I’m sure by now most everyone has read or heard about the WSJ’s article about the darkness in YA fiction. I’m not going to link you to the article, but it did make me question why I write YA fiction.
There wasn’t much YA fiction when I was a teenager. The Judy Blume books the article mentions, I read in elementary school. To me, they will always be children’s books. By 7th and 8th grade, I branched into Stephen King, Michael Crichton, and many, many murder mysteries.
I love the books I read when growing up, but I can’t say they were teen fiction. I learned about love from Shakespeare’s tragedies; it either ends in murder or suicide with a hearty scoop of madness. (Maybe that’s why I don’t date.) I read Heller’s Catch-22; the only thing I remember about it is the guy cut in half by the airplane propeller. I read really terrible things that I very much enjoyed. Things that prompted me to keep the lights on at night and cringe at my vanilla-coated world.
And I did grow up in what I call a “vanilla-coated” world. I was sheltered, so when bad things happened, I didn’t know how to process them. My self-defense mechanism was to ignore what happened. To forget. I got good at that. When my grandfather died at age 13, I didn’t cry. I internalized the pain and did my best to forget he ever existed. I did the same for my grandmother to the point my dad called me a “cold, heartless bitch.” I loathed my own emotions, so I acted like nothing bothered me.
I remember when the first time I saw Titanic and cried at the end. We were on a bus ride heading to Florida perhaps and my friend wished she had been awake to see my cry. She wanted to see my humanity. I guess when you don’t show emotions, people don’t think you have any. I just didn’t want to be viewed as weak, not that I thought other people were weak when they showed their emotions. No, that was just for me.
I internalized it to the point that it eventually leaked out in my early twenties in the forms of depression and high anxiety.
I don’t internalize things quite as much. Now I’ve been known to cry at commercials, I’m embarrassed to say. But I think YA could’ve helped me as a teen. In YA bad things happen, but it’s the process of how to overcome such things that’s wonderful.
I didn’t realize it until this article on why I wrote Virtuoso. It’s about grief and how Nadia overcomes it. A lot of my novels deal with death. Perhaps it is my own way to work out my own problems and help teens too.
Perhaps that’s why I love reading YA fiction today. I still need it.