YA Books About Bad Things

Banned Books Week was last month and the focus this year was on Young Adult books. Obviously I should have posted this during that week, but, well, you know how it goes with life and schedules. But it’s an important topic, and led to a revelation by me about YA literature.

I used to complain about how so much of the popular YA fiction is dark, depressing, violent, frightening. It’s either disturbingly dystopian or about the worst aspects of contemporary life. Why would we want to expose our children to that, and what is it doing to them emotionally? Then a librarian friend who specialized in YA books and really seems to understand the teenage mentality explained how these books help today’s kids cope with the real fears in their world.

Janet Reid, a literary agent, very eloquently defended this literature for our children in a post several years ago.

“I think it is incredibly important that people who are learning how to live in the world get to read about people like themselves.

“And very bad things can happen to people.

“Let me be specific: I think it’s incredibly important that books for teenagers about horrible subjects—rape, incest, school shootings, death—get published. And even more important that those books are available in libraries so kids can read them even if they can’t afford to buy them, or don’t want anyone to know they are reading them.

“If I had my way, if YOU had your way, no kid would ever need to hear or see or know anything about rape, incest, school shootings, death. Not the kids we love. Not even the kids we don’t.

“But we live in the real world. A world we wish was different. But it’s not. It is what it is.”

I don’t enjoy reading these types of books myself—I read fiction for escapism—but I no longer worry about those who do. Janet’s right, we can’t and shouldn’t shield teenagers from reality. That would only lead them to think that if one of these awful things happens to them, they are alone in their experience, have nowhere to find support, and should feel guilty and ashamed for being the victim. Instead, much as we want to protect them, we have to give them the opportunity to face the bad things that can happen in life and learn to cope and survive. And if fiction about others in such a situation can do that, then I’m now all for it.


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