Death, Death, So Much Death.

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

Dead Girl Walking , Dead Girl Dancing ,  and Dead Girl in Love by Linda Joy Singleton

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 (For the record “Dead Boy” yields 35 results, most of them out of date and only one of them YA)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?

Enough already.

Thoughts?

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10 thoughts on “Death, Death, So Much Death.

  1. You have a really good point here. I love the research results you came up with. All I can think is that teenagers do think about death a lot. (I know I did.) But, yeah, it’s totally overdone.

    1. Yeah, but they think about pizza a lot too, do we write books about that? And also, they think about sex a lot more than death and as evidenced in my previous posts, we hardly give that the treatment it deserves in YA lit.

  2. Some of it too is that teens want to read things that are scintillating – sweet flowery summer romances are loved by some but not by all. I think the whole thing of reading is escapism and reading about lives (or lack thereof) more interesting than our own.

    Plus I think it’s also what is made available on bookstore shelves. i think publishers are hesitant to buy quiet stories. They’re always looking for the hook, the next big thing.

    But after finishing Stolen today, I grabbed a Sarah Dessen book for some light refreshment. And I can only take so many dystopians in a row before I need a mental and spiritual break. LOL!

  3. I think teens think about death a lot, and need books about teens dealing with death so that the huge elephant in the room can become more understandable to them. However, I totally see your point. It’s like death is the new sex, or at least, the new hot topic. I wonder if this has anything to do with the horror trend — vampires, zombies, the undead, death…?

    1. I think I’m more concerned with the ubiquity of dead GIRLS as opposed to boys. I know it’s mostly girls reading these books, so I suppose it makes a sick kind of sense. But I actually think there is something political at play here, rather than psychological.

      Dead girls don’t age, don’t get fat, don’t talk back etc etc.

  4. Great Post!

    As someone who’s currently writing a ‘best friend dies’ book, I’ll have to blush guiltily and say you’ve made a good point! But, in my defense, it’s a boy who’s died 😉

    Seeing how many titles have dead girl in – that’s freaky!

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