Recently the Daily Mail published an article slamming the genre of young adult literature they branded “sick lit”. They suggested that novels dealing with dramatic subjects such as depression, terminal illness and suicide are no more than how-to guides to misery for the teens and young adults reading them. Surely society has more faith in its authors and young readers? Though apparently the Daily Mail does not.
The outrage expressed by the Daily Mail can be dismissed as ignorant nonsense but something in me wishes to truly justify why YA literature is not some shameful misery ridden sex fest designed to aid in teenagers’ wallowing in self pity. Young Adult literature can explore any number of topics, from humorous takes on maturing to gritty dramatic tales that deal with issues many teens will be faced with. Why should we hide these realities from young people? I’m not suggesting that we change the Oxford Reading Tree books so that Biff has a severe mental illness and Chip has terminal cancer but we should have faith. Have faith that authors writing for young adults know who to deal with serious matters in a sensitive and engaging way, and we should have faith that those reading these books will take away from them a more rounded understanding of life and the fragility of it.
Young adult readers are not children, they are maturing into intelligent and informed adults. A book like The Fault in our Stars is not a guide to misery but a delightful read of romance, confusion, maturity and understanding. Of course it is thought provoking, as Hazel Grace is forced to assess her feelings towards Augustus Waters not only as an adolescent but also as someone acutely aware of her own mortality, something most teenagers are only beginning to grasp.
John Green, author of The Fault in our Stars, does not write on such an emotive topic without good reason or deliberation beforehand. Dedicated Nerdfighters all know the story of Esther Earl and the charity This Star Won’t Go Out that now lives on in her name. John Green’s novel is no biography of Esther but neither is it a work of pure imagination. His time as a hospital chaplain informed his understanding of long term illness and he clearly researched intensely before writing The Fault in our Stars. The novel is neither flippant nor morbid about cancer, it comes across as honest and frank. Of course readers have emotional reactions to these novels, it would be almost unnatural for them not to. As we read of Esther and Augustus’ lives and relationship we begin to form a picture of them, a life for them outside the pages of the novel. This is proven clearly through the numerous blogs and tumblr pages dedicated to drawings of the ill fated pair. Hopefully a reader finishes The Fault in our Stars feeling they have gained something, whether that is a little knowledge or understanding, a new perspective or simply the experience of reading a good book. Surely the Daily Mail doesn’t begrudge us all that simple pleasure?
This poorly formed rant simply wishes to express that just because a book deals with something serious does not mean it is a bad thing. Besides, nobody HAS to read anything if they don’t want to.