I had a really hard time coming up with a blog title for this week’s review. Am I discussing hard topics? Death? Realistic situations? Technically both of these books fell into all these categories. I decided to go with “Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place.” Depressing YA books are now all the rage. Forget vampires! Give us dying teens, depressed teens, and teens dealing with the hard stuff. Some people might complain that teens are not ready for these subjects, but the immense popularity of these books with all age levels suggest otherwise. The popularity has further increased with people gravitating towards John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.
Teen librarian, Susan Steider, commented that Green has become the modern-day Lurlene McDaniel (For all those under the age of 25, Lurlene McDaniel writes super depressing stories about teens). The Fault in Our Stars has commenced a dying teen craze in YA books. It seems like every month there is another dying teen book being released. A few titles are Maybe One Day, The F- It List, Somebody Up There Hates You, and Side Effects May Vary. Don’t despair, teens dying are not the only popular ones. Technically, traumatic events with teens have always had a following. Speak and My Sister’s Keeper have remained fairly popular years after their original published dates.
Some have argued that these books appeal to teens, as teens experience the turbulence of hormones and emotions. However, what sparks my attention is why adults are gravitating towards these depressing and turmoil-filled pages. Are they wanting to relive their teen years, or are the books speaking to something deeper in them.
Known as ‘sick-lit’, these books speak to both teens and adults while promising to leave the reader emotionally drained and ‘devastated’. Some fear that by placing these books in the hands of impressionable teens that society will soon be filled with suicidal and self-harming teens, while others go as far as to say that teens should not be reading these books alone. I’m going to pooh-pooh at this thought. Teens are going through a variety of emotions. Most just want to be understood and want to understand what they are going through. Just because I read every single Lurlene McDaniel in 6th grade did not mean that I wanted to die of cancer, lose a loved one, or suffer a traumatic incident. Assistant professor at Knox College, Barbara Tannert-Smith mentions in her article that teens are attracted to these novels because of self-identification with the suffering protagonist. However, this type of literature can be seen as a safe place where teens can explore these topics. Michelle Pauli states that “The rise of young adult means we are able to explore ‘the darkness’ with the safety wheels on.” It seems that adults are gravitating towards these books for the intensity as well.
This past August author, Malindo Lo, asked adults #whydoadultsreadya on twitter after contemplating it on her blog. Many adults posted their reasoning behind reading ya, but some of the responses included:
“I enjoy the immediacy of the stories and the sense of being at the beginning of the path of who you’ll become,” Tweeted by @sesinkorn
“I love the intensity of 1st time experiences, experimentation, & growth that we’re told to stop doing as adults,” Tweeted by @sarahockler
“To understand the youth. But really, because I like the stories, and it’s easy to read. Raw, earnest, beauty.” Tweeted by @sara_r_l
As it appears, adults enjoy the good ya book for multiple reasons.
Young Adult Book
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
You might have noticed by now that many of the books that I’m reading are ones that I have put off for some time. Again, The Fault in Our Stars falls into this pile. When it first came out I had read to page 20 and then left it sitting on a counter until it was due back at the library. The book was soon receiving all sorts of hype. My Facebook was filled with people lamenting that nothing would measure up to this book. People on Goodreads were raving about how it was the best book they had read in a long time and etc. I still was not interested. I finally had to pick up the book for Forever Young Adult Book Club meeting. I went in not wanting to be part of the bandwagon. I wanted to be a rebel. I failed miserably.
A quick summary. Hazel is dying of cancer. She knows it. Her parents know it. Even her non-existent friends know it. Hoping to make the best of a seriously crappy situation, Hazel attends college and support groups to maintain some resemblance of normal life. However, Hazel’s life is soon sent into a tailspin when Augustus Waters walks into support group one day. Hazel and Augustus soon forge a relationship filled with love, laughter, tears, death, and the universe.
First thing’s first, I thought the relationship with Augustus and Hazel was “nice.” I wasn’t blown away. I have read plenty of YA romance novels and the only difference was that they both had cancer. What blew me away was the deepness and thoughtfulness these characters displayed. Some have argued that teens don’t talk that way, aka deep intelligence, but Hazel and Augustus are not your normal teens. For one, they have cancer. Their perspective on and life death is going to be drastically different from the teen who spends his/her time at the mall. However, why can’t teens have philosophical thoughts. Give the characters a bit more credit.
What was so profound for me were the things they discussed that made complete sense. The narcissism people display upon their impending death. How people’s mark on life tend to be the scars they leave on others. How grief reveals someone’s character. And my personal favorite, “That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.”
The book is a 4 for me. Despite my love of its philosophical moments, the book did have its failings. Augustus parents kind of drove me nuts. It is apparent they do not fully understand him, but the way they responded at the end kind of had me scratching my head. I also wish that Green would have left Peter Van Houton in Amsterdam. I would have been perfectly content with not knowing his story.
I normally do not like to re-read books, but I want to reread the The Fault in Our Stars to ponder the meaning of life.
Zion read The Fault in Our Stars for their February book club. Three quarters of the staff absolutely loved this book. Our tween associate even reread because she loved it so much. However, the love was not shared with everyone. One associate thought it was meh and the other thought Mr. Green had another agenda. We had a very heated argument about the purpose of the book. We decided to let the FYA group settle the debate.
The club was actually split 50/50. Some really enjoyed it, whereas others were more meh about it. Our biggest discussion was what was John Green’s ultimate focus of The Fault in Our Stars. The jury’s still out, but it made for an insightful discussion.
The one interesting thing is that Zion’s FYA group decided that they had had enough of depressing YA lit. They requested that Elsie pick some happier books for the club. Apparently, sick-lit is not all the rage for adults. Elise decided to scratch Thirteen Reasons Why. She replaced it with the fantasy book, Cruel Beauty.
The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay
Have you ever LOVED a book and raved about it the minute you put it down? You don’t even want to think about picking up another book because you want to bask in the greatness of it. Then, you revisit it a few days later and realize that it is kind of forgettable? This is what happened to me.
The Sea of Tranquility is a 2014 Alex Award. This is particularly awesome because it means that the book has been deemed a good cross-over for young adults and adults. I thought it would be a good fit with The Fault in Our Stars because of the tragedy element.
Nastya Kashnikov is the new girl at school. Filled with secrets and hiding a deep tragedy, Nastya hides behind heavy makeup and revealing clothing. She also refuses to talk.
Josh Bennett is an open-book. Losing almost everyone in his family to death, Josh is all alone and everyone knows it. Avoided like the death plague, Josh is relatively content in his own world.
However, it takes one word from Josh and a night run from Nastya for them to form an unlikely relationship and eventually, a romance.
When I finished reading this book, I shouted from the mountain tops. The book had been cruising at 3.5 to 4 stars and then I finished it. I thought it was solid 5. The ending took my breath away. However, I started to think about the ending and I became confused. I even contacted the author on Twitter and started a discussion on Goodreads. Thankfully, I received clarification. This dropped my original rating from a 5 to a 4. Now that I’m writing this review, I realize that I’m having a hard time recalling the book.
What I remember is that the plot slowly developed. I enjoyed that reader got to see Nastya and Josh’s relationship grow. Unlike most YA novels where the main character’s love life is instantaneous, this relationship had to be felt out. We are also provided glimpses into the Nastya’s accident and its aftermath. This helped propel the story along.
What I did not like about this book was Nastya’s family. What family would give up on their child after a traumatic accident. Maybe I come from a different family, but my family definitely would not have been content with me moving away from them. Nastya’s sudden silence is also very disturbing. Once she stopped talking it seemed liked her parents were like, “We are done. Move in with your aunt.” This seemed completely unrealistic for a family that was tight-knit before an accident.
I do believe that the major characters were done somewhat well. Those who did not have a significant role were in the background, while the major characters were fleshed out. One reviewer on Goodreads did have quite a few things to say about this book. She also mentioned something very interesting about all the characters. They were all beautiful and talented. Every.Single.One.Of.Them. This made me go “Huh, she’s right.” Unfortunately, I cannot think of any other aspects that really stood out to me.
Overall, I still would hand this book to a teen and/or an adult. I think both of age groups would enjoy the storyline, even if isn’t completely memorable.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Have you ever had a monster invade your dreams and no matter how hard you try to escape, the monster always returns? For Connor O’Malley, a monster has invaded his dreams and life. During the day Conor battles his emotions about his mother’s cancer and at night, it is a monster from dreams. To escape the clutches of this monster, Conor must only speak the truth.
By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead by Julie Ann Peters
After years of bullying, Daelyn is ready to give up on life. She has attempted suicide several times and each time has failed until she stumbles across a site that will help her successfully complete her goal. As she prepares for her “final journey,” Daelyn begins to recall memories from the past and begins to distance herself from her family, only to discover that a potential friend may destroy all her plans.
A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard
On June 10, 1991 Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped on her way to school. Captive for 18 years, Jaycee endured sexual and psychological abuse from her captors. She eventually bore two children to her kidnapper. It was not until August 26, 2009 that Jaycee was finally free.
I’m going to forewarn you this isn’t the most well laid out book. Jaycee’s thought pattern tends to jump sporadically, but her story demands to be heard.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen
The list can go on with this topic. Feel free to ask me for more recommendations.
 Tanith Carey, “The ‘sick-lit’ books aimed at children: disturbing phenomenon. Tales of teenage cancer, self-harm and suicide…,’ Mail Online, January 2, 2013, accessed March 29, 2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2256356/The-sick-lit-books-aimed-children-Its-disturbing-phenomenon-Tales-teenage-cancer-self-harm-suicide-.html.
 Barbara Tannert-Smith, “Like Falling Up into a Storybook”: Trauma and Intertextual Repetition in Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak,” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 35, no. 4 (2010): 395-414. http://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed March 29, 2014).
 Michelle Pauli, “‘Sick-lit’? Evidently young adult fiction is too complex for the Daily Mail,” The Guardian, January 20, 2013, accessed April 1, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jan/04/sick-lit-young-adult-fiction-mail.