Katie Roiphe has an astute piece in the Wall Street Journal about why so many of today's young adult bestsellers focus on dark themes like suicide, eating disorders, and car crashes — and why we shouldn't be worried about it.
Roiphe may be a little off-base with her claim that "until recently, the young-adult fiction section at your local bookstore was a sea of nubile midriffs set against pink and turquoise backgrounds" — when I was in middle school in the 90s, there was definitely a series of YA books about terminally ill kids. And in Francesca Lia Block's now-embattled 1997 novel Baby Be-Bop, the main character is beaten by a gang of gay-bashers. But Roiphe is correct that many recent bestsellers deal with sorrow, suffering, and terror: there's Wintergirls, about a girl's gruesome battle with anorexia and cutting; If I Stay, in which a girl must decide whether to live or die after a car crash kills her parents; and Hunger Games, about a reality-show-cum-battle-royal in which only one teen will survive. Are these books shock lit, designed to sell copies through misery and gore? On the contrary, says Roiphe, their popularity just speaks to how difficult it is to be an adolescent. She writes,