Daily Archives: October 28, 2011

Dark YA: Catalyst or Cure?

Currently in the news: a 10-month-old baby is missing, a 23-year-old woman was slaughtered and her unborn baby harvested, a high schooler was shot while eating lunch.

We openly acknowledge these events because of the public way in which they were committed.  If we had a choice, we would scrub these memories from our minds and go about our own lives oblivious to the pain others have suffered.  Not because we don’t care, but because it scares us to do so.

Dark YA takes this a step further.  It dares to dig into the hidden.  It probes into dirty secrets and spills the details in a way that makes our stomachs churn.  Some readers embrace it, while other feel the need to challenge it.

Categorically, young adult novels that deal with serious topics fall under great scrutiny.  They are frequent targets of challenges by parents, politicians and religious leaders.

I’m not exactly sure what makes a book dark.  By my best guess, Dark YA is visceral.  It often makes the reader feel uncomfortable or unsettled because of the topic and the raw nature in how it is presented.  It is almost always emotionally disturbing.

Take Unwind, for instance.

“Well-written, this draws the readers into a world that is both familiar and strangely foreign, and generates feelings of horror, disturbance, disgust and fear. As with classics such as 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, one can only hope that this vision of the future never becomes reality.”–Kirkus Reviews as found at Amazon.

In Unwind, Neal Shusterman tackles the very heavy issue of right to life versus the right to choose.  Abortion is settled in a way that satisfies both sides, but is unnerving to the reader.  His solution is unthinkable.  Thankfully, however, authors like Mr. Shusterman are not afraid to write about taboo subjects.

Yet for every great review these books get, a negative reaction will surface because some people believe dark YA encourages bad behavior and experimentation.  They blame certain books for the emergence of homosexuals in our communities.  For the romanticism of cutting.  For the acceptance of eating disorders and the escalating numbers of teen suicides.

I beg to differ.  I firmly believe these dark topics have always been a part of the human race.  We’ve just chosen to push them under the rug and pretend they don’t exist.  We scrub them from our memories, because to remember is to care and to care is to take action.

Incest, domestic abuse, theft, rape, alcoholism, drugs, teen pregnancies, homosexuality, religious persecution and bullying–these things have been around since recorded history in some form or other.  We are just now giving our kids the means to understand and cope with the experiences in their lives.

Dark YA?  Yeah, it most definitely serves as a form of therapy.  It is the chance to acknowledge the fear, anger, shame and impotence that haunts our children today.  And, most likely the adults who read it.

These books don’t encourage poor choices.  Rather, they validate that we are not alone, that we are accepted and that we can survive.  In my mind, Dark YA is a message of hope for a better future.  It is a call to action and change.  It is balm for our wounded souls.

What says you?  Do these hot button topics belong in YA?  Why or why not?  How do these books stimulate poor choices?  How do they encourage, inspire and motivate?  Is Dark YA the reason for our social ills or the therapy our kids need to overcome a dark existence?

Curious minds want to know.