Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Discussion: Reasons for Reading Books About Death

"By the end of high school, 20 percent of today's students will have lost one of their parents; 90 percent will have experienced the death of a close relative or loved one. Add to this the fact that one in every 1,500 secondary school students dies each year, and we can see that death and the resulting grief is a part of everyday life for many teenagers." From Bereavement Poems and Articles.

People die all the time, I know this. However, due to being lucky enough that I haven't had that many major people in my life die - and I believe those that did died while I was an adult, I found the above quote really shocking. From looking at those statistics, it looks like probably most people I know had a loved one who died while they were a teenager, it's a lot larger than I expected, simply because it never happened to me as a teenager.

During my googling for various things for this week, I came across a lot of websites and nonfiction books that deal with teen bereavement, how to get through it, but I think novels that deal with the subject also have their place, because through reading a story about someone who is going through the same thing, they find someone who understands. This could be said for any topic, but when you're feeling as lost as you are when you lose someone, I think novels can really help.

Yet, there's also the entertainment value of such books. Despite the fact that most teenagers might actually have known someone who died could have very little to do with them coming across such books. An article that come out on the Guardian website back in February 2010, when The Lovely Bones movie came out, Teenage Fiction's Death Wishes by Alison Flood, gives two sides to the entertainment argument.

The popularity of these books, believes [Gayle] Forman, [author of If I Stay] isn't necessarily because teenagers are drawn to the morbid – more that they are attracted to dramatic stories with stark moral choices. "When you're at this age, you tend to be experiencing so much for the first time – first love, first time away from home, first heartbreak – so life is imbued with extra intensity," she says. "I think teens are drawn to books that reflect that drama, or which evoke feelings that match the emotional rollercoasters they're riding in their own lives. So, while I don't think a story necessarily has to be all sturm und drang, it needs to stir something up."

Cate Tiernan
[author of Immortal Beloved] isn't so sure: she does perceive a certain yearning towards the macabre among teen readers. "Traditionally, teenagers tend to be fascinated by morbid topics," she says. "The Lovely Bones probably spurred an interest in a dead teenager narrating a compelling story – you know it will be dramatic, because she's already dead. The storyline and impetus are in-built."...

Teenagers, Tiernan points out, are going through an enormous growth period – the greatest they've experienced since they left infancy for toddlerhood. "I see 'morbid' topics as a way to safely explore extreme, even threatening emotions, to vicariously experience hard, even shocking events from the safety of one's own room," she says. "I remember being intrigued by death, as a teenager. Some of my friends died in high school, either by suicide or from stupidity, and while it was horribly final, it was also surreal. There was definitely a feeling of 'it couldn't happen to me.' Even dangerous situations didn't seem that bad. I look back on dumb stuff I did and wince."

The article is really interesting and does have a lot lot more to say, so you really should check it out. But what do you think? Can such novels help those who are grieving? And what would you say is the reason such books are so popular?


  1. It is fascinating this idea, but as you say death does occur. And I know some adults who don't feel old enough to deal with bereavement either.
    Of course novels are there to entertain, but they are also there to inform. Think back to that great YASaves on twitter, how amazing was that to see so many 'real' teenagers talk about how books about teenagers helped them cope with the problems in their lives.

    Books can be fantastical, set in far away lands, or on the same street as you today, but they usually have one thing in common; they are about human hearts and emotions.

    Great blog post.

  2. Thanks for commenting! I actually don't know about YASaves, I'll have to look it up. I assume it's a hashtag? But it does sound interesting, an pretty much what all my themed weeksand months are about.
    Great points!