One thing young adult authors who focus on real life must consider is the problem novel. That is to say that they need to examine books that are centered around identity, sexuality, racism, depression, and suicide.
These types of books appeal to teens in similar situations. Oh, we as parents and grandparents like to think our teen isn’t involved in such things, but that’s only us thinking they’re the perfect little angel gifted to us many years before. In truth, teens often struggle with all of these things.
Identity is more than a teen saying they can’t possibly be part of your family because everyone is so messed up. It’s about who they are inside, what they expect out of life, and if they’re moving along a path where they believe their parents might eventually hate them. This can cause them to move away from the normal family dynamic and seek out others in the same position, only to discover that group doesn’t have the answers they need either.
Sexuality is more than what gender your child is. I’ve always maintained that teens are comprised of raging hormones. They’re experimenting with things they’ve been told all their lives are forbidden, but their bodies are saying go for it. The confusion there can cause all sorts of animosity between parent and child. Some have likened it to having a perfectly adorable child, until they hit puberty and became a monster. No, your teen isn’t a monster; they’re dealing with raging hormones that have them off balance.
Racism has raised its ugly head after many years of people working in concert. Even if your teen seems to have a good grasp on the problem, they are seeing claims of this and that is wrong. Or that they’re a horrible person because of their ancestry. Since all teens strive toward acceptance from their peers, this can cause them to withdraw and turn to other people to figure out why they’re no longer an accepted part of their peer group.
Depression isn’t just being sad. It’s a chemical imbalance. No matter how much the parent wants to help their teen deal with this, they are facing a two-fold problem. First, the teen more than likely doesn’t want to talk at all. Secondly, our society has hammered into everyone’s heads that taking drugs is wrong, but the cure for depression is a drug. Enter the conflicted teen who can’t deal with the sadness driving through them being told they have to take a drug. Now, they’re more conflicted than ever. A simple “this will help you feel better” won’t work. This teen needs to join with others like him or herself and discover they can control their problem, as long as they don’t quit.
Suicide among teens has become front page news. It’s shocking. It’s a problem everyone wants to deny, but it is a fact. Taking your own life is a drastic step, a scream that no one listened. To hide teens from books about this problem is akin to telling them the emotional and/or physical problems they’re facing aren’t important.
One of the biggest lesson twenty-first century parents can learn is that their teens are savvy and in touch. Many of them go to non-traditional places for assistance. Some have found comfort in books, and learned that the more drastic measures they were thinking about aren’t right, but if the books that address those problems are banned, forbidden, where else can they go when they fell cut out of the world?
Sometimes the best cure is a bite of fiction, done in a way that your teen feels like they have a person who understands.