Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink and the motley quintet portrayed by Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, and Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club.
32. BETTY BOOP
“Dizzy Dishes” (cartoon short). Created by Max Fleischer. 1930
• Max Fleischer in 1932 said his sexy animated flapper was 16, which makes the character’s suggestive singing and dancing more than a little age-inappropriate. Debuting as French poodle in 1930, Betty took her more familiar human form in 1932, replete with skimpy outfits and come-hither looks — she was a cartoon for adults, not kids. In an attempt to clean up Hollywood films, the Hays office insisted that Betty show less leg and cleavage after 1934.
33. EDDIE HASKELL
Age: 12 through teenage years
“Leave it To Beaver.” Created by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher. 1957-1962
• “Wally, if your dumb brother tags along, I’m gonna — oh, good afternoon, Mrs. Cleaver. I was just telling Wallace how pleasant it would be for Theodore to accompany us to the movies.” The ultimate two-faced teenage creep, Eddie was the best reason to watch “Leave it to Beaver” during his final seasons.
34. CELIE HARRIS JOHNSON
Age: 14 (at the beginning)
The Color Purple. Alice Walker. 1982
• At fourteen, Celie has given birth to two children by her stepfather, who takes them away from her. Meek and mild for most of the novel, she eventually stands up to her bully of a husband. Whoopi Goldberg played Celie in the 1985 Steven Spielberg film.
35. MEG MURRY
A Wrinkle in Time. Madeleine L’Engle. 1962
• This is a seriously trippy sci-fi book for young adults with a frumpy thirteen-year-old heroine — Meg —and a celestial being named Mrs. Whatsit. Those two and some other youngsters try to rescue Meg’s father, who is being held prisoner on another planet.
36. JEREMY DUNCAN
Age: 15, then 16
“Zits.” Created by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman. 1997
• Jeremy is a suburban teen with a best friend named Hector, a sometime-girlfriend named Sara, and well meaning parents who drive him (as parents will) crazy. Consistent wit and Borgman’s clever artwork have made Jeremy and his strip far funnier than the teenage-boys-are-silly premise would suggest.
37. ESTHER GREENWOOD
Age: 19 (at the start)
The Bell Jar. Sylvia Plath. 1963
• It’s hard to separate Esther from the author because 1) Plath tried to commit suicide at age 20; and 2) she succeeded in a suicide attempt in 1963, the year The Bell Jar was published. All the same, Plath created a compelling character who continues to haunt and fascinate readers.
38. ALEX DELARGE
A Clockwork Orange. Anthony Burgess. 1962
• One of the most vicious teens in literature, Alex enjoys Beethoven and bashing people. He has an offbeat way with words, as in, “That was a real kick and good for laughs and lashings of the old ultraviolence.” Most know him from the 1971 Stanley Kubrick film, starring Malcolm McDowell as Alex.
39. VERONICA SAWYER AND JASON DEAN
Heathers. Screenplay by Daniel Waters. 1988
• “The extreme always seems to make an impression,” says Christian Slater’s J.D. That pretty much sums up Heathers, the darkest of dark teen comedies. Winona Ryder plays a conflicted heroine in a teen angst film with a body count that satirizes the mean-girls syndrome, the cult of popularity, and everything else about adolescent culture.
40. BABY HOUSEMAN
Dirty Dancing. Screenplay by Eleanor Bergstein. 1987
• “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” says Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) as he sweeps her up for a show-stopping dance routine. Yeah, he seems way too old to be dallying with a teenager (played by Jennifer Grey), but that’s not what the “dirty” in the title is supposed to mean.
41. LLOYD DOBLER
Say Anything. Direction and screenplay by Cameron Crowe. 1989.
• Lloyd (John Cusack) is an aspiring kickboxer in love with the beautiful and brainy Diane Court, but her overprotective dad disapproves of the match. With persistence and a Peter Gabriel song, love wins out.
42. JIM HAWKINS
Age: 13 or 14
Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson. 1883
• Long John Silver steals a lot of scenes, but the young Hawkins is a sturdy hero. There have been more than 50 film and TV versions of this story, including Muppet Treasure Island in 1976 and Treasure Planet, a 2002 animated Disney film that retells the tale with a futuristic angle.
43. NAPOLEON DYNAMITE
Napoleon Dynamite. Co-written and directed by Jared Hess. 2004
• Played by Jon Heder, Napoleon is a gape-mouthed geek who says “gosh!” a lot and draws pictures of a liger, which is “like a lion and a tiger mixed … bred for its skills in magic.” He supports the campaign of his best friend, Pedro, for school president with an impressive interpretive dance.
44. TRACY FLICK
Election (film). From novel by Tom Perrotta. 1999
• Tracy (Reese Witherspoon) is the most desperately ambitious teenager you’ll ever meet. Behind her outward perkiness is a fury to succeed that unnerves one of her teachers, who persuades a popular jock to run against her, and then tries to alter the final vote.
45. RICHIE CUNNINGHAM
Age: 17 and older
“Happy Days.” Created by Garry Marshall. 1974-1984
• While The Fonz is the most memorable “Happy Days” character, it’s hard to say how old he is since he doesn’t attend Jefferson High School with Richie, Potsie Weber, and Ralph Malph. While the wholesome Richie plays straight man (or boy) to others, he was the key character that kept the show afloat even after Fonzie literally jumped the shark in 1977.
46. ANNABEL ANDREWS
Age: 13, then 17
Freaky Friday. Mary Rodgers. 1972
• While Rodgers wrote the book about a 13-year-old girl who magically changes bodies with her mother, chances are you know the story from the 1976 movie starring Jodie Foster or the 2003 version starring Lindsay Lohan (her age was increased to 17 and her name changed to Anna Coleman). There was also a 1995 version starring Gaby Hoffmann as Annabel.
47. JOHN BENDER
The Breakfast Club. Written and directed by John Hughes. 1985
• Named the best high school movie of all time by Entertainment Weekly in 2006, The Breakfast Club brings five compelling teens together for a day of detention. While all have their moments, Judd Nelson’s Bender, the criminal, is the noisiest and funniest: “Does Barry Manilow know that you raid his wardrobe?”
48. MIA THERMOPOLIS
The Princess Diaries. Meg Cabot. 2000
• There have been 10 volumes in this series about a normal kid who learns she’s princess of a kingdom called Genovia. Anne Hathaway portrayed Mia in The Princess Diaries (2001) and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004).
49. MATTIE ROSS
True Grit. Charles Portis. 1968
• “I was just 14 years of age when a coward by the name of Tom Chaney shot my father down,” says the grown-up Mattie at the beginning of True Grit, a Western novel that twice appeared as popular films. Kim Darby played the young Mattie alongside John Wayne in 1969, and Hailee Steinfeld appeared with Jeff Bridges in 2010. “The big names in the cast all do excellent work, but the biggest surprise is the all but unknown Steinfeld,” reported The Los Angeles Times, which raved about the young actress.
50. MAX FISCHER
Rushmore. Co-written and directed by Wes Anderson. 1998
• Jason Schwartzman plays Max, a gung-ho kid active in every school club at Rushmore Academy, including the Rushmore Beekeepers, which makes it hard to keep his grades up —he’s on “sudden death academic probation.” Critics used words like “bizarre,” “demented,” and “hilarious” to describe this film and its one-of-a-kind hero.
HONORABLE MENTION (ages in parentheses):
Pamela Andrews (15). Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded. Samuel Richardson. 1740
Paul Atreides (15). Dune. Frank Herbert. 1965
Paul Baumer (19). All Quiet on the Western Front. Erich Maria Remarque. 1929
Deborah F. Blau (16). I Never Promised You A Rose Garden. Hannah Green. 1964
Alfred Brooks (17). The Contender. Robert Lipsyte. 1967
Pinkie Brown (17). Brighton Rock. Graham Greene. 1938
Velvet Brown (14). National Velvet. Enid Bagnold. 1935
Stargirl Caraway (15). Stargirl. Jerry Spinelli. 2000
Angela Chase (15). “My So-Called Life.” 1994-95
Elinor Dashwood (19). Sense and Sensibility. Jane Austen. 1811
Finny (16). A Separate Peace. John Knowles. 1959
Henry Fleming (18). The Red Badge of Courage. Stephen Crane. 1895
Gilberte (Gigi) (15). Gigi. Colette. 1945.
Holly Golightly (18). Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Truman Capote. 1958
Horatio Hornblower (17). Mr. Midshipman Hornblower. C.S. Forester. 1950
Doogie Howser (16). “Doogie Howser, M.D.” 1989-93
Judy Jetson (16). “The Jetsons.” Created by Hanna-Barbera. 1962-63
Lux Lisbon (14). The Virgin Suicides. Jeffrey Eugenides. 1993
Studs Lonigan (15). Young Lonigan: A Boyhood in Chicago Streets. James T. Farrell. 1932
Reuven Malter (15). The Chosen. Chaim Potok. 1967
Miyax (13). Julie of the Wolves. Jean Craighead George. 1972
Adrian Mole. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 133/4. Sue Townsend. 1982
Piscine Molitor (16). The life of Pi. Yann Martel. 2001
Octavian (16). The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing. M.T. Anderson. 2006
Richie Perry (17). Fallen Angels. Walter Dean Myers. 1988
Flora Poste (19). Cold Comfort Farm. Stella Gibbons. 1932
Brian Robeson (14). Hatchet. Gary Paulsen. 1987
Susie Salmon (14). The Lovely Bones. Alice Sebold. 2002
Johnny Tremain. Johnny Tremain. Esther Forbes. 1943
Will Tweedy (14). Cold Sassy Tree. Olive Anne Burns. 1984
George Willard (18). Winesburg, Ohio. Sherwood Anderson. 1919