Into the Pale… and Screaming

Okay, I’ve read gobs of posts lately about whether or not YA lit has gotten too dark. . .

And it’s a fine question.

I mean, with kids killing kids in The Hunger Games, innocent girls getting stalked by vampires in Twilight, and the rash of YA stories exploring teen suicide, bullying, eating disorders, school shootings, drug addiction, plastic surgery, sexual experimentation and more, it’s hard not to wonder about the effect of the YA genre on today’s teens.

But as much airtime as this question is getting, I can’t help thinking, it’s the wrong question.

The fact is, these stories are succeeding in the market because these are the stories teens crave. If such dark topics didn’t speak to teen readers, they wouldn’t be on the shelves, right?

I can’t help wondering why folks aren’t asking better questions. For example:

“What’s happening for teens that makes them gravitate, en masse, toward the darkness?”

 “Why are they connecting so deeply to authors like Jennifer Brown, Jay Asher, and Laurie Halse Anderson?”

Well, let’s have a look, shall we?



–Teen suicide is the third leading cause of death in young people age 15-24, and even more scary, the fourth leading cause of death in ages 10-14. One in eleven high school students admits to having made a suicide attempt (CDC).

–2.5% to 4% of teenage girls have either anorexia or bulimia (Eating Disorders Coalition).

–Approximately 160,000 kids miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students (MBNBD).

–In the past year, over 70% of teens admit to having used alcohol, 34% marijuana, and an average of about 8% to using hard drugs like cocaine, opiates, hallucinogens, and steroids (U.S. Dept. of Justice).

–1 in 5 female high school students report being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner (Journal of the AMA). Approximately 58% of rape victims report being raped between the ages of 12-24 (U.S. Dept of HHS).

–Roughly half of all U.S. high school students have had sex, with 39% of those reporting that they did not use a condom. Likewise, nearly 8000 young people age 13-24 are reported as having HIV, and more than 400,000 girls ages 15-19 give birth each year (CDC).

– 9% of the murders in the U.S. are committed by kids under the age of 18.


If art reflects life, I’m stunned we get our happy endings at all!

So, to those brave authors willing to write about it, I say “Good for you!” This is their reality. We may not intend it, but kids deal with hard stuff, every day. If the YA industry can raise awareness, offer resources, and make parents talk to their kids about getting help, then I’m having a hard time being anything but grateful.

But enough about me, what do y’all think?


  1. I think another good question to ask parents is: “Why aren’t YOU reading these novels too?”

    In my early reading years, I read the classics. My parents had read them too. So we talked about them. Talking about books has always been a great conversation starter between the generations.

    Maybe the dynamic has shifted into the reverse a bit. Maybe we should be reading what our kids are reading. As you said, these story lines are on the shelf for a reason – demand for them. Demand for stories that mirror the issues they face.

    They don’t face the issues we did. If we really want to understand our teenagers, maybe we should be reading the literature that embodies their generation.

    A great topic for discussion, Cecily! I can’t wait to read what others may say about this too.

    • Excellent point, LG. In addition to faster pacing, cooler guys, better fashion, and more relatable heroines, that’s yet another reason why I read YA!!!

  2. So true, Cecily. And thank you for your comment, Lynda. I have a child younger than a teen, but reading and watching what my kidlet reads and watches is key. My parents kept up with my reading habits as a teen (granted it was mostly Agatha Christie with a good dose of Piers Anthony for spice) but when I read certain books that were more “adult” I talked with my parents about them.

    If you want “dark” go reread the Brothers Grimm as they were written (not the sanitized versions). They are brutal and filled with death and mayhem. My thought is that the worst aspect of entertainment/reading etc is when we do NOT talk about the tough stuff in a way that can be handled by our kids and ourselves. Death is a reality, whether our society wishes to admit it or not. I’d rather talk to my kid about a story dealing with a character with suicidal tendencies than have to pick my kid up from the hospital after an attempt. Secrets kill — books rarely do (unless thrown with great speed and accuracy).

    Terrific topic – keep ’em coming, Cecily!

    • OMG, I LOVE the original Grimm fairy tales!!!
      And great points, all. Thanks, Steph!!!
      (Hmm, note to self: Improve speed and accuracy of current book-throwing skills….)

  3. I love the Grimm Fairy Tales. 😀 And I especially love the current adaptation of them on Friday nights.

    Ahhhhh. Fertile dark minds. Love them.


  4. i’m 17 years old and I’ve been through some tough times, I’ve been bullied for being fat, thought of sucide, attempted sucide and failed miserably, cut my wrists,purged food several times on purpose,harmed my body purposefully because i feel like i deserve it for being so ugly, for being the way i am…in short I’ve been through some serious crab and i like dark books because they give me a solace…it makes me feel like i belong and kinda in a strange way, it makes me feel happy. like a drug where i can live my fantasy of being a character that finds love in strange ways or gets killed passionately or kill someone for being mean (bullies). it’s where fantasies truly come true and no one understands you (especially not our parents)…these dark novels are kinda like therapy in a strange way for me because i feel like i can cope with this shitty life better

    • Yeah, I guess fiction reaches us in a way life can’t. I feel that way too sometimes, Lanna. Like things are just piling up and it’s too much to deal with. It’s nice to have a place where life can be SO dark and still work out in the end… even if the way it works out isn’t what we expected.

      Life imitates art imitates life imitates art, etc.

      The cool thing about life is that there’s always something else coming. Even when it seems like you have no choices, you do. And yeah, maybe that means disappointing your parents or ignoring the jerkoffs and eating lunch alone. Or sometimes it’s as simple as forgiving humanity for not being perfect.
      Sometimes I wonder if forgiveness is the only thing that makes life liveable.

      Thanks for speaking up, L!

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