YA novel themes capture teenage angst – but leave some wondering if works exploit issues

Jayden Jones, Staff Writer

Protagonist from dystopian fiction “The Hunger Games” Katniss Everdene

When Judy Blume published “Are You There, God, It’s Me Margaret” in 1970, the novel was the first to address the classic woes of teenage angst: stress, relationships, and finding themselves. Today, the novel remains one of the most popular young adult (YA) novels of all time. Published before the term “young adult” was even a genre, Blume’s novel captured the provocative issues from coming to age and the changes we go through during those troublesome times.
YA authors have always been a voice for adolescents, presenting relatable subjects for teenagers about the hardships they endure from in life. But recently, some fans have been questioning content that they believe pushes the envelope in the genre.
In the most recent summit on the Research and Teaching of Young Adult Literature, there was a prominent number of books containing subjects such as depression, anxiety, abuse, and sexual assault, which are far less relatable to the “average teenager.” Has young adult literature become too dark in nature to be relatable to teenagers, or is it simply a byproduct of the change in times?
According to library subscription source Atlantis Subscriptions, there has been a noted “growing trend in today’s young adult marketplace to tolerate, and even encourage, books that have objectionable language or content.” Arguably, this recent trend may be entwined with the minds and beliefs of readers, and not simply fabricated by unattuned reviewers and authors.
Although some may argue that the themes in YA novels are too unrelatable and gloomy, for some teens these novels are a place where they find characters who act, look and think like themselves. Not everyone is going to have a mental illness, be sexually assaulted, experience racial division, or go through other controversial afflictions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t know someone in their lives who is affected by such matters
One in four people are or know someone diagnosed with a mental illness according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Many of these books under the YA category express an expansive range of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorder.
This study goes hand in hand with other issues like sexual assault, which have similar numbers to those of mental illnesses.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, reports of sexual assault have increased, since ratios are now one in six boys and still one in four girls. Understanding another’s perspective, struggles and beliefs has always been a way to grasp a fuller image of society and find unity amongst different cultures and communities.
“These darker themes are really allowing young adults to put themselves in other’s shoes and give them the opportunity to think of how they’d personally react in a situation like that,” Bear Creek alumna Lily Tran, an ardent YA novel fan, said.
However, young adolescents may not be the only people feeling overwhelmed by current times. Barnes & Noble noted a 25 percent increase in sales of books relating to anxiety from the end of 2016 to the present according to CNBC news. This growing angst is not just a “teenage phase” — it is happening nationwide, and adolescents are experiencing it just as much as adults are.
The question isn’t necessarily of what’s true of what young adults experience and feel, but more specifically if YA authors have a misconception of the struggles of the average teenager. Misconceptions are an unavoidable factor in everything people do, and they’re going to exist regardless. However, to say authors have no idea about the lives of young adults, their target audience, is just preposterous.
These YA books are tackling subjects far more serious than previous books, but there’s a reason for that to be a problem. Times are changing and such topics have a clear presence in the minds of teenagers and adults alike. If you don’t want to read about more mature topics, then don’t
“Books that contain darker content make up only a portion of the vast number of books we have here [Bear Creek Library],” Bear Creek Librarian Candy Byrd said. “If you don’t like a book or a series, there’s so many others to choose from,” Byrd said.
We, as the audience and consumer have a definitive voice in the impact of events — whether it be new a book release, movie or even the political climate.