Monday, July 23, 2012


I’ve noticed one question popping up more and more frequently during panel and signing Q&A sessions:  Are Young Adult books getting darker? 

There seems to be a lot of speculation that YA is beginning to trend toward the dark side, and it begs the question, are teens really seeking out darker subject matter?  Are authors trying to see how far is too far? And what, exactly, is the draw for these tender young readers on the cusp of adulthood?

With the recent surge in dystopians and paranormals in YA, we’ve seen tributes fight to the death, zombie apocalypses, vampires who will either love you or rip your throat out, an up-rise in serial killers, and plagues that have destroyed nearly the entire world’s population.  It’s starting to feel as if we’ve reached a desolate time in young adult literature.

I find this topic endlessly fascinating, the idea that teens have only just discovered these “dark” topics, or that teens of today are reading materials that are much more sinister, somehow, than those of the generations before them. Umm, hold on a moment while I fondly recall curling beneath the covers and reading Stephen King’s SALEM’S LOT at the ripe old age of 14 (and those were definitely not the vampires that sparkled).  So forgive me if I scoff at the notion of teens-of-today being more obsessed or fascinated by horror or violence or just plain ole gore than those of yesteryear (and, ehem, I apologize to those of my generation for calling it “yesteryear”).  Or that they’ve been somehow corrupted by the books that are flooding the market...books that are indulging this bloodlust. 

Honestly, I think what’s really happening here is that publishers are finally realizing that teens have always been reading this stuff. That before we had a substantial Young Adult section in bookstores, as teens we were reading Stephen King or Christopher Pike or Clive Barker...and even, dare I say it, a little Edgar Allen Poe? This fascination isn’t new. Hell, the subject matter isn’t even new. It’s just the realization that teens don’t need to be treated with kid gloves; that they can actually handle it...and that even if it’s not shelved in the YA section, doesn’t mean that teen readers won’t find the material. Honestly, as a parent, I’m much more concerned with what they can find on the internet as opposed to in the pages of a novel. 

So what about you, if you’re a teen, what kind books do you like to read? And if you’re not, who (or what) did you curl up with in your yesteryears???

I, for one, was a pretty eclectic reader...even back then. Some of my favorite teen reads were The Shining (or pretty much anything by Stephen King), The Color Purple, Suffer the Children (or anything by John Saul), To Kill a Mockingbird (still my all-time fave!), and Pride and Prejudice. 


Catherine Ryan Hyde said...

When I was 14 my favorite book--and movie--was Midnight Cowboy. Which may be before everybody's time. But easy enough to Google for anyone who's curious.

Eleni said...

Honestly? By the time I was 11, I read Christopher Pike and RL Stine's Fear Street novels all the time. By age 12, I started reading the Amityville Horror. I secretly recorded the Friday the 13th movies and Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street, although my parents vastly disapproved. The dark side of life fascinated me when my body and emotion began to mature and I found myself having a hard time making friends at school. I think a lot of people start reading darker-themed books earlier than their parents would like. A lot of horror-concepts mirror what their friends and classmates are acting like (zombies, parasitic vampires). Horror is a wonderful metaphor for teenage life.

Stephanie Allen said...

To be honest, I read more YA now that I'm an adult than I ever did as a teen. I was all about the epic fantasy and classics back then, although I did make sure to read everything Tamora Pierce and Meg Cabot wrote, too.

DCC Mealy said...

Hi Kimberly! Great panel at PNWA, by the way. I really enjoyed it.

I agree with you. I read RL Stine in elementary school, and my sixth grade I was moving in to Stephen King. IT was my favorite, most scariest bedtime read in Junior High! I think that publishers are just now realizing that teens were reading it all along.

missymoo-09 said...

hi, i'm an 15 year old and i read all those types of ya that some describe as "dark" but truth be told it is no darker than some real life issues of todays society that teen actually face.Our generation is a lot more mature than some adults perceive us.People complain that themes & issues in ya novels are not for teenage eyes or that cursing should not be allowed but that is how we do speak and some teenagers have been exposed to issues that are quite dark (abuse,drugs,sex,murders,violence and all round horror) we want to read novels that have mature themes whether paranormal or realistic because we no longer are children we are just like the genre states Young Adults going on to be adults and do not need to be shielded. we grow up fast theses days and ya literature is only reflecting that.

Kimberly Derting said...

Catherine - And that's pretty dark subject matter for a 14 year old, even if it isn't vampires or zombies. Maybe *especially* because it's not vampires or zombies.

Eleni - My 11-year-old has read a gazillion of RL Stine's books too! She'll be graduating up soon ;)

Stephanie - I definitely read more YA now than adult fiction.

DCC - IT, yes! I was never freaked out by clowns until that book!!

missymoo - I agree, reality is definitely darker than fiction. And teens are far savvier than they often get credit for!

Anonymous said...

Agree and Love this post
I grew up with RL stine as well
in 7th grade I read the lemony snikit books and I picked up draculua... and skipped to the part where he was drinking blood
in 8th grade I read the raven

Fast forward to now and I am eagerly awaiting "Enshadowed" by Kelly creagh and love Varen and goth and Goth guys in general

I love ghost hunters and supernatural I love angel lore as well I tend to lean toward things I'm fimilar with in terms of books vampires, werewolves, scifi, time travel and while I wouldn't mind light stuff I find that lighter more censored stories with no dark what so ever irk me I need mystery, or street fighting, or something like the outsiders or the catcher in the rye both of which could be considered "dark" if you think about it

curlypow said...

So true, finally publishers are realising that teens have been reading this 'dark' material for ages and are putting it in a YA package - it's about time.