Violence in YA Fiction: Friend or Foe?

Last week I blogged about how the overuse of an element like violence can kill a story. What I didn’t mention was that the book under discussion was a Young Adult novel. Violent content in YA fiction is an altogether different topic, so I wanted to deal with it in a separate post.

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Violent content is out there whether parents like it or not (along with plenty of other content that might come as a shock to some parents). For the most part, YA doesn’t get as explicit as adult fiction, but that doesn’t mean it sticks to “safe” subjects. Young Adult simply means the book is intended for a younger audience, so the story will involve characters and situations that speak to them—a frightening prospect when you consider the world teens have to navigate.

Violent content isn’t something new to be blamed on The Hunger Games either. At most, The Hunger Games can only take credit for becoming the icon of YA dystopian. Yes, I agree the violence in Suzanne Collins’s bestseller is unsettling, but that’s kind of the point. You’re supposed to be unsettled by the horrors that Katniss and the other tributes are subjected to. Like I mentioned last week, violence causes a strong emotional response. As we’re reading The Hunger Games, we’re confronted with the best and worst of human nature, and it makes us think.

Some school districts have even incorporated The Hunger Games into their curriculum, and just in case you’re tempted to protest, consider the books that are already part of school curriculums. As part of his ninth-grade English class, my son was required to read William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and George Orwell’s Animal Farm. They’re all dark, oppressive stories, but they’re also considered classics. Why? Because they generate a powerful response. They’re an effective way to discuss human nature and teach critical thinking.

Consider the fact that we live in a violent world. Violence is in the news and in our schools. It’s one of the things teens are forced to deal with.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not praising violent content. I’m just saying it’s there in YA fiction, and maybe we should view it as an opportunity for healthy discussion. We can use the books teens are reading to dig deeper into the why of violence. Maybe while we’re at it, we can talk about self-sacrifice and doing the right thing. We can talk about real-life heroes and maybe even sneak a little hope in there somewhere.

So what do you think? Is there too much violence in Young Adult books? Should we use it or should we reject it?

©2012 Kim Vandel

2 thoughts on “Violence in YA Fiction: Friend or Foe?

  1. As much as I disagree with The Hunger Games being worthy of ‘classic’ status it is not because of the violence. (I’m much more impressed by the writing of Ally Condie in her Matched Trilogy which reminded me quite a bit of 1984). The one thing that it got right was to illustrate, I suppose you could say, appropriate use of violence in YA fiction. In a way it had a plot opposite of Lord of the Flies and if The Hunger Games is to be given classic status the two should be read and even analyzed in conjuction. If nothing else because I imagine it would breed many interesting discussions about the juxtoposition of violence that comes from the lack of authority figures and that which is encouraged, even demanded by authority figures.

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