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Taking on Real Issues in YA

I recently came upon an older article from The Wall Street Journal. It talks about the dark issues that young adult books have been taking on recently. At first I thought that this article was going to just be totally one sided (it kind of is) and that I was just going to read it and think nothing really of it. I thought this way because I know as I'm sure everyone knows by now that young adult books aren't afraid to take on any issue that's been faced by anyone. It will take on rape, kidnapping, murder, oppression, and anything else that doesn't suit many parents. As I read on there were examples of books that I do agree with some that they go too far like a book where a boy is kidnapped and nearly raped. What followed with this boy's journey was really odd and disturbing. There was also an example of a quote from a book about a girl who cuts herself. It had me cringing. It was gruesome. It was ugly. But isn't the world filled with this ugliness? There is violence and despair that we hopefully will never have to feel but that are real.

I can see where people are coming from when they say that books are just too dark. Where are the books with the happy endings that promote a good loving family? But, I feel like that's just not always the case unfortunately. Families are complex. There's abuse, divorce, sibling rivalry, and more issues. There is always conflict and books should be able to show it. I also feel like the article's author just got the worst kinds of examples and just threw them in there to scare me. I had never heard of these books before and don't plan on reading them. Teenagers have better judgment than most might think. If they think it's too much, they won't read those books.

The thing is what people consider "dark" isn't as dark as they may think. Young adult books deal with real issues but not all of them go overboard. The most exciting stories like dystopians where there is fear and oppression there is also an overwhelming want for that character to succeed and champion the bad guys. It's always been the bad guys against the good guys whether or not the bad guys were other people or parts of yourself that you struggle with. Here are some examples of young adult books that take on real issues:

Dark Theme: Suicide
Thirteen Reasons WhyWith access to the internet and the news we know what bullying can lead to. In Thirteen Reasons Why you track a young girl's progression to her suicide and the reasons why she did it. She feels so alone and empty that she doesn't want to live anymore. It's with the different forms of bullying and seeing what it feels like to be invisible, feeling like you don't matter, that we are shown what hurtful words can do. This is so reminiscent of real life. It would be an act of injustice if there wasn't talk about it. What could this book lead to? Maybe it leads to more people paying attention to what they say, being better people. Maybe it shows others that if you only looked there were people that care. There is hope that things can change. That is the message of this story. Is it wrong that adults don't feel it's right for teenagers to be in this world and feel that character's pain or is it even more wrong to take away this powerful knowledge that this book gives its readers?


Dark Theme: Death
If I StayIt seems like everywhere you look there is a book about someone who's either in the afterlife or is close to it. In If I Stay a girl loses her family in a car accident and has a choice: continue on with the knowledge that she will never see her parents again or fight on and live the life she always wanted. In the beginning the story even tells of how she saw cauliflower all over the ground before she realized it wasn't cauliflower but one of her parents scattered brain remnants. It's an awful choice to make. I can't help but feel how this story while reading it could get any better. It's all about the time we have and how we should take care to be with our loved ones because you don't know when they are going to be taken away. It's a truth we know of, we all die so why is it so wrong to write about the truth? Is it a dark story? Yes, it is but it's the knowledge that comes with it that I find invaluable.


Dark Theme: Violence
The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1)I know the article already wrote about The Hunger Games but I wanted to talk about it too. First, of all I don't think I noticed the violence of it all as much as they think. I mean towards the end yeah but I don't think they are getting the point. I don't think they understand what the world is capable of. The story also provides a great main character that just exemplifies strong teenage female heroines. The story is about this character facing the odds and not going with the crowd. Defending her home and shaking things up by just being herself. It's not just about the violence but the violence does help show what the world is capable of. You know that boys have been trained to be soldiers to kill innocent people and there so much wrong with the world. This world isn't cookie cutter. Not by a long shot. Living in a bubble won't help save it.




So what do you think? 
Do you think young adult books have gotten too dark?

Comments

  1. No. I think that topics like these are necessary for people to read about, because they are real and they happen (okay, so there's no actual Hunger Games but there is violence just as terrible going on in some places of the world).

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    1. Exactly! If not more terrible going around in the world.

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  2. The great thing about the young adult market is that's there's such a range of books to choose from. While there are plenty of these dark or heavy reads, like those you mentioned, there are also several light-hearted and fun books to balance it all out. For me, there is never a risk of YA becoming 'too dark'. While I do have a preference for the grittier stories, I have never felt that I didn't have the option of picking something less taxing if I wanted to. And somehow, and I don't think that will change any time soon. :)

    Great post!

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    1. I do tend to go for the more intense and emotional books too but you are right about there being very uncomplicated stories in YA. I could never give up my "dark" books. The article said something on my favorite author's book! I could never get rid of my love of Robert Cormier's dark and twisted books :D

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  3. What an interesting topic! I think that a lot of YA books deal with some difficult topics and issues, but many of them are about things that do happen to people. I think the ideas can help people deal with some of the things going on in their own lives. The Hunger Games is violent- but it is not something we have to deal with and can make us think about the things we think of as "entertaining" or okay.

    Thanks for this fascinating post!

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    1. Good point about making us think about what we think as "entertaining". I didn't think of that. Hmm...

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  4. Brilliantly written! I've always found the genre terribly unrealistic in general. Main characters always appear to be 'nonchalant' and even most physical relationships are seen to be pure and loving. The ones that touch on real social issues such as bullying and suicide are usually very emotional and thought provoking and going by ratings, reviews and readership, a very large part of the young adult audience tend to want 'hot bad boys' and love triangles in which they can choose a 'team'. (I blame Twilight for the whole 'Team' saga). I'm an older reader and I read young adult purely because it IS so mild and bland and it wont keep you awake at night. Looking for Alaska by John Green is also a very real but brilliant book.

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    1. Oh, I was about to say YA is awesome not unrealistic! But, you are so right. It's the instalove and the strict female and male roles that sometimes authors like to confine their readers on that make YA seem like it's silly. Bad boys are overrated. I don't think I ever got into the team part of being a YA reader. I did think about it a lot though. Some love triangles when done right are pretty good but they are everywhere. I feel like YA is more entertaining than bland. I appreciate when real issues are brought up in YA just simply because it's a change of pace and it NEEDS to have those messages heard by teenagers who have so much going on with them. It also makes me feel more when I read those real books. All of John Green books are real and I'm sure all are brilliant (:

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