HOT TOPIC TUESDAY: Death And Dealing With It In YA Fiction

Tomorrow we’ll be spotlighting ALL UNQUIET THINGS, an intense, heartbreaking YA murder-mystery by Anna Jarzab. The victim? Carly, a bright, beautiful girl who spirals out of control and winds up brutally murdered. The sleuths? Neily, Carly’s ex-boyfriend, and Audrey, Carly's cousin—and the daughter of the man convicted of her murder. They’re determined to find out who really killed their friend.

Death and loss is a theme in YA lit-- as teens, we all feel it to one extent or another. That’s one of the weirdest parts of death to me. We all grieve, but society tells us how much is acceptable, depending on certain conditions. In ALL UNQUIET THINGS, Neily is “allowed” a long mourning period because everyone knows he’s always thought of Carly as his soul mate. Audrey? So what if she was family, and Carly’s best friend at the time of her death? Her dad killed Carly—Audrey doesn’t get to feel bad.

I love the way my friend and fellow author Jean Reagan put it: “We seem to assign acceptable degrees of grief based on proximity to the loved one… Grief shouldn’t be a competition between severities of loss or proximity to loss, but rather a chance to connect with others and heal together.”

As a teenager, I moved to a new city. It was only a half-hour’s drive from where I’d lived before, but it might as well have been on a different planet. The local high school was cliquish to an extreme I thought only existed in movies.

The summer before I moved in, a guy my age died on a Boy Scout hiking trip. As I tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to make friends, I’d meet people who had known and loved him. In a world with such strict social boundaries, I was amazed by their diversity—Bad Boys, Good Girls, and everyone in-between. Which ones were his bffs and which were only acquaintances? I’d never know. That’s when it hit me: it didn’t matter. Everyone was allowed to hurt. The idea inspired my YA novel THE WAY HE LIVED (Flux, 2008).

Other contemporary YAs I love that give a twist to dealing with grief: WHAT HAPPENS HERE, by Tara Alterbrando (MTV Books, 2008), IF I STAY, by Gayle Forman (Dutton, 2009), TWENTY BOY SUMMER, by our own Contemp Sarah Ockler (Little, Brown, 2009)…there are too many to name.

What are your favorites?


Mrs. DeRaps said...

I loved All the Unquiet Things. I've not heard of the other book you mentioned, but I'll try and track down a copy. I look forward to reading your posts this week!

Pam Harris said...

I think Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers definitely takes a unique (and authentic) take on death and grief. Most teens usually shut down, and I think the protagonist of that story truly reflects that.

ivanova said...

For me, the classic one is Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume. I also like Wrecked by ER Frank. And also the Tomorrow When The War Began series. In that series, the main character is in a war zone situation, and there's too much action happening for her to get a chance to stop and process the loss of her friends. But she's grieving anyway, while she's traveling and being a resistance fighter. I thought that was very realistic.

Lisa Schroeder said...

THEY SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson is a really good one. Also, HOLD STILL by Nina LaCour, which has been showing up on a bunch of state lists.

QTPlpFict said...

I'm reading Losing Faith by Denise Jaden right now. A couple great YA books about grief: Willow by Julie Hoban, Hold Still by Nina LaCour and 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

Micol Ostow said...

Great post, Emily. And you know how much I loved your book! I'm looking forward to ALL UNQUIET THINGS, too.

Miranda said...

Cracked Up To Be- Courtney Summers
If I Stay- Gayle Forman
Twenty Boy Summer- Sarah Ockler
13 Reasons Why- Jay Asher
The Sky Is Everywhere- Jandy Nelson
Lipstick Apology- Jennifer Jabaley

I think they all tell about different grieving processes. And how one can grieve in different ways. Death is such a hard thing to read and write about, but all these authors do it with beauty.

P.S. I'll be looking for more of the books listed on here.

lisa adams said...

Even though not contemporary, I will note my favorite ones because they were unique in their time... and have stayed with me since childhood. The Two of Them by Aliki was my favorite as a small child. As an older child, Bridge to Terabithia was groundbreaking to me. My mother spent her career as a psychologist specializing in grief and loss (which are topics I write about now) and at the time, Bridge to Terabithia was one of the few that directly addressed the effect of the death of a peer on an adolescent.

It's wonderful to see discussions of death and grief more and more in YA literature.

Shari Green said...


Jess said...

I second 13 REASONS WHY.

Also WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson. Lia's relapse into anorexia, which is the most memorable aspect of the novel, is wholly intertwined with her grief at the death of her best friend.

addicted2reading said...

This post has made me realize I've read quite a few YA books about death and dying. These are my favorites:

Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson
Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher
Deadline by Chris Crutcher
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Looking for Alaska by John Green
The Everafter by Amy Huntley
Losing Faith by Denise Jaden
Hold Still by Nina LaCour
Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

I think a list of 10 is good :)

-Sarah @ Y.A. Love

Claire Dawn said...

Somehow death is never dealt with with such depth as in YA.

Bee said...

You have no idea how true this post rings for me.
The boy I loved died a week back. He had a girlfriend and I never told him how I felt, but that doesn't make my grief any less than her's. If anything, it's perhaps worse, since I never got to told him what he meant to me and now it's just too late. But nobody gets that. And I grieve in secret.

Death and Grief are my favourite topics in YA.
Before I Die, Missing Judy, The Sky Is Everywhere, Cracked Up To Be, Taken By Storm are some of my fave books. They all deal with grief differently.

And thank you so much for this post.

Rachel said...

This is an interesting post, I hadn't heard of All the Unquiet Things. Lately I'm seeing a LOT of death and kidnapping and darkness in YA fiction, which is not a bad thing, but I personally cannot read too much of that in a row. This is not at all to disparage people writing about grief and death, which are certainly a part of life, I just have noticed with, for example, Losing Faith by Denise Jaden, which I really enjoyed, there's death, and Girl, Stolen by April Henry, kidnapping. Perhaps these are themes that resonate with teens especially.

God Is in the Pancakes by Robin Epstein deals with a teenager befriending an elderly man who asks her to help him die and is very well done.

Melissa Walker said...

Just read and loved YOU ARE NOT HERE by Samantha Schutz.

Adeeva Afsheen said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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