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“THE VANISHING HITCHHIKER”: AN APPEALING URBAN MYTH FOR YOUNG RELUCTANT READERS “Why don´t adolescent students read what they are asked for?” This is a question commonly heard among teachers. Adolescence is a period in life characterized by physical, emotional, psychological and intellectual changes. Not only teenagers´ body but also their minds change. And as their minds change, their behavior, their attitude towards learning and their attitude towards reading also change. Adolescents or most of them become reluctant readers so teachers need to enlarge their lists of reading material. Young Adult Literature (YAL) offers adolescents a wide range of stories. As Small points out (Hertz & Gallo, 1996), Young Adult stories have certain characteristics that make them appealing to teenagers. Horror stories are also attractive for adolescents (Neill & Vellere, 2012). Taking into account YAL characteristics and horror stories as adolescents’ preference, “The Vanishing Hitchhiker”, a well known urban myth, could be a good piece of reading material. Urban myths and legends are rarely chosen as appealing stories, so the aim of this paper is to analyze “The Vanishing Hitchhiker” in order to prove that this urban myth could be included as a good option to engage reluctant readers in a secondary classroom. Theoretical background According to Small, there are certain characteristics in Young Adult stories that are unique. The important ones are:  The main character is a teenager.  Events and problems in the plot are related to teenagers.  The main character is the center of the plot.  The teenage main character is usually perceptive, sensitive, intelligent and mature.  The point of view presents an adolescent´s interpretation of events and people.  The novel is short.

Taking into account the survey “¿Qué le gusta leer a los adolescents?”(Neill & Vellere, 2012), 80% of adolescents that took this survey chose horror stories as their favorite.

Legends and urban myths are an interesting idea to include in secondary classrooms. One of them is “The Vanishing Hitchhiker. This Urban Myth tells the story of a boy who is on his way to a dance, driving down a lonely country road. Suddenly, he sees a young girl standing at the side of the road, with her thumb up. The boy stops his car and asks her if she wants a lift. They arrive at the party and dance all night. The girl is cold and she borrows the main character´s jacket. Using Small´s list mentioned above, the main character in the story is an adolescent and he is the center of the plot. Although this is a fictional story, events are related to teenagers. They go dancing, they give a lift to their friends and their friends´ friends and they borrow their friends´ clothes. These are the things that adolescents do. These facts reflect the realities of teenage life. Adolescents have surely been involved in similar situations in life. Having in mind horror as adolescents´ choice in reading material, “The Vanishing Hitchhiker” could catch their attention. In the story the two adolescents dance all night and then he takes her back home. She forgets to give the jacket back so the boy returns to the girl´s house the following day. To his horror, a woman opens the door and says that the girl he is looking for has been dead for twelve years. She has been killed in a car accident going to a dance. The old woman points to a cemetery down the road. The boy does not believe her and goes into the cemetery. He sees his jacket hanging over a headstone. Engraved in the tombstone, it is the girl´s name and the date of her death, exactly twelve years before. This shocking and unexpected ending makes this Urban Myth a horror story. As regards the survey mentioned before, adolescents are interested in horror stories. This is the kind of stories that adolescents suggest as attractive to them. As horror is the main component in “The Vanishing Hitchhiker”, this urban myth could raise adolescents´ interest towards reading. Having in mind YAL characteristics pointed out by Small and “horror” as adolescents´ main choice, “The Vanishing Hitchhiker” is an Urban Myth that could be included in teachers´ reading material lists in order to engage reluctant readers.

If the story is properly selected, it will engage the attention and emotions of adolescents. An appropriate story will give them the opportunity of having a relaxing time and discovering the pleasure of reading.

REFERENCES Sarah Hertz and Gallo, Donald (1996) From Hinton to Hamlet: Building Bridges between Young Adult Literature and the Classics. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Gail De Vos (2003) Storytelling and the Young Adult. Holly koelling (2004) Turning Teens on to Great Literature: Make sense of teens as growing people and as readers. Nadina Gonzalez Nomi and Gisela Mendez (2012)¿Porqué los adolescentes no leen? Laura Vellere and Valeria Neil (2012) ¿Qué les gusta leer a los adolescentes?


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