I'm sure I'm not the only one out there who logged into Twitter over the weekend to find a new trend dominating the bookish conversations: #YASaves. I don't read many Young Adult novels, but I went ahead and read the desputed article on how YA has become too dark, I also read a rebuttal or two, then I decided to read some YA.
Back when I was reading YA regularly, I'll admit, it wasn't contemporary. I was reading YA of the wizards, knights, and spaceships variety. But this time I picked up something from 21st Century Earth, Courtney Summers' FALL FOR ANYTHING, in which our protagonist, Eddie, is coping (and sometimes not coping) with her father's suicide. Is this story dark? Yes. Is it written with care, sensitivity, honesty, and confidence that things can get better for Eddie? Absolutely.
As I read, three things became very clear to me very fast:
1. It's easy to forget that the day-to-day life of a teenager is erratic, immediate, frustrating, and thrilling without additional adversity.
2. Tragedy and abuse are isolating. Only fellow teenagers can truly empathize with highly-visceral reactions to difficulty, but they may not know how to empathize with tragedy. Books offer a non confrontational form of support, normality, and a way to see past the confusion to the healing.
3. YA books dealing with issues like grief, self-harm, substance abuse, domestic violence, bullying and so on are invaluable tools for adults trying to understand someone younger dealing with difficult issues.
Sure, sometimes in YA the death of a parent is replaced with the death of a wizard guardian or substance abuse is told as addiction to time-traveling, but regardless of genre, the issues and the emotions are the same. These stories offer empathy, compassion, understanding, and shed light on difficult issues.
If you feel inspired to do some reading and decide for yourself whether dark issues in YA are helpful or harmful, I have a few authors to suggest:
If you have any dark, contemporary YA favorites, we would love to hear about them here or on Twitter.