YA author Rupert Wallis talks abut why death is so important in YA fiction.
Death has always lurked in some of the most moving and beautiful children’s stories, but for the younger reader, it’s usually approached in a palatable manner: good overcoming evil in the traditions of fairytales or in some oblique manner that isn’t gratuitous.
In a lot of YA fiction, the tone is different: with death woven as realistically into the lives of characters as it would be into our own, making the stories grittier and darker. This allows young adults to engage with the reality of dying through the safe act of reading.
For readers who have not yet been affected by the death of someone they know, this has to be a useful way of engaging with issues that will inevitably become relevant later in their lives. On the other hand, for those who have already been affected by death then being introduced to characters undergoing similar experiences must generate a sense of connection, of comfort that the reader is not alone.
If this helps adults engage with young adults about the issues surrounding death through mutually enjoyed stories, then I think this has to be positive when teenagers are so often distanced from previous generations through technology, vocabulary and life experience.
One way of tackling the difficult questions raised by death is to feel connected to one another in addressing them, to feel human together. The popularity of Twitter hashtags like #YAsaves and #fictionaldeathsiwillnevergetover point to the power of books to create connective emotional tissue between readers. YA bestsellers that address death, like The Fault In Our Stars
by John Green, generate their own sense of community in reviews and on blogs and social media. In an increasingly atomised society, it must be a good thing to be reminded of the strength a group can have in facing issues together.