Welcome to Let's Talk Tough, a week-long series here at The Book Bratz where we discuss some hard topics in YA literature. Today's topic is the loss of loved ones in YA books - how they're written about, what's unrealistic about them, what is realistic, etc.
So, what can be said about this topic? It's certainly common in YA literature nowadays - in fact, it's more common than not. Think about the last ten books you've read. Out of those ten (or, if you can't remember back that far, just out of how ever many recent books you can remember), how many times did the protagonist have both living parents - whether they were living together or divorced? From that same set, how many had a lost parent, or sibling, or were orphaned? Most of the books we read nowadays make it more common to come from a broken home, either from a loss of a sibling or a parent. Or even a significant other. Bottom line is, it isn't shocking to read a book where someone close to the protagonist either dies while the novel takes place or before the time period where the novel began. It's almost become the norm.
The question is, why? Why the sudden and drastic increase in books with lost parents and siblings and boyfriends and best friends?
It's a question that everybody has trouble answering, because nobody really knows. We can only really muse about it - is it to remind us that life can be taken away in an instant? Is it a way to show that the world isn't all happily together and living parents and unbroken families? It can go one of two ways - either to remind us how precious life is or to destroy our misconception that life is always pieced together perfectly - or it can be some sort of middle ground. It's a shaky subject because nobody can settle on a clear answer. That's why it's tough to talk about.
So, what's written realistically? What isn't? We asked around through social media and the most popular response was that authors do write about death realistically - whether the loss is slow from sickness or quick from an accident or tragedy. No matter how much we may not like it, loss does occur in reality. It won't ever stop happening. (Well, until science evolves and solves that problem.) Some of our losses may not be as drastic of situations as others, but the feeling is still the same - the crushing feeling of inevitable loss. It's an important topic to discuss because grief is inevitable and at one point or another, we will all have to learn to cope with it.
It's a scary, crushing, and definitely unhappy thought. But the ultimate question of the hour is why 90% of YA books (mainly contemporary) published today have some sort of loss occur - either a parent, sibling, boyfriend/girlfriend, or best friend. Like we mentioned earlier in the post, think back to the last few YA books you've read. It's more than common. Because of this, are we becoming immune to grief? Is that a possible problem that we're all going to have in the future?
An expert's opinion:
Karole Cozzo, author of How to Say I Love You Out Loud, is not only an author, but a current school psychologist who reached out to us to offer her thoughts on some of our topics this week. Here's just a small piece of what she has to say (all of her thoughts and opinions will expressed at one point or another throughout the duration of this week and our Let's Talk Tough Posts):
"How wonderful it is that books exist, specifically geared toward young adults, to remind them: You are not alone in your struggles. In situations where an individual feels there is no one in their real world they can talk to or relate to, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of their being able to pick up a book and discover a well-written story about a character facing similar challenges. While reading a book is by no means a cure-all, I believe it can provide a sense of relief, and may be the first step in helping an individual recognize maybe their experience isn’t so weird after all.
I am thrilled that The Book Bratz are taking this week to highlight this topic and share book recommendations that tackle tough topics in YA. Books are powerful weapons against isolation, stigmatization, and stereotypes often associated with mental health struggles [and all teenage struggles in general]. It’s so encouraging that more and more authors are tackling these tough topics and readers are embracing stories that, while perhaps not the easiest to read, are providing an accurate portrayal of those living with mental health challenges [and other challenges in life]." -Karole Cozzo
Just a sample of YA books that deal with the loss of loved ones:
What're your thoughts on the topic of losing loved ones in YA literature? Comment down below and tell us - and here are some things that you guys had to say:
@thebookbratz @KNRwrites Realistic.People are waiting longer to have kids..thus teenagers are getting more and more likely to experience 1/2— Rachel (@ReviewerRachel) June 21, 2015
— Rachel (@ReviewerRachel) June 21, 2015
@thebookbratz It's realistic in many ways. I've seen so many people go in my teenage years. Loss is a part of life. However, it also serves
@thebookbratz as a problem, climax, or resolution in many YA books so that they can be considered a good book. This is seen especially in
@thebookbratz YA Fantasy, where death can almost be a separate entity. It's fantasy, so it's not as realistic. Evil characters die to solve
@thebookbratz many problems in fantasy! If they don't, you see multiple loved characters die along the way to the ultimate resolution.
@thebookbratz Loss usually is unexpected and I think addressing grief in YA is important to 1) Remind us life is fragile & 2) Help us cope.— Sarah K (@thebooktraveler) June 21, 2015
@thebookbratz life can be short. Knowing that u are not alone in feeling grief is important. Coping skills can be learned thru charctr exper— AMP (@amp2004) June 21, 2015
We hope that this post makes you think and discuss the grief of losing loved ones in present-day YA Literature. The purpose of these Let's Talk Tough topics are to get you thinking and to start discussing the things viewed as "taboo" discussions when talking about YA. So start a conversation in the comments below (or Tweet us @thebookbratz) and help to make these tough topics easier to talk about. Check back the rest of this week for a new Let's Talk Tough topic each day - and join us in helping to start the conversation.