Confronting the Difficult Topics in YA Fiction

There is no magic cure, no making it all go away forever. There are only small steps upward; an easier day, an unexpected laugh, a mirror that doesn’t matter anymore.

Laurie Halse Anderson

Eating disorders and Self Harm

YA Authors take their responsibility very seriously when writing about Eating Disorders and Self Harm. There is an unpredictability that surrounds the triggers for both of these issues and for that reason, the YA fiction on this topic may be a useful way to give parents some understanding, however slight, of their child’s thoughts.

Laurie Halse Anderson, submitted the manuscript of Wintergirls,  to experts on the subject of eating disorders before publication. Her challenge was to ensure that Wintergirls told the whole story.

Elena Vanishing: a Memoir by Elena Dunkle describes how difficult it was for the author to accept her problem and ask for help – an echo of her personal battle with an eating disorder.

Girl in pieces by Kathleen Glasgow begins with the protagonist in a treatment facility after a serious episode self-harm. The complex thoughts behind the decisions to self-harm are insights generously shared by the author from her own personal experiences.

These books may act as a conversation starter that creates understanding, and can also provide insights for people caring for young adults experiencing these disorders.

Note: It is important that school librarians are aware of the books dealing with eating disorders and self-harm in their libraries, and aware when students are reading them.

Suicide

No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue.
Yet we push it just the same.

Jay Asher

Jay Asher’s 13 reasons why is not the first YA novel to address suicide, but when it became a televised miniseries it attracted the concerns of parents afraid that talking or reading about suicide may prompt young people to take the same course of action. Evidence says that the opposite is more likely to be the case – a discussion of suicide does not initiate thoughts of suicide if they are not already present, but enabling someone to discuss suicidal thoughts, whether with friends or family, is more likely to prevent them from putting those thoughts into action.

At the core of 13 reasons why is the death by suicide of a teenage girl. The novel addresses teen suicide, mental illness, reputation-worship, gossip and slander, nearsighted impulsivity, sexual abuse, and malignant narcissism. These issues resonated with teens and had a significant impact on those who read the story. The novel neither glamorised nor preached, instead leaving it up to the reader to draw their own conclusions.

Teens commented that this book made them realise how their actions could have unforeseen consequences, how seemingly small things can be compounded to produce a significant but unforeseen effect, and how we never fully realise what is going on behind the scenes for a person who we think we know quite well.

And, because the main character was guilty of inaction, it also contained a plea to those who might otherwise remain bystanders.

Last word …

Early intervention has been shown to minimise the disruption caused by mental health at all ages. YA Fiction enables early intervention by providing language, by reducing stigmas and stereotypes, by both posing and answering questions, and by facilitating conversations.

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