Do we need more Dark YA?
(Check out the Youtube version of this discussion.)
As many of you know, I read a lot of YA. I review a lot of YA. And I write YA. I would consider myself to be relatively well educated in the characteristics, the qualifications, and the tropes of YA. That being said, I’m quite disappointed with YA today. Why?
Because it’s too happy.
Before you start gathering the pitch forks and lighting your witch-burning pyres, hear me out. I say YA is too happy for a variety of reasons. I also will explain a few reasons why YA needs to stop being so dang happy all the time, but we’ll start with why it’s too happy.
1) YA is too happy because no one dies.
This might seem awfully pessimistic and dark of me, but I say it based on the worlds these characters are in and the obstacles they must face. Many of them are fighting wars, raising rebellions, and going up against a force stronger or more powerful than themselves. Therefore, it’s simply unrealistic that no one would die. When no one dies then it comes off as being overly happy and too easy.
2) YA is too happy because everyone gets a happy ending.
This ties a little bit back into #1 because if no one dies then no one lost anything and everyone gets to live happily ever after. Reality, however, would contradict that fact. Not everyone gets a happy ending. It’s even more unlikely for all the good people to get happy endings, but the bad people don’t.
I understand the need to make it this way for a ‘satisfying’ ending, but if the ending doesn’t feel realistic or it worked out just a little too perfectly, it feels forced and then the happy ending doesn’t even feel satisfying.
3) YA is too happy because the characters are almost never broken down or are truly tested.
Now, I understand that people often don’t want to read about the serious mental health break downs that most of these characters would go through when thrust into the situations they’re in. That’s usually because they feel like slow parts in a book and don’t seem to advance the plot.
However, the reality is that most teenagers are not equipped to handle these traumas. They would break down. They would need help getting back together, and they would not just be gung-ho all the time ready to fight the next battle. Heck! Adult soldiers don’t even see war like that.
Lastly, given that mental health is a huge part of reality, I think it needs to have more emphasis in YA fiction.
Why we need Dark YA
I understand that fiction books are supposed to be an opportunity for readers to escape from reality. It’s a safe-haven. It’s a happy place. It’s a location where we can forget the real world around us and all its stresses and live in someone else’s world and life for a few hours (or days depending on how slow you read. :p) However, I think it’s important for fiction to sometimes mirror reality.
If young adults are reading all of these happy books where everyone lives, nobody dies, and everything ends with a kiss under a rainbow, they’re seeing a very unrealistic form of life. That’s not to say life isn’t happy. Some people do get the happy ending and life is wonderful, but, for many, it doesn’t come without struggles. The reality is that these characters in these YA stories are facing wars, destruction, they’re fighting for survival, and if no one dies or no one has a mental break then it’s simply unrealistic.
It’s become very popular in recent years for YA to be more realistic. Readers and writers think it’s a great opportunity to prepare young adults for the world ahead of them. However, they usually only discuss adding in topics like sex, even when there are a variety of other options to be introduced to young adults through literature: death, mental health, trauma, prejudice, and non-happy endings.
We have made some amazing strides in the last few years regarding these topics. Hunger Games dealt with death and an emotional break down. Divergent dealt with death of an MC. Highly Illogical Behavior dealt with phobias and how they impact our lives. Wither dealt with kidnapping and sex trafficking. Uninvited dealt with prejudice and fear created by assumptions. More Happy Than Not dealt with sexuality. My Heart & Other Black Holes dealt with suicide and depression.
Yet, there is still room for improvement. We still have so much to teach the next generation and I hope by having these discussions we can watch that improvement continue. (P.s. I’m not saying we get rid of all happy fiction. I’m just saying we need more non-happy fiction, too.)
But what are your thoughts on dark YA fiction? Good? Bad?
Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
And check out last week’s discussion:
“Resolutions: Good or Bad?“