I've read several enjoyable books recently. I haven't consciously picked these books according to any particular theme. Most of them have been new books by authors that I have previously enjoyed, or books that came highly recommended. However, two disturbing themes have emerged.
First of all, three of the books that I read featured war, or the imminent prospect of war, as a major part of the plot. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff is about what happens to five children without any adults to look after their interests when war reaches the shores of England. The Prophet of Yonwood by Jeanne Duprau (reviewed here) is about the trampling of personal freedom in a small town when the U.S. stands on the brink of war. And in Specials by Scott Westerfeld (reviewed here), the main characters work to avert a looming war between two cities. In all three books, a salient point is that the war hits close to home, rather than being someplace remote. I do have an interest in dystopian, futuristic novels, so this trend is perhaps not so surprising. It's also possible that the trend in young adult books about war reflects fears stirred up the war in Iraq and global terrorism, and that makes sense, too.
However, I was taken aback to notice that three of my recent reads featured "cutting" (deliberately inflicting cuts on yourself) by a teenaged girl. In Specials, Tally and Shay deliberately cut themselves, in order to feel things more keenly and think more clearly. In It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, Craig encounters a girl in the psych ward, Noelle, with scars on her face from self-inflicted wounds, and talks to her about them. And in The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult (reviewed here), 15-year-old Trixie, depressed from a break-up, applies razor blades to her upper arms.
What's up with this? How did I randomly come across cutting in three books that I read within a week of each other? Has this become a wide-spread phenomenon recently? I hope not. It's gut-wrenching to think of smart, promising young women deliberately mutilating themselves. In the the first two examples above, the girls doing the cutting are obviously emotionally disturbed. Tally and Shay have had their brains surgically manipulated, and Noelle is in a locked psych ward. But Trixie, she's an ordinary girl who suffered a break-up, and she's walking around cutting herself without anyone noticing. That one was the most disturbing for me (though I should also add that The Tenth Circle is an adult novel, not aimed at young adults).
I suppose that these books about war and self-harm are shining a light on things that today's young adults are thinking about or experiencing. And I do believe that reflecting our fears is an important function of literature. That said, I'm still hoping to read some things that are more upbeat this weekend, during MotherReader's 48-Hour Book Challenge. But first I have to finish Markus Zusak's The Book Thief (a wonderful book set in Germany during WWII, and narrated by Death).
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.