The Very Best In Violent Young Adult Literature …

On the heels of yesterday’s post (“Anything to Get Them to Read …”), I decided to delve a little deeper in the world of Young Adult Fiction.  Quite honestly, I have been fascinated to read the various responses that many of you submitted to that initial post; and I find myself wondering what the state of young adult fiction tells us about what we believe to be true in terms of the future and what kind of world we are preparing our kids to inhabit.

So let’s start by taking a look at another list: “The 2010 Best Books for Young Adults” as compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association.[1] This is an alphabetical list of ninety books, the first ten of which I will offer as a sampling below:

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson.  Lia is haunted by her best friend’s death from bulimia, as she struggles with her own eating disorder.

Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes.  In an attempt to distance himself from the rest of the students in the school’s therapy group known as the Madman Underground, Karl launches his senior year with “Operation Be Fucking Normal.”

The Unnameables by Ellen Booraem.  In a place where everything has a name and every name has a meaning, outsider Medford Runyuin struggles in vain to follow the rules of his adopted home.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley.  Flavia de Luce is delighted with the discovery of a dead snipe on her doorstep and considers it a bonus when a human body is found in her cucumber patch.

Going Bovine by Libba Bray.  Cameron knew there was something wrong when he started seeing pillars of fire and angels, but he never imagined he had mad cow disease.

Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan.  Sixteen-year-old Nick and his older brother Alan are always on the run. Now, Alan has been marked by a demon and to save him, the boys must become the hunters.

Hate List by Jennifer Brown.  In the year following the devastating shootings at her high school orchestrated by her boyfriend Nick, Valerie must come to terms with grief and guilt in order to move on with her life.

All the Broken Pieces by Anne E. Burg.  12-year-old Matt struggles to cope with his memories of family left behind in war-torn Vietnam with the help of his adoptive parents, his music teacher, and his baseball coach.

Fire by Kristin Cashore.  In a world full of monsters so beautiful they lure people into their doom, how can people protect themselves from human monsters?

Because I am Furniture by Thalia Chaitas.  Anke watches her siblings and mother suffer at the hands of her abusive father until she finds enough strength, through involvement in volleyball, to demonstrate her needs.

What do you think?  As I skimmed that list, this is what I saw:  death by bulimia, harsh adoptive homes, “bonus human bodies,” mad cow disease, hunting demons, boyfriends that become high school shooters, “war torn Vietnam,” human predators (presumably pedophiles and the like), abusive fathers and a desire to be “fucking normal.”

Now when it comes to art and culture, people seem to gravitate towards one of two extremes.  The first group wants to suggest that art is merely entertainment and it doesn’t connect in any significant way to the greater culture at large.  So for instance, people in this group feel no internal constraints against playing violent video games because they are just games, not reality.  These are the people that suggest that “Glee” is just a television show, in spite of the writers’ open admissions to the contrary.  In other words, the people in this group erect a very strong wall between art and entertainment and the world around them.  They believe that life can be compartmentalized to such a degree that what we read, see, play and hear has little to no impact upon how we think and view the world.

The second group, by contrast, suggests that all art is a reflection of the greater culture, and therefore all art bears witness to the culture’s values and beliefs. With no hesitation whatsoever, I place myself firmly in this latter group, for I believe that all art is the product of individuals and that all individuals are the products of the times in which they live.  Therefore, to my way of thinking, all art, as it is produced by human beings, must be culturally bound in some way or another.

So the questions I am pondering after reviewing the list above are these: what does our society believe regarding violence?  Why is violence such a prevalent theme in the fiction we produce for our children?  Is the reality of history finally overcoming the “myth of progress” that was propagated by the Enlightenment thinkers?  If so, what will this myth be replaced by in the broader culture? And lastly, why do feel the need to warn our children of the impending chaos?


[1] All summaries are taken directly from the Young Adult Library Services Association website.

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2 Responses to The Very Best In Violent Young Adult Literature …

  1. Bob Bryant says:

    I thought of you this afternoon as I was having a conversation with a young teenage boy at CH. He had a dungeons and dragons player manual in his room and was very clearly in the fantasy world. He showed me his sketchpad which consisted of animated characters that he has created, all of which either had violent names, story backgrounds or weapons attached to them. We talked about how he sees the world as very dark, and he articulated all the war and suffering that goes on and then on an individual level the dissapointments of life. So I asked him if he was fed up with the darkness in the world and all the war and individual suffering that he sees, why he created a fantasy world of characters that simply displayed the same concepts of destruction. His response was simply that his heroes that he has created don’t kill on a massive scale but simply take out the perpetrators or those that are responsible for the most violence. It made me think about the occupy movements and the guy fawkes masks that have been appearing. In our culture, violence becomes the only solution. So in some ways, it does appear that the enlightenment myth of progress has been busted, and the next generations have found salvation in violence.

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