Friday, May 18, 2012

Scarred? Nah, just needed tissues.

My first thought on reading Flavorwire's 10 YA Books That Scarred Us for Life was, "When did YA become the buzzword for everything between picture books and adult books?" My second thought was, "This list feels very pre-Hunger Games."

Pre-Twilight, even. It's a varied list, with both realistic fiction and fantasy on it, but it lies outside the most recent discussions of "dark" themes in YA (and seems aimed more at my own generation than at YA's current primary target audience). And it's interesting to see what constitutes scarringly scary to someone who presumably hasn't been mired in debates about what YA is supposedly doing to its impressionable readers.

A few items on the list are pretty clear precursors to works that would later be controversial. Quite a few recent dystopias owe a lot to The Giver, and The Golden Compass, like many more recent works, is a fantasy in which lots of scary stuff is going on. (To some degree, so are the Narnia books, and I think it's interesting that they're on the same list as The Golden Compass for unrelated reasons, but that's neither here nor there.)

But it's the realistic fiction that stood out to me. Realistic YA does get called out for "dark" content, usually in the form of teens engaging in unwise behavior or suffering from unsavory conditions. But when was the last time you heard controversy about a book because a dog dies? Or even because a human dies (in a manner that doesn't involve alcohol, violence, or vampires)?

That's the thing. Yes, these stories can have an effect on us and stay with us, and we might even have fun with, or write funny articles about, the idea that they've "scarred us for life." But that doesn't mean they shouldn't exist. Dogs really do die, and so do humans, and reading about these truths might help us prepare for or deal with them. And even if societies don't go wrong precisely as it's portrayed in books, societies do go wrong, and it's good for us to prepare for that, too.

We saw what happened to Babar's mother and to Bambi's. We joked, and will probably continue to joke, that it scarred us for life. But we turned out okay.

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