Literature of Hope


What is the worst thing you can make a 9th grader read? I would argue that it is William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This isn’t a knock on the Bard, or his play that has remained popular for hundreds of years. It’s just that the ending isn’t what teenagers want, and maybe it isn’t what they need.

A few things have gotten me to thinking about this. Some of my fellow teachers have been talking about how nearly every long piece of fiction or drama that we teach is incredibly depressing. Add to that one of my students crying through class today, probably because her boyfriend broke up with her, and the fact Carrie Jones and I are working on an interview for Bloomsbury in which I have to talk about switching from adult fiction to young adult.

Young adults don’t want to be depressed when they read. They have enough going on to mess them up. Raging hormones causing emotional extremes, dating, acne, dating, parental pressure, dating, peer pressure, dating, feeling like they have no control of their lives, suddenly having to take on a job with school to pay for a car and all that goes with that. Getting innto a good college and making sure that education is funded. Oh, and dating! Is it any wonder they are upset with the end of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four, or when Romeo and Juliet kill themselves for love, or when Edna Pontellier walks off into the sea? How about this: "It is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done." Sure, it’s a happy ending for Lucy and Charles Darnay at the end of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, but poor old Sydney Carton goes face down in a basket.

Young adult literature, though, isn’t depressing. Not usually. Often at the beginning of the story it seems the character should be depressed. Often she or he is living in a broken home, maybe with a drug-addicted parent, or a single parent wrapped up in dating, or whatever. But as the story progresses, no matter how bleak it seems to be for the kid, there is hope, and usually a happier ending than the reader is going to find in the accepted American or British literary canon we teach in school.

So, was it difficult to switch from adult horror fiction to young adult paranormal romance? Not really. Sure, I’ve learned that even demons have to watch their language in the YA world, but writing a novel where the good guys win — really win — and where young people overcome the evils assailing them, that was pretty good.

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