Speaking of zeitgeist, something else has been troubling me lately, and this one mostly concerns Contemporary YA rather than dystopian, although with a smattering of Urban Fantasy. Here it is:
WHAT IS UP WITH ALL THE DEAD GIRLS?
Other pundits have nicely encapsulated the fuckery that is dead girl covers. Dead girl covers are bad enough, but what’s seriously creeping me out these days is dead girl plots. So many YA plots seem to revolve around a dead girl, it’s not surprising that she features on the covers so much.
Here are some of the 75 titles you find when you search “dead girl” on Goodreads:
Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott
Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles
Postcards from a Dead Girl by Kirk Farber
Living Dead Girl by Tod Goldberg
The Dead Girl by Melanie Thernstrom
Dead Girl Talking by Annmarie Ortega
Dead Girl Diaries by Marianne Paul
Letter To A Dead Girl by Selwyn Jepson
Which demonstrates, if nothing else that the textual meme “dead girl” is alive and well and considered part of a nutritious book title. (For the record “Dead Boy” yields 35 results, most of them out of date and only one of them YA)
Sometimes (frequently, it seems) the protagonist is a dead girl. Often the premise is something along the lines of “So and So was a total douche or doormat until she died, then she became nice or smart and went around making amends or getting revenge”. Really? Can’t our heroines be positive, powerful and active while they’re still alive?
Sometimes there is no paranormal component; sometimes Dead Girl just left a journal, or tapes or letters or unanswered questions for a (thankfully living) protagonist to puzzle out. As though the most powerfully influential thing a girl can do for her friends and classmates is to cark it and leave them to poetically and heartbreakingly pick up the pieces.
Then there are a whole raft of stories about how a girl’s life only started when her boyfriend popped his clogs (usually violently, always tragically, never because she killed him for being an asshole and hogging the remote). Again. Really? If she needs to get rid of him to get on with her life, can’t they just break up?
Finally there are countless books when our plucky heroine is launched headlong into her plot by the death of someone other than her boyfriend – her BFF, her brother, her sister, her mother (one book is even ironically called One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies), some girl she bullied etc etc.
Oh, and don’t get me started on cancer books. Why can’t a cancer kid book ever be “whoops, I’ve got cancer. Damn this treatment is rough. Hey, the doctors say I’m in remission, cool! Now, onto saving the world!” Why do cancer kids always die in cancer books? Cancer isn’t always terminal, people!
Lord, then there’s the whole zombie thing. And the whole apocalyptic death match thing. Death death death. I know death is a part of life, but the way it is monopolizing young adult literature you’d think there was an epidemic of the Bubonic Plague rampaging through our schools. I’m sure literary theorists, psychologists and the like have all kind of opinions about why death is so de rigeur at the moment but can I just say I’m a little over it? Can I say it’s possible for a teenager to have a rollicking adventure or an intense emotional coming of age without being surrounding by corpses? Or becoming one?