Teen fiction not limited to HollywoodWritten by Chase Will | | firstname.lastname@example.org
As millions flock to theaters to watch the newest installments in the “Hunger Games” and “Divergent” franchises, many youth get their kicks from novels.
According to Mary Plews, teen specialist at The Toledo Public Library, a big misconception about teen fiction is it’s limited to Hollywood adaptations.
“For every genre in adult (YA) fiction there’s an equal genre in teen fiction,” Plews said.
“Sometimes younger readers can find a solution to their own problems by reading about characters with similar problems. It lets them know they’re not alone.”
Darren Shan, author of YA horror series “Zom-B,” stated novels have a deeper level of intimacy with young readers because the words come to life differently for everyone.
“I think that helps the messages find firmer root than they perhaps do when delivered through a more voyeuristic, less submersive medium such as film or TV,” Shan said.
Shan seems to agree with Plews regarding similarities between young readers and characters.
“I think most of us experience our most uplifting and crushing moments as teenagers, because we’re undergoing so many physical and mental changes, learning so much about the world, but learning the hard way (…) by actually living and learning to accept responsibility for our lives,” Shan said.
Although Shan’s novels are filled with psychopathic clowns, militaristic vampires and demons with a penchant for chess, he claims his most terrifying villain is the racist father of his protagonist, B Smith.
“The grotesque, more fantasy-based villains provide a way to tackle dark, troubling themes in a way that won’t overwhelm or repel young readers,” Shan said.
“By wrapping (B’s father) up in a tale of the living dead, it makes the book accessible to a lot more readers, children who come for the zombies but will hopefully find even more to engage them on other levels.”
Eliot Schrefer prefers a “seamy and unfiltered” approach to issues in his YA novels.
Prior to writing his 2012 novel, “Endangered,” Schrefer typically overlooked news relating conflicts in foreign countries due to their depressing nature. When he learned about bonobos, a chimp-like animal which shares 98.5 percent DNA with humans, Schrefer found a conduit for relating global issues to young readers without alienating them.
Schrefer puts Sophie, the 15-year-old protagonist of “Endangered,” in the middle of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where her mother works at a sanctuary for bonobos. When a violent revolution sweeps through Congo and destroys the sanctuary, Sophie is left with a young bonobo depending on her for survival, and she struggles to navigate a war-torn country filled with child soldiers.
“Knowing 5.4 million people have died in Congo thinks horrible, but doesn’t feel horrible,” Schrefer said. “Following a single person’s harrowing journey engages the more primal parts of the brain and can provide the emotional truth that numbers can’t provide.”
The responsibilities in caring for a young bonobo are akin to those faced by teen parents.
“For Sophie, Otto the bonobo is a great way to try her future life out — he’s somewhere between a pet and a child, so she’s seeing what it would be like to parent without actually being a parent. He’s like training wheels,” Schrefer said.
Catherine Ryan-Hyde, author of “Pay it Forward,” focuses many of her YA novels on teens struggling with homelessness, sexual assault, survivors guilt, and other real world circumstances.
Although the subject matter may be bleak, Hyde believes young readers are extremely underestimated by society.
“This is where we get into real ‘don’t get me started’ territory,” Hyde said.
Hyde states there’s a tendency among parents and educators to “create a safe bubble for young people by not exposing them to mature literature.”
She points out, however, no one can save them from being exposed to real life.
“I want to ask them, have you heard of child soldiers? Any idea how many kids live by their wits on the streets? Are you aware that a whole generation of AIDS orphans are raising their brothers and sisters in Africa?” Hyde said.
Like Schrefer, a younger Hyde was drawn toward novels that didn’t sugarcoat realities. Hyde claims her favorite book as a teen was “Midnight Cowboy,” an X-rated story about a male prostitute and his crippled best friend who lives as a street con.
Hyde’s work is similarly raw in the way she portrays struggles for redemption as well as survival.
“As someone who has been in recovery from alcohol and drugs for 25 years, I can honestly say I found my way from a dark place to the light,” Hyde said. “I think I’m inspired by stories of redemption, because I feel no one is beyond it.”
Tags: bonobos, Catherine Ryan-Hyde, chess, Darren Shan, Democratic Republic of Congo, demons, Divergent, Hollywood adaptation, homelessness, Hunger Games, Mary Plews, militaristic vampires, pay it forward, psychopathic clowns, sexual assault, survivors guilt, Toledo Public Library, villains, YA, Young Adult, Zom-B