Why tough issues need to be dealt with in MG and YA books.

A boy walked along the railroad tracks.

A boy walked along the old railroad tracks. The one with a steep rocky incline that some people use to rock climb.

I don’t know why he took a walk that night. Maybe he does every night. Maybe he knew school started the next day, and he’d be buried under homework and sports. Maybe he was meeting a friend. Maybe he scrounged up a few dollars for a soda since there was none in the fridge.

For whatever reason, he left the safety of his home, his parents, his twin brother, and took that walk, breathing in the scent of fall winging on the breeze.

The first day of school comes. Friends from a tight knit group arrive, clutching their backpacks. It’s their sophomore year. They’ve grown up together, year after year. They played soccer, basketball, and baseball together. They watched the fireworks together. They swam together over the summer. They know the good, the bad, and the goofy. They remember the bad haircuts and the ugly clothes.

One girl settles in her seat in homeroom. She has a bad feeling. Two friends, twin brothers, aren’t in school. The one brother said something weird on Facebook that morning. The night before, one of them had been late returning home from a walk. The parents had called the police. That’s the last she knew of it.

The intercom crackles. And over the intercom, the friends learn that one of their own died the night before.

On the first day of school.

Yet these kids, barely 15, have to continue going to school day after day. They have to sit through math, listen to history lectures, go to ballet, attend church on Sundays. The world didn’t stop for their grief, their confusion, their numbness, their loss. They just know their friend isn’t there beside them anymore.

Parents forget about issues like too much texting, leaving boyfriends and girlfriends alone, or whether their kid made varsity or not. Now their kids are dealing with issues that no child should have to deal with. Now they worry when the haunting look will fade from their child’s face. Now they wonder how they can possibly support and be there for their child. Now they wonder when the emotional break downs will stop and their child will smile again. When will they smile again.

Books don’t replace counseling. Books don’t replace the hug of a parent or a friend. Books can’t mend a broken heart. But for a brief moment, a hurting child or adult, can find understanding, a friend, a place where they belong and can forget about their grief.

They can find words to their emotions and not feel so alone. And that might help them get through another day.

So yes, it’s okay for middle grade and young adult books to cover the tough issues. Because there are kids out there dealing with the tough issues.

, ,

27 Responses to Why tough issues need to be dealt with in MG and YA books.

  1. Miranda Hardy September 23, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    I agree. Our children go through things we may not imagine, faced with problems that may never have plagued us.

  2. Tab September 23, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    I searched for books about families with the problems mine had when I was growing up and found nothing. I know if I had found those books it would have helped me to find my own voice and speak out about what was going on in my family. No, books aren’t counsellors, but they just might offer the words that begin a much needed conversation.

  3. Stina Lindenblatt September 23, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    I agree. The books that deal with tough issues give these kids a voice that might not otherwise be heard. It gives them hope, and it might give them answers. It tells them they’re not alone, and it’s all right to reach out for help. These books belong in our kids lives just as much as to sweetly innocent MG/YA books.

    Great post, Laura!

  4. Sheri Larsen September 23, 2011 at 11:57 am #

    I agree. Books can’t cure or erase the ‘real’ of life. But the stories within the pages can bring issues/topics that kids do deal with to the forefront, helping them feel less alone. Sometimes it can be the spark that invites healing.

  5. Lydia Sharp September 23, 2011 at 12:10 pm #

    Thank you so much for this.

    I had to deal with a lot of **** when I was a teen, not the least of which was student death (year after year after year… car accidents, suicide, drug overdose, etc), and every time I see or hear someone saying that books covering tough topics are “bad” for teens, it kills me a little inside. Like they’re implying my own teen experience was so off from the norm (which it wasn’t) that it’s not worth validating even through fiction.

    I’m glad you included MG in this, too, because in some ways, middle school was worse for me than high school. And this was 20 years ago…

  6. Creepy Query Girl September 23, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

    This happens far too often and yes, I do feel it’s important to have books out there that deal with grief- definitely. This happened to my group of friends in middle school. We were all only twelve years old and one of our own died suddenly. Very tough thing to deal with when you’re that young. Really brings the hard realities of life right up in your face so you can’t ignore them. Great post.

    • Laura September 23, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

      Thanks everyone! I’m sure these kids aren’t ready to read a book like this yet, but they will. As time passes, as the world expects them to have moved on, they can read and revisit their memories. I can’t imagine kids going through hard things, but they do, all the time. So we need these books along with the fun, zany and sweet books. We need all kinds.

  7. Ava Jae September 23, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

    You’re so absolutely right.

    People forget that kids deal with tough things in their lives, too. Some people get nervous when they see darkness in YA or MG, but they often don’t recognize the darkness in their kids lives.

    The point of difficult situations in YA or MG isn’t to depress kids–it’s to show them that it’s possible to make it to the other side. That even though horrible things happen and sometimes it looks like it’s impossible to get through, it is possible to survive the situation and one day things will be better.

    Good YA and MG says, “I know what you’re going through, I know it’s hard,but you’re going to be ok.”

  8. Kris September 23, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    Oh Laura. I got chills reading this. A friend of my sister’s died on train tracks when they were sophomores. When I was in high school (25+years ago) we lost two classmates in two years. Our teachers tried to get us to talk, to write, to grieve. But it took a long time. And the class was never the same.

    Just this past August, a ten year old died in our small town. It has effected everyone–and sometimes the only way to deal with it is to retreat into another world.

    • Laura September 23, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

      I’m not even directly related to the people going through this right now. But I just can’t imagine what they are going through. The kids, their parents. Loss can really hit a community. And I believe these kids will never be the same. This will change and in the future it will hopefully make them stronger and more compassionate people. It just takes one event to change the course of a person’s life forever.

  9. Marisa September 23, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

    Excellent! And yes they absolutely should! I didn’t have a tough life – at least not really (to my teen brain, I was majorly suffering, but as an adult, I’m pretty dang sure having a strict curfew doesn’t count as major suffering) but reading YA fiction about kids who did have tough lives – and relating to them despite that, opened my eyes to the world outside of my own… much more than watching the news, which I didn’t relate to at all as a teen!

  10. Laurel Garver September 23, 2011 at 2:06 pm #

    Beautifully said, Laura. Books exist not only to entertain and teach but also to reach a hand of friendship, understanding and “fellow-feeling”–helping readers feel less alone.

  11. Lisa Green September 23, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

    Beautifully said. I might only add what a speaker at SCBWI said (I’m paraphrasing) that those who are not unfortunate need to know that others are and that those others are not bad people.

  12. shelli September 23, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    thanks for your sweet note 🙂

  13. Lofree Huebner September 23, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    Great post.

    I think it is ok to tackle the heavy issues for teens. I think this can go with any fiction. It just depends on the book and how well it’s written regarding the subject matter. If the subject matter is just there for shock value – with no direction, it might hurt more than it helps. Just thinkin’ here.

  14. Susan Kaye Quinn September 23, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

    Beautiful post! My mom (the psychologist) calls it bibliotherapy. (And it’s not just “issue” books that can bring healing to hurting hearts)

  15. Karen Strong September 23, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

    Books saved when I was a teen and that fact is still true today. I don’t think we give kids/teens enough credit to get it.

    Books can provide empathy and let them know that they are not alone.

  16. Elizabeth Arroyo September 23, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

    Well said!

  17. Shannon September 23, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

    Well said. 🙂

    I remember what it was like to be a child, when I uttered “I don’t know,” because I couldn’t find the words to communicate my thought process. But, through books, I was able to identify with the characters and become a better communicator. No subjects should be off limits – it’s how we impart wisdom from one generation to the next.

  18. Stacy September 23, 2011 at 6:59 pm #

    This is such a great post. Kids have to deal with a lot these days and books are a good way for them to work through that.

  19. becca puglisi September 23, 2011 at 8:27 pm #

    I completely agree, and I’d like to offer up another reason these books should be written. I didn’t have a lot of problems growing up. My family was one of those ice-cream-eating, singing-around-the-piano, Waltons-type families. But as a voracious reader, I read all kinds of fiction, and reading about these issues opened my eyes to it being out there. I lived such a sheltered life and was surrounded by similar run-of-the-mill kids, that without books I would’ve had no idea that kids my age had to deal with death, abuse, crippling self-esteem issues, suicide, and all the rest. Reading about these problems made me more sympathetic so when I got older and my eyes were opened a bit, I was able to empathize and relate a little more to people who weren’t like me.

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

    • Laura September 23, 2011 at 9:16 pm #

      Great point Becca! It educates all readers on the issues.

  20. Kristin Gray September 23, 2011 at 11:23 pm #

    Agree with so many of the comments. And, Laura, my heart goes out to that community and family.

  21. Traci Kenworth September 24, 2011 at 10:27 am #

    Great, great article, Laura! I agree 100%.

  22. Donna K. Weaver September 24, 2011 at 7:57 pm #

    Wonderful post. And so, so true.

  23. Samantha Vérant September 26, 2011 at 9:05 am #

    Amen, sister! I know what I was doing at that age! ***shudders*** I’m glad YA is more realistic now.

  24. Ghenet Myrthil September 26, 2011 at 6:13 pm #

    What a sad story! I completely agree with you.

Leave a Reply