The list is called Best Teen Books About Real Problems.
It made me remember how many YA titles that I have read that absolutely blew me away. Some of them were on this list, and the memory of others was stirred up while I explored the list.
YA can be pretty freaking dark. I don't write in the genre, but I do enjoy reading it. The stories start fast, don't spent eons of time with description or background, and I find YA main characters really engaging.
Some of the books are so gritty and real that they hurt, covering subjects and going to places where even I don't dare to tread.
Which is funny, because the main reason I don't write YA is because I'm fairly certain I'd have difficulty staying within the realm of appropriateness.
What could be more inappropriate than the way Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott faces head on what children abducted by sexual predators very likely go through? Wow. And I mean... wow. I will never forget this book. I will never forget that Alice was so tortured and damaged from repeated rape that she was not only willing, but enthusiastically willing to help her abductor choose her replacement. Whoa. Talk about freaking cold. And yet so real that the thread of truth can't be denied.
Hate List by Jennifer Brown, a story told from the point of view of a school shooter's girlfriend, Valerie. The girl who helped write the list. The girl everyone thinks should have known, should have done something, should have stopped him. She doesn't know how to feel, so she works really hard to feel nothing. How can she be sad that Nick is dead, when he did such an awful thing? How can she explain that Nick was more than just a kid who shot his classmates - but who would even want to hear it? This is no tale of sweet adolescence. This is the story of a girl's major struggle to cope with the aftermath of major trauma.
Along the same (but different) idea is a poignant story called If I Stay by Gayle Forman. Mia doesn't remember the accident. A part of her knows there was an accident, her thoughts and memories are fluid as she lies comatose in the hospital healing from her own injuries. She goes between trying to remember what happened, and never wanting to find out. If she opens her eyes, she'll live the rest of her life as a brother-less orphan. But if she keeps them closed, maybe she won't have to live at all.
Another astonishingly dark one is When Jeff Comes Home by Catherine Atkins. This book begins sixteen year old Jeff is returned to his home by his kidnapper, after being held captive for three years. Jeff tries to navigate back into his old life, but keeps getting hung up in webs of scar tissue - some physical, some emotional. He keeps telling everyone that nothing happened, but no one believes him. The carefully awkward conversations that Jeff and his father have eventually lead to truth, acceptance, and healing, but it's an agonizing journey.
As much as I love a bloody and biting vampire story, I feel absolutely slammed with paranormal stories all of a sudden. Down every aisle of the bookstore (virtual and real) lurk demons, dragons, werewolves, and witches Don't get me wrong, a lot of them are terrific - but when I pick up one of these, I need a certain kind of energy to suspend belief and open myself to worlds often far beyond the one we live in.
And sometimes it's a nice break to read about the real world - even the dark parts. These stories, though dark, speak to the resilience of the human spirit. And sometimes maybe we need to be reminded of that - it's not only angels and witches and dragons who can save us... truth is, we often have to save ourselves. And we're well-qualified.