On a recent weekend getaway, I read The Fault in Our Stars, a young adult novel that is now the latest teen sensation thanks to the movie. I was curious about the hype so I turned to my 16-year-old niece, who graciously let me borrow her book.
I’m always searching for YA or middle-grade books that address death and grief. They are out there, but I’m happy that The Fault in Our Stars has really taken off to a stratospheric level despite the “dark” subject matter.
I thought the book was an honest portrayal of love, heartache, and loss. John Green didn’t sugarcoat the topic–I felt the raw emotion experienced by the characters as they worked through cancer diagnoses and death. It’s far from uplifting–it’s difficult to read about lives cut short, even if they are fictional. But clearly, the topic resonates with teens.
I think teens want to talk about these issues but often find that adults are dismissive. Parents are pretty good at protecting their children, and that protection extends to grief and loss. Parents don’t want to see their children sad, so some of life’s bigger topics are avoided. But what happens when you try to avoid a topic? It finds an outlet somewhere–hence the wild popularity of The Fault in our Stars, both book and movie.
In my memoir, I mention Bridge to Terabithia and how important that book was to me. Bridge to Terabithia was just another piece of my education regarding all things death. It was comforting to know there were characters out there who experienced real-life situations. It’s also not easy to ask your parents questions about the “big” things: death, sex, divorce, etc. Thank goodness for books that help kids learn about life when they may feel afraid to ask. I wonder how many teens who watched or read The Fault in Our Stars also had conversations about death and grief with their parents.
Bridge to Terabithia was popular in its time and still remains popular, though the target audience is a little younger than in The Fault in Our Stars. However, Bridge to Terabithia has been on banned book lists throughout the years (No. 28 on the top-100 banned books list for 2001-09), which shows how some people get nervous when death is addressed in middle-grade or YA books.
If you’ve been reading my blog in the past couple of weeks, you know that I’m teaching a class at The Loft in Minneapolis geared toward 15-17 year olds titled “Will I Always Be Sad? Writing Through Grief and Loss.” You also know that I’m not too confident the class will fill because of the dark subject matter. But seeing the success of The Fault in Our Stars proves that teens can handle reading about grief and loss. I’m hoping some are willing to write about it, too.