The issue of being “teen”

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stressI read for entertainment. There, I said it. I don’t read to educate myself, or to explore world issues, or even to learn how to ‘lose a guy in such-n-such days.’ I like to be entertained.

But there is so much more out there and it’s a shame to limit oneself. I admit that. There are so many works of fiction out in the world that paint horrifically vivid worlds of reality. They are acclaimed novels. They are NY Times bestsellers. Some are even [gasp] banned. Why? Because amidst those bold typed pages we lose ourselves in, there is a truth. And many times that truth is so ugly, so emotionally charged, so honest, and so brutal that some folks believe these book are ‘too much’ for the average teen.

I’m talking about those wonderfully real books dealing with everyday teen life; the true angst of being a teenager. No matter how parents try to shield their kids, the fact remains we live in a world of rape, murder, drugs, bullying, hatred, racism, and all around negativity.

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier is a critically acclaimed look into the cruel world of bullying and consequences of nonconformity to the larger group. The same with The Lord of the Flies by William Golding where teen boys compile into tribes and hunt each other, the weaker group and social deterioration. Of course, there are also books with a more humorous approach like Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney where he makes being the dork kind of cool in a humorous way.

Many, many, many [many] years ago, I read Go Ask Alice from an anonymous author. I will never forget this book. The vision of Alice literally clawing the walls until her fingernails broke and bled while on a bad trip still haunts me. Some say this book is fiction, some say it’s an actual account of an anonymous teen. Either way, it scared the bejezzus out of me.

There are also some amazing books out there that don’t have the all-up-in-your-face approach to teen issues. The entire Harry Potter series was peppered with underlying references to prejudices, racism, bullying, and some possible homosexuality. Rowlings’ crafts the books in such a way you don’t really see it at first, but it’s there.

Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series also weaves in homosexuality, underage drinking, and drug use in such a way that it doesn’t pull you out of the story. Even in her Infernal Devices series, one of our most adored characters is, in all actuality, a drug addict.

We also LOVE our bad guys in all their sinister glory. But where is the line between a glorified bully and the bad-ass villain we love to hate? Does commercial fiction make the bad guy too…awesome?

So what makes an effective work of fiction that also addresses real issues that teens not only want to read, but will get something from it? Is it best to sucker-punch readers with realistic portrayals of humanity’s demons, or is it best to weave them into a world where it’s as allusive as the Faerie Courts? Teen issues are very real, and they need to be part of teen reading, but where is the line between being too preachy and downright cheesy?

As you know, we will have a whole panel dedicated to fictionalizing teen issues. What are some topics you’d like to see discussed? Is there a ‘teen issue’ book you’ve read that spoke to you? What are some other great reads that teach, and not preach, the importance of addressing the not-so-awesomesauce part of being a teen?

D.B. Graves is a young adult writer living amidst the rolling hills 
of Middle Tennessee with her husband and young son.

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