YA books with “heavy” topics are necessary

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Hello friends!

Recently, there have been discussions popping up every now and then about what YA should and shouldn’t be, what it should and shouldn’t have, whether it should have sex, trauma, mental health or any other “heavy” topics, and ironically…most of them have been led by adults, whereas the targeted demography is teenagers. And yes, believe me I do see the second irony here, I am an adult too, so why am I talking about this? I will be speaking from my perspective and experience when I was a teen, which wasn’t that long ago considering that I’m twenty two.

Anyway, back to our point. Every time this topic arises I see people screaming at the top of their (virtual) lungs that these things are bad and that they shouldn’t exist in YA, that they’re “inappropriate” and kids shouldn’t be reading about them. No sex or sex talk in YA (don’t get me started on queer sex), no mental illnesses, no sexual assault, no abuse, no…nothing. Basically, please write these kids utopias. I know I’m hyperboling (?), mostly, right now but that’s just because of how much this topic and approach to books frustrates me and let me tell you why.

If you’be been following my blog for any longer than a year, you know that my life has been far from trauma-less, some of it I shared on here (on this post and this one), some of it I’m not ready to share and don’t know if I ever will be. Most of it I went through in my childhood or teenage years. And by most I mean 90%. So tell me again how kids should be shielded? How they shouldn’t be exposed to these things because they’re too harsh, too heavy. Tell me again how kids should be protected from books when the system fails to protect them in real life? And you know what helped me cope? Books. And if you ask around you’ll find that so many people just like me, who’ve found solace in books.

And not any books. “Heavy” books. Hard hitting books that gut you and make you face the reality we live in. Books that might make you uncomfortable but only do so because they talk about things people would rather avert their eyes to. But the thing is these books are important. A book is what first made me see my PTSD, a book is what made me come to term with my queerness, and every book after that that has dealt with one topic or another has helped in some way. The point is these books HELP the kids who need them most. They make them feel seen and less alone in times when they might not have anyone else to turn to, or times where they might not be ready to turn to anyone.

YA readers are not shielded in real life and erasing their struggles in literature could and WOULD alienate them. Fiction shapes its readers so imagine kids who’ve been through hell and back reading about people their age having perfect lives, whose struggles NEVER mirror theirs, whose only worries are frivolous, or mundane. And I was that kid, I internalized my struggles thinking I was alone in them, thinking there must be something wrong with me that I wasn’t okay and that other people didn’t go through what I went through, or that I couldn’t just “get over them”. I would have needed these books growing up and I’m glad I got them in my late teens/early twenties and I’m even more glad, teens today, have them. And if we only listened to them instead of speaking over them, we’d hear them say they WANT these books. 

If not for their own experiences, then it’s to read about ALL kinds of experiences, whether they’re theirs or other teens’. Teens are so goddamn smart, smarter than us. Braver. And stronger. And they want to know these things, they don’t shy away from these topics, they confront them head on and make us confront them. They start discussions, fight for their rights, fight for what’s right and want to make their voices heard. And WE. SHOULD. LISTEN.

And believe me when I say I know where these adults, albeit misguided, who don’t want these topics, are coming from. I have a fourteen year old sister that I hope will forever live in a bubble and never come to harm. But if we want to protect them, let’s start from being better, from making our society better, that they wouldn’t NEED these books. But we’re so far from that and censoring their books isn’t the way to go about it. We give them what they want to read not what we think they should read. And if you talk to a teen, really talk to them instead of talk at them, you’ll learn so much from them.

The one area where you can have some leeway, in my opinion, is the way these book address these topics. Just like Adult and YA books can discuss the same topics in vastly different way, a YA book written for a 13 year old and a YA book written for a 18 year old might also differ in the way they address these heavy topics. They might not use the same words, the same imagery or the same level of graphic-ness, but these topics should be out there in books for them to find if/when they need/want them. And even then, these kids level of maturity might not match their age so it’s honestly all subjective, a case to case type of thing, which is exactly why these books should exist.

Them existing doesn’t mean every single teen has to read them, or that they’re meant for every single teen, but they’re meant for a lot of teens and that’s good enough.

This doesn’t mean, all books should be heavy books, FAR from that. Teens need light fluffy book to escape to as much as they need heavy books to engage with. They need a balance of both and most of all they need to be given the CHOICE as to what kind of literature they want to engage with. If a teen only wants fluffy books then they should have a wide variety of those to reach for, but that also goes for books with heavier topics, if they want to read those then they should have just as wide of a variety of books in EVERY topic to reach for.


That’s it until next time.

Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.

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18 thoughts on “YA books with “heavy” topics are necessary

  1. Yes to all of this!!! Excellent points Fadwa! These hard hitting books are SO important for YA – and even in MG in the appropriate way – because kids and teens are dealing with these issues every day! I also think it is just as important for kids and teens that have not experienced some of these issues to read them as well. By reading about these heavier topics , it creates awareness & empathy in those that have be fortunate enough to not have experience in these topics.

    The fact is that kids & teens are exposed to all kinds of heavy topics via social media, YouTube, TV, film…. You’d be surprised how little control adults have over what kids & teens are exposed to. As a parent, I’d much rather my kids read about a heavy topic in an appropriate way that will educated them, instill empathy, and open a dialogue for discussion.

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  2. I so agree with you !
    Back in the days, i didn’t knew that some books had anxious or depressive characters; only seen them passed twenty. But seeing my own symptoms written is a whole different thing, specially with dissociation, something my therapist didn’t even comforted me about nor talked about. Suddently, all made sense.

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  3. I agree with you. YA books with “heavy” subject matter can and should be used to improve empathy and understanding of others. Not everyone has perfect health. I didn’t as a kid and still don’t, nor do my family. Not everyone has a safe perfect life. Books can help. When you read about someone going through a similar struggle and you realize that what is going on with you is normal for your health condition, it is validating. The schools sometimes try to get teenager to read YA books that deal with heavy subject matter/social study/English issues i.e. racism, poverty, uncomfortable things from our history, etc. This should be encouraged, but authors and others need to write for the “target” audience, as you say.

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  4. I LOVE this post! I think it’s so important for teens to read about the real world, even though it may not be pretty. It’s so important for teens to be able to see themselves and their experiences in books no matter what that experience is. And even if someone hasn’t experienced it, it’s a great way to learn to be more empathetic and understanding of what others may be going through.

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  5. i definitely agree with you. i personally prefer lighter reads because when i read an emotional or hard-hitting book it can deeply affect my emotional stance and i prefer to be happy and positive as much as possible BUT that’s just personal preference. i also love reading books about heavy topics because they’re realistic and they open my eyes and allow me to learn and feel for other people’s struggles. heavy books ARE important and should be read and written.

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  6. I couldn’t agree more, this is an INCREDIBLE post!💕 I think more authors should write about these types of topics and touch them from a place where they might be able to help others or even inform.I think they also make the book feel more real and relatable 😊👏🏻

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  7. Incredible, incredible post!

    You’ve put these issues in such an eloquent way, and you managed to explain your reasoning behind each and every argument that you make. And you are SO right about all of it. There is so much that young kids and adults are exposed to because of the unfortunate horrors of the real world, so who’s to say that it’s too much for that audience to read about? Like you said, I also found myself in a character and in between the pages of a book, and I’ve found complete solace in that. There is something so acknowledging and rewarding about feeling understood, heard, and listened to. Even more so, when social media is how it is now, everyone wants to find their voice. And, for people that can’t find their own, they can find someone that has their same morals, beliefs, and ideals. Fiction normalizes so many things considered to be taboo in our society and it provides windows and mirrors for every single reader.

    Thank you so much for sharing this post and your story; this was such an amazing read. ❤

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  8. This is such a good post.

    I have to admit that having these hard hitting books are, even now, helping me come to terms to some of the things that happened during my teen years that I brushed off, and I can only imagine how they might be a comfort and a necessity for teens now. I only wish I had them when I was a teenager.

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  9. I couldn’t agree more and you wrote it so perfectly!! YA books should cover different themes and topics so every kid can relate to the characters in the story– so they don’t have to feel alone.
    Yes ideally kids wouldn’t relate to dark times but so many have hard lives and childhood does have pain in it— it doesn’t wait for adulthood so neither should the books. And I think it can be so important to have books out there for them. And we should definitely listen to them.
    Wonderful post– and again I love how you wrote it!! Very powerful and well put together!! 🙂

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  10. YES
    There are things adults just won’t talk about, so teens don’t know what to do when they happen. Think about the #metoo movement- a lot of people wouldn’t have come forward if they were alone.
    It’s also about reality- millions of people grow up in poverty, myself among them. I’ve seen how middle class people dismiss poor people because they think they suffer the same or worse. How people think that poverty must be the fault of the impoverished- that if you work hard enough in your minimum wage job, you’ll somehow make it. It’s just not real.

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  11. I completely agree with you. When I was a teen, I felt like books dealing with mental illness like I was dealing with were so hard to find, but when I did find one that I related to, it helped me so much. I think saying YA shouldn’t deal with tough topics does such a huge disservice to teens and is disrespectful to them in a way because it so discounts their life experiences. It’s naive to think that teens don’t deal with tough things and they should be able to find books they relate to that help them through tough times.

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