I have never understood why so many people seem to equate darkness with maturity. My recent foray back into YA fantasy and science fiction has introduced me to a number of assassins, thieves, and black market traders willing to deal in objects or flesh. I have read about assaults, tortures, and abuse. The more shocking, the better it seems these days.
Sometimes I wonder if authors are asking themselves,”Where do we go from the Hunger Games?” Kids competing on reality TV to end each other’s lives is so unremarkable that I have had parents tell me that their child, who has read and enjoyed The Hunger Games, “can’t read about violence because it upsets him.” So authors compete with each other to increase the darkness, to make each new form of violence memorable and unique.
And I don’t get it. What about teenagers makes authors think that they primarily want to read about about criminal elements and graphic violence? Why can’t a YA fantasy be whimsical or quirky or humorous? Why must I end so many YA books feeling like I have had a narrow escape from the squalor and the despair?
Of course, there is a place for darkness in YA. Of course, many dark stories end up in YA because authors and publishers feel middle grade readers may not be ready for them. And, of course, YA is often actually written for the adults buying it, rather than for the teens it is ostensibly marketed toward. But still–why must the inclusion of darkness in YA mean that the light-hearted fantasies must all be shelved with the middle-grade? There is no reason teens would not enjoy a such a book!
And this darkness can expand to other genres within YA, though I spend most of my time with fantasies and science fiction. For instance, I once tried to think of a humorous YA book. I could not. So I asked a children’s librarian. They couldn’t, either. So I searched the Internet. All the results I pulled up were “dark humor”–not quite what I was looking for! A teen who desired to read simply a wacky or weird humorous book would have to search in middle grade.
But just because teens are maturing does not mean they have to leave all the whimsy and the wonder and the silliness behind. Those things are timeless and can be enjoyed by any age. So let’s expand the YA section. We can keep some of the darkness–teens know the world is dark already. But let’s not forget that the light is shining, too.