I write YA. I read YA. YA stories are some of the best stories written--and are increasingly popular among adults.
I can't help but notice, though, that some of the YA stories out there are more brutal and violent than many of the "adult" stories I read. One of my favorite adult authors writes books with quite a bit of blood and death, where the rather amoral heroines easily justify the killing of innocents--in a way that has me nodding along. Sure, sure. They had to die. Horrible, but necessary. (I would not recommend those books to children.) Other adult authors also deal with death, but it hardly ever seems to leave a mark, unless the death was a spouse or a child. (I'm sure I'm forgetting some adult books that mirror what I talk about below, but that's not really the point.)
Then we have Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Harry Potter, and Incarceron, among others. In these stories we not only see brutality and the death of innocents, but it happens to people we know and love. No one is safe. If an adult author were to kill off such beloved characters, it seems there'd be a backlash, and a corresponding fall in readership. Instead, these books are wildly popular.
I'm not getting on a high horse here--my own WIP has a measure of violence and I plan a bit of shocking death, as well, but I just finished Incarceron and had to wonder: what stories are we telling our children? Is it good for them to see the world as uncertain and violent, with betrayal around every corner? More importantly, perhaps: why do they like these stories so much?
I have a theatre background and one thing that is always stressed in the theatre is the beneficial effect of catharsis. So playwrights, directors, and actors will put their characters through horrible experiences, hoping the audience will be able to feel the same emotions... and thus be more capable of dealing with their own mini-dramas in real life. I think, rather sadly, that this is what is happening in YA fiction.
When people die in YA stories, it leaves a mark on the surviving characters. Very few simply pass into death unnoticed, with the MC unscarred. The worlds these characters inhabit are exceptionally uncertain, with immense problems and betrayals lurking around every corner. Our world today is also uncertain, and our children deal with big-bad issues that can literally kill them... but that often are portayed as fun, harmless, and cool. Some are scarred by brushing against these issues, some are killed, but, I think, all are aware of the battle.
One of my favorite quotes lately is “Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.” — G.K. Chesterton (Thanks again, Shea.) In each of the horribly violent YA series (well, I'm taking a bit on faith, since not all of them are complete), the big-bad is conquered in the end. It is horrible, and there are awful consequences to be borne, but success, of a sort, is possible. Almost inevitable.
There's a lot of hope, hidden in the horror, and I think that our teens prefer to know and accept the truth that they will carry scars--so long as they also get to slay the dragon.
What do you think?