Monday, December 13, 2010

YA: Death

Here's a happy topic.  Death is one of the topics that I feel really separates YA from Adult genres.  Usually, from what I've read, Adult fiction that deals with death is very, well, mature.  A husband, parent, child is lost, and the adult must find ways to cope with the loss and carry on with his/her life.

YA is, essentially, the same.  But teens and young people are not equipped to deal with death the same way adults are; they haven't lived long enough, or seen enough, to be able to deal with it, or at least, not properly.  And that's why Death works so well as a theme in YA, because throwing a young character into a situation she was not prepared to handle, and watching her grow and find a way to cope with that situation, is the basis for any good story.

It may be morbid, but I love YA that deals with death.  Now, don't go killing off characters right and left to try to satisfy me.  Like everything in a novel, it must fit, it must be believable, and it must work with the story, subplots, and characters.  Hunger Games, for example, deals with a lot of death.  Okay, in that characters are dropping off left and right.  But it's the premise of the story, and, since Katniss grew up watching the Hunger Games and people dying, Death really doesn't affect Katniss until she watches a friend die (trying not to give anything away here, but I'm not, because like I said before, a lot of people die).  And the loss hits her hard, so she responds in the only way she knows how, she takes care of Rue's body and she sings--consequences come from that, both good and bad, and that makes that particular death beautiful, necessary, and helps us understand Katniss a little better.

While the Hunger Games is Dystopian and anything goes, YA contemporary fiction, or even paranormal or urban fantasy, must (mostly) operate within the confines of reality.  The government isn't going to come into a school and kill off a dozen students and just happen to also kill the main character's best friend.  Reasons we will believe?  War, car crash, cancer (and other health problems), suicide.  Happy topics right?  And of course, the main reason we read the books, is to see the aftermath, which can range from inappropriate sex to a search for answers, from withdrawing from friends and family, to going on the warpath for revenge (however the revenge might manifest itself).

Below are a list of my favorite books dealing with Death.  Follow the links to see my reviews.  I haven't reviewed Zusak and Green because I read them before I started to blog, but they've stuck with me that long; they are definitely worth a read (full box of tissues for the first, half a box for the second).  Zusak's quite literally deals with Death; it is narrated by Death.  And Green's is a part funny, part seeking-for-answers coming of age story.

Twenty Boy Summer - Sarah Ockler
Past Midnight - Mara Purnhagen
Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher
The Body Finder - Kimberely Derting
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
Looking For Alaska - John Green

And I'd like to know your favorite books dealing with Death, no limits on the genre.  But I am always looking for more morbid YA to add to my lists, so please, dig deep.

So, despite the topic...

Happy reading!


Anonymous said...

Twenty Boy Summer is a great example. I'd also add Unwind by Neal Shusterman to that list.

Linda Benson said...

Oh, I'm not into morbid, but I'd have to add Jandy Nelson's THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, about a girl dealing with her sister's death, into that pile. Best YA I read all year.

Author101 said...

It seems all I see now is YA. Is there no one out there reading or wanting to represent anything else. I am a horror buff and as such, I write what I know and like but find there isn't a lot of agents looking for this anymore.