The world is a troubled place right now, and YA fiction appears to be enjoying the darkness. No, not just enjoying it - relishing it. Gorging on it. Drowning in it. (I could go on...)
But - is all this dark, violent, dystopic exploration of unhappiness really what the kids are reading? Or is it just what YA writers and publishers think the kids want? (I don't know the answer - I'm just asking the question...)
I guess I should be happy that the Era of Vampires appears to be waning. Okay, I read the Twilight series to stay current, and although it didn't thrill me the way it did my teenage daughter, I could see the appeal. Ditto the Hunger Games and its sequels. Engaging fantasy, strong female character, a bit of romance. Before those two entries, kids worked their way through the increasingly dark Harry Potter. And of course there has been a fair share of lightweight Young Chick Lit as well. Trends come and go - we all know that.
But this past weekend I read about the following four YA books, each reviewed briefly on the Books page of the Globe. Here are snippets of the reviews by Globe reviewer Lauren Bride:
Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea: "...a grouchy, pollution-sick, slightly frightening Polish mermaid whose broken English is elsewhere peppered with profanity..."
Letting Ana Go by Anonymous: "Following a nameless high-school student for over a year from lighthearted athlete through anorectic compulsion...the diary-entry format could potentially read as a how-to guide for the impressionable without quite giving an antidote or example of how to recover."
When We Were Good by Suzanne Sutherland: "...pitched into double grief...struggling to find her place at punk shows with tough, impressive kids...also finds trouble..."
Rush (Book One of The Game) by Eve Silver: "...electric high-action scenes, a world in peril (this time, by the threat of aliens), and amorphous morality in a broken society..."
Confession: I haven't read any of these books; just the reviews. A little research shows that critics (at least the critics who have blurbed for the books) love them. For instance, "A radiant hybrid of piercing realism, creeping horror, and heartbreaking fantasy - but fantasy with dirt in its hair and scabs on its knees," says author Daniel Kraus (his own book is called Rotters) about Mermaid in Chelsea Creek.
So am I the only writer (and reader) who thinks the current crop of YA characters and their stories sound (as my teenage son calls it) "messed up"?
Is this really what kids are reading - or is it just what publishers are publishing?
The teenagers I know are intelligent, curious, confused, funny and often under tremendous pressure to perform at school, at home and at all the other activities that fill their lives. Are they really reaching for the darkside? Are they really connecting with and finding pleasure and meaning in reading a book featuring a "slightly frightening Polish mermaid"? Is there anything else out there to choose from? Maybe even something with humour, lightness, hope?
Of course, I may be wrong.
Why is YA fiction so dark? I'm open to enlightenment.