When I was much younger, I didn’t get much affronted with grief in novels. Everything was nice and beautiful, and the only problem the characters had were about the care for their pet, staying over at grandma’s house and baking cookies. It wasn’t until my teens that I read books about various kinds of tragedies that could happen to a young person. I used to devour these books. My ultimate guilty pleasures were reading those novels about doctors, printed on the paper that make you think about the cheapest toilet paper in store and watching every soap opera they would broadcast in the Netherlands, from Goudkust to As The World Turns and back.* Luckily, this was just a phase and soon, when I started reading grownup books I didn’t crave the same amount of drama anymore. But when I started reading young adult novels in my late twenties (yup, not really ‘twenties’ anymore because that would suggest that I would be younger), boy, that craving came crawling back in and I can’t seem to ignore it, like I can’t ignore a bar of Milka Oreo-chocolate in the fridge.
However fun reading about all the drama in a teenager’s life may be, I have the hardest time looking for a young adult novel that isn’t about broken homes, long lost parents or death. Maybe I’m looking in all the wrong places but it seems to me that a) there aren’t much young adult novels about fun stuff like kissing your crush behind the garage of your parental house, and b) that many of the young adult novels that are all about the fun stuff are just plain shallow. If I remember correctly, this wasn’t the case when I was younger.**
Because I know I can’t handle the shallow stuff (Lobsters REALLY wasn’t my thing, I feel too old for that stuff) anymore, I got curious about what I do like. I went through my humble young adult collection (or, the books that survived the never ending project called: ‘Marie Kondo your bookcases, you crazy hoarder’), and what I found were books about death and despair of some kind. It made me ask myself the question whether I’m having another dramatic phase on my hands, or if there just are a lot of young adult books about all the bad stuff that can happen when you’re a teenager. I’m leaning towards the latter.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that it’s not a bad thing for teenagers to be reading about this kind of stuff. In my opinion, reading good books about grief in any form will teach teenagers about our world and all the messy bits. Our world isn’t beautiful. Life isn’t without care. As a matter of fact, I believe that the amount of grief you go through as a human being makes you all the more appreciate the happy moments in between. But is it really necessary that so many young adult books talk about the bad stuff? Doesn’t that give a distorted view of life as it is for most people?
Like in my beloved soap operas: if you add up the amount of tragedies one character has been through over a couple of years, the list that you can make will be easily three pages long. How can people go on, when all they get confronted with is heartbreak over death over suicide over addiction over… This raises the question about how much a person can take. It makes you believe that there is no life besides the drama. I believe the same thing will happen when all you read in your teenage years is about negative experiences. Sure, all novels end with a silver lining, but this may not feel like that when you’re plummeted into the next drama with reading the next book on your TBR.
So, people, I don’t believe in a genre where everything is bad: I want to think about life as a Rainbow Rowell novel. Because, sure there will be heartbreak. Sure, people will still die. But, there is also getting all gooey on the inside from thinking about accidentally kissing when you fall asleep while reading to someone.*** And, yes you can read comic books on the bus with someone you’re afraid to talk to. Let’s not forget about the fact that there are great friendships, and that there are parents who support their children in achieving their goals and be the best person they can be. Also, there are dogs and cats and guinea pigs who are the greatest unexpected friends.
And please, let us not forget about falling in love.
*For some reason, I didn’t really get into The Bold and the Beautiful. It lacked a certain amount of crazy trigger happy grandpa types.
**But what do I know? I was knee deep in every love/hate triangle in my beloved soap operas.
***That will wake everyone up, I guess.