Dealing with Abuse in Young Adult Fantasy

Pull2b webFrom Home is Where the Monsters Are:

“David started asking if I could come over. My dad didn’t care what happened to me at that point, so he would take me over there, drop me off and then leave for the afternoon – probably to get wasted in a bar somewhere. The first time I came over, David acted really nice at first, but not a good kind of nice. David was nice like a snake. He gave me ice cream, and I think there was something in it. It made me sleepy. Still awake, but kind of…out of it, and then he slipped a black bag over my head and carried me downstairs.”

Stacy put a hand over her mouth. None of them were sure if they wanted to hear any more but knew that, for Melissa’s sake, they had to.

Abuse of any kind, particularly child abuse, is among the hardest topics to deal with in literature. Making that topic fair game in Young Adult literature has been a controversial but increasingly common development in the literary world. When most people – particularly non-YA readers who are mostly familiar with the Harry Potter movies – picture the Young Adult Fantasy genre they picture happy child wizards on flying broomsticks, facing down the occasional troll the heroes always seem to get away from.

The truth, however, is that children aren’t always smiling. Kids aren’t always loved the way they should be. Sometimes abuse happens and keeping that topic OUT of the books we read is being disingenuous to the true experiences of childhood.  

Mary Elizabeth Williams writes in her Salon Article: “Has Young Adult Fiction Become Too Dark?”:

“That ‘adult’ aspect of reading is scary for many of us. It’s our job as parents to protect our kids, even as they slowly move out into the world and further away from our dictates. But there’s something almost comical about raising them with tales of big bad wolves and poisoned apples, and then deciding at a certain point that literature is too ‘dark’ for them to handle. Kids are smarter than that. And a kid who is lucky enough to give a damn about the value of reading knows the transformative power of books.”

As a fantasy author who writes for teens as well as adults, I understand that I will likely face some backlash for including the topics of abuse in Home is Where the Monsters Are and The Pull. I cringe a little inside when I tell a parent that the book is suitable for ages 14 and up because I’m afraid they’ll go home, read the book and then start a campaign to get my book banned from their local library. It’s happened to some of the best books in literature, but for an up-and-coming author, the prospect of backlash is a scary thing.

But I think of the very first person I wrote these books for: myself as a 14 year old. I was dealing with a different kind of abuse then: bullying, but it put me in the kind of place where I could relate to children who were victimized. Hearing their stories and how they overcame being a victim and started being a survivor gave me hope that I could do that too.  

The character of Melissa in Home and The Pull dealt with her personal tragedies by becoming a stronger person. So strong, in fact, that she became feared, herself. Not all of us can become warriors. Some who have faced abuse will become poets and painters, doctors and teachers, but to become aware of not only our own demons but the demons our children face can make us that much more equipped to deal with them. 

Home is Where the Monsters Are

The Pull

Has Young Adult Fiction Become Too Dark?

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One thought on “Dealing with Abuse in Young Adult Fantasy

  1. Young people have a far greater capacity to handle difficult storylines such as this than some would give them credit for and I do not think that such issues are too dark if delivered sensitively, especially if the character portrayed becomes stronger, or the issues are portrayed in a way that helps the reader work through their own experiences. It’s a shame that some people like to sweep certain matters under the carpet or pretend that they don’t exist and do not approve of their inclusion in literature. Your works sound as if they would be helpful to those experiencing abuse and I wish you luck.

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