The Question of Rape and Dark YA

I recently came across an essay written by Eve Ensler that is powerful and heart wrenching. It’s a must-read for any woman who has suffered or potentially will suffer at the hands of a rapist. And yes, every last woman is at risk no matter your age, religion, race or socio-economic standing. It’s also a must-read for fathers and grandfathers, uncles and brothers and church leaders and politicians. All of whom are also at risk of being assaulted by another human being or of loving someone who has been.

Ms. Ensler’s essay is one of the most articulate, honest and heartfelt answers to the question of what rape does to the human soul.

It is one of the reasons behind YA’s dark nature: reality is terrifying. Also, for some kids, fictional characters–found on their library shelves at school–are the only people they trust to help them navigate the tragedies of their lives. They are the ones who don’t judge.

Dark YA does not perpetuate dark themes. Rather it examines all angles of tough issues and gives kids hope. It declares that they are not alone in their struggles. It proves that someone, somewhere cares. It shows that someone inexplicably gets it. Gets them.

It strengthens and helps heal as it gives voice to the reality–so tragic and terrifying–that many of us will never understand. Knock on wood.

Read Eve Ensler’s letter on rape. Support the ones you care about. And for the love of all that’s human, don’t be so quick to decry dark YA themes that sicken you or make you uncomfortable. Because reality is such that someone already experienced the pain you can’t stand to read, and more will follow.

Hurt does not discriminate. People do.

Dark YA can help break down the walls and heal a nation that suffers by its own hands. So, please help me make a list of novels that aim to do just that.

I’ll start: Want to Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman


3 responses to “The Question of Rape and Dark YA

  1. The issue of rape in YA is an interesting one. How it is used, how it is portrayed etc.
    You have to be so careful. I had a scene in my new book where the evil character insinuates that someone may be raped as a consequence of certain actions. When I realized what I was doing I took it out immediately.
    While I’m all for the handling of dark themes in YA, we have to remember that if their handled incorrectly or flippantly they can cause the victims of those traumas more pain.


    • My dear, Charlee. I was not implying that we needed to write about rape specifically, just that we shouldn’t be afraid of tough topics that cut the heart and soul.

      But you bring up a very good point. Any tough topic not handled well can do far more damage than good. As writers we have an obligation to do our research and to fully understand the implications of what we say. It’s a tall order and one of the reasons the ever-disliked gatekeepers are important. They can help filter some of the more raw and detrimental writing away from the written page.

      Thanks for commenting and touching on this specifically. It’s always important to understand every aspect of our work.


    • *dons devil horns*

      That, and I really wanted to get that link in there to Ms. Ensler’s essay without being pushy or political. It made a great seque to the topic of dark YA literature for my writerly friends.

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