Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I Read Dead People

                I’m currently knee deep in books for the CYBILs (180, to be exact) and for the first time I’ve noticed something strange.
                YA has an unhealthy obsession with dead people.
                Dead parents, dead siblings, dead grandparents, dead friends, random dead people.  You name it, and they’ve probably ended up dead  ( this reminds me of a quote I heard once:  the role of the beloved dog is the hardest job in children’s literature, because you spend the entire book helping the main character discover themselves only to end up dead in the end.  Or something to that effect).  Either way, this has made me reassess the way I look at YA.
                YA, we need to talk.  Why so many dead people?  Can’t you work through your identity issues without so much mortality?
                I never noticed it before now, but it’s kind of hard to ignore.  I know that the death of a friend/loved one/random stranger can be a profoundly moving experience, and one that makes us reevaluate our own lives.  The funny thing is, the books I’m loving the most are the ones where the author hasn’t had to kill of a loved one in order to move the main character along their path.  But I think it’s harder to set characters on that path without the death of a loved one.
                What do you think?  Are contemporary books that rack up the body count something you like, or do you get bummed out by all funerals in YA?


Holly Dodson said...

I think they're necessary. Not just as entertainment, but to help teens who are experiencing these events in real life. I've got a dead sister, and a dead brother. My grandpa died when I was sixteen, etc.

Know where I turned when I couldn't talk to anyone about it? Books. And not self-help type books. Novels about kids dealing with death.

Without the books I read as a young girl and teen, I can't say how I'd have gotten through it. Honestly.

Death is a huge part of life, and I think it has it's place in YA lit too.

Dark Angel said...

Well, I figured most of the dead people were, well, not human. As in, zombies, vampires, demons, angels, fairies, etc. LOL

But I get what your saying...still, it fun to kill off some characters. (insert wicked laugh)

Teh Awe-Some Sauce said...

@Holly: Totally agree, but it seems a lot of the dead people end up in books NOT about working through grief, if that makes any sense. Like, death is more a plot point than anything that moves us (the story gets to a certain point and the author kills someone off to motivate the character along).

@Dark Angel: I'm totally with you, and I expect to see it in paranormals, but these are non-paranormals. I was a little surprised at how many featured a dead person.

Jessica Leader said...

My theory is that when people tap into their memories of their teen selves, there are so many things that feel like loss: moving from middle school to high school and not recapturing the good mojo; friendships that wither or change; beloved activities that others don't want to participate in. I wonder if these things seem too petty or insignificant for writers to treat on their own, so they amplify them through the lens of death. It can certainly work, but I have a strong love for writers who manage to make quotidian woes of everyday teens compelling without fireworks or headstones.

E. Kristin Anderson said...

I totally write dead people. And now I am totally conscious of it. THANKS, JUSTINA! :P

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