Each of the novels we have discussed thus far has to some extent-whether intentional or not- addressed a variety of hard hitting, tough topics such as death, trauma, homelessness, suicide, and lack of identity. This is often done in YA lit as a way to expose young people to a wide range of topics that they either might be experiencing themselves, could experience in the future, or should be exposed to simply because they are important issues. Whether or not these topics are appropriate for YA readers is highly debated however for the purpose of this discussion I would like for us to assume that they are both appropriate and necessary in the texts we are studying. With this assumption I would like to pose the question: Were each of the authors effective and honest in their portrayal of these bigger issues?
This is a valuable question because why bring up the issues if you are not going to address them effectively and in a way that your readers can profit in some way? I am not saying that all YA novels need to have a didactic lesson or take a controversial stance; in fact reading action-packed and ‘fluffier’ novels can be quite fun and is often necessary to get kids interested in reading. However, if the author is attempting to bring up some of these issues they had better do their research and present it as authentically as possible otherwise they are doing a great injustice to all those experiencing these matters in their own lives.
After some consideration I determined that I typically ask myself four questions when determining if an author was able to properly address some of the hard-hitting topics often brought up in YA lit:
- Do the characters, their feelings and the situations they are in feel authentic and realistic?
- Does the discussion of the issues seem meaningful or does it feel contrived and rely on clichés?
- Can we see ourselves in the characters position?
- Do we gain anything valuable concerning the issue, and if not would the intended readers?
Overall, after thinking about each of the novels in regards to these questions I am of the opinion that all of them address their issues quite well… except for Blink and Caution. This of course is simply my own personal opinion and I encourage you to ask yourself these questions in regards to the novels and come to your own conclusion. Here is a brief description of my own opinions and thoughts about how a few of the novels handled these issues.
- In The Shore Girl I was exposed to a lifestyle that I myself never experienced, one that I had not considered in relation to my own home. It made me think about the possibility of child homelessness in Alberta and the implications that might have on a child’s identity and personal growth. Kimmel was able to address these issues in an authentic way because she did not imply that she always knew how Rebee was feeling, instead we get a fragmented understanding from other characters perspectives.
- In Swimmers, Amy Bright was able to provide the reader with an accurate depiction of how a person may act and feel with depression without relying on angst and clichés. Furthermore, the way she presented suicide was both respectful and honest without being contrived and glossy. I was able to compare my own experience with both suicide and depression to the characters experiences and did not feel slighted by her depiction.
- The Lesser Blessed takes a huge host of issues that are often avoided such as abuse, the effect of residential schools, Native American identity, and drugs and addresses them in a way that is both candid and sincere. Van Camp does not gloss over these issues but they are also not romanticized in any way. And though we may not be able to place ourselves in Larry’s shoes it opens up an important dialogue about these issues in an honest way.
In comparison to the three novels I just mentioned, I feel that Blink and Caution was incredibly two-dimensional. I did not find it to be thought provoking and it did not provide me with a new understanding of youth homelessness, death, grief, or any of the other issues “addressed” in the novel. Ultimately, I am of the opinion that Blink and Caution is not meant to be examined at great depth. It is an action packed teenage love story with an unrealistic plot line that perpetuates the banalities and stereotypes surrounding the bigger issues. I would even go so far to say that Wynne-Jones did not intend to discuss these major issues or provide his readers with any profound ideas; the topics and the clichés surrounding them were simply convenient for the advancement of the plot.
I hope that you all find this topic of effectiveness and authenticity in YA lit to be as important and interesting as I do and I would love to hear your thoughts!