death becomes us.

| Thursday, March 11, 2010
Today's Tune: I Will Follow You Into the Dark

There’s an article from the Guardian that’s been floating around Twitter and the blogosphere that I found very intriguing. It discusses the “new” trend of dead and dying protagonists in YA lit.

The author of the article makes some interesting points. Is it just the general teen obsession with the macabre? Searching for meaning when one of their own is torn away from them? A darker tint to life due to the current state of the economy and general world outlook?

I don’t necessarily think that YA is growing darker than it’s ever been before, as there have certainly been some powerfully morbid books for and about teenagers released over the years – Christopher Pike’s horror-thrillers, V.C. Andrews’s disturbing dramas, even The Catcher in the Rye. However, there has certainly seemed to be an upswing in the new novels released where we’re hearing a story told from beyond the grave.

My personal theory is that death is something that affects all of us, and something we will all eventually have to go through. Barring becoming self-repairing eternal cyborgs, anyway. We all try to cope with it in our own way and make sense out of the unknown, which is really what death is. We all have our theories, but no one really knows what death holds. I think many of these stories are born from those wonderings. What if there’s an afterlife, but it’s not what we think? What if it sucks? What if we get a second (or third, or fourth) chance?

Stories of this nature are especially pertinent to teenagers, who 1.) often think they’re invincible, and 2.) sometimes fear death that much more than the rest of us because there’s so much they haven’t experienced yet. I’ll admit it – as a teen, I was terrified I’d die before I’d kissed a boy. Then terrified that I’d die a virgin. Then terrified I’d die before college, or before telling my crush how I felt, or before falling truly in love, or before learning to drive, or before living.

When friends my age died, it was devastating in more than one way. I’d lost a friend, which was awful in and of itself, but underneath that there was this horror that I was also mortal. If my friend could be taken by death, so could I. There was so much they never got to do, and it could have been me.

But what if they weren’t really gone? What if *I* wouldn’t really be gone? It’s a comforting thought when dealing with confusing feelings about death. In these times of war, televised violence, natural disaster, and other brushes with our mortality, it’s only natural that death is lingering at the back of a lot of minds.

As the article states, death is supposedly the worst thing that can happen. Once you’re dead, what else have you got to fear? These sorts of novels, dark as they are, are almost comforting in a way. The worst is over, and we can take away its power over us by talking and reading about it. We can learn to fear it less.

This is especially interesting to me because my own writing tends to be a little darker. Death, redemption, corruption, the true meaning of good and bad – these are all big themes in my writing. I try to hash out my own feelings on these topics through fiction. In doing so, maybe my eventual readers might find something to connect with. Something they can read and go, “Yeah, I get that.”

What say you, readers? What do you think of the trend of teenagers telling their story post-mortem?


{ Shelley Sly } at: March 11, 2010 at 12:55 PM said...

I see where you're coming from, and I so relate to where you said, "...but underneath that there was this horror that I was also mortal." Too many friends/acquaintances of mine have passed away in my teen and young adult years, and this exact thought has gone through my head.

Personally, I'm really intrigued by the post-mortem stories, because while some of them are still horror stories, others actually aren't. Some are love stories, or (strangely enough) "coming of age" stories even after there's no more age. It's just a fresh perspective... well, or it was fresh, depending on how many more books follow suit.

P.S. I'm glad it was okay that I mentioned/linked you in my blog. I had meant to ask beforehand, but I forgot.

{ Christi Goddard } at: March 11, 2010 at 3:43 PM said...

I concede that there is a greater number of teen stories about death and the dead than there was when I was a teenager, but there weren't books for teenagers at all at that point. YA is a fairly new concept and market, and no matter what the 'trend' is, I find it's more of an accident. The seed for my idea happened in 2005 before the 'trendy' books were published. I think it's more of a fluke than anything, but it speaks to what many of us think about and enjoy, regardless of what's popular. Vampire and zombie books have been around for ages, but usually catered to older readers and were full of sex and desire. Not that YA lacks this, but it's not the prevalent theme. It's also about BECOMING that adult with adult desires instead of just indulging in them.

I've enjoyed the macabre since I was little. I remember when I was in fourth and fifth grade and our music teacher would play 'Dance of the Macabre' and we would all pretend to be skeletons and witches and zombies and dance around the room. To me, it was magical, and it stuck with me. I grew up watching mostly fantasy and science fiction television shows and hated sitcoms and reality TV. I know this constant immersion into un-reality is what led to my need to tell my own stories that aren't based in reality.

So, to summarize it, I don't think it's a trend. I think they are opening markets for the things we've always wanted.

{ maybe genius } at: March 12, 2010 at 7:42 AM said...

Interesting point, Christi! So it's possible that this is more of an effect of YA in general booming over the last 5-10 years, rather than outside influence.

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