So The Wall Street Journal has written an article about darkness in YA. And they aren’t happy. It seems they rarely are, but whatever. In the wake of this, Miss Maureen Johnson started a hashtag #yasaves and has asked people to share how YA has saved them. My story needs a bit more than 140 characters, but here it is:
I live in Blacksburg, Virginia. If you’ve heard of this town at all, it’s probably in reference to Virginia Tech and our fantastic football team. Go Hokies!
But about four years ago, we were famous for an entirely different reason. A gunman opened fire on our campus killing 32 people and himself. It devastated the school as well as the town. If you don’t live here, it’s kind of hard to explain how integrated the two are, but they’re both fluid and impress upon each other.
This is my home.
At the time, my husband worked on campus, my best friend lived on campus, and since we go to a campus-based church, nearly everyone I knew was a student. Even as a townie, I lost someone I knew. It’s hard to explain just what this did to me, and I know I’m not alone.
At first, I kept busy and did okay, but as the year passed, I was emotionally unstable. I would cry if I tried to experience any emotion. I cried at Disney World, I cried in church, I cried doing anything. I started forgetting things, and poor Callaway was in a constant state of repeating himself. I stopped smiling. I remember that now, just how little I smiled or laughed.
In the fall, I caved and went to a therapist, and she helped me find some things to give me order and routine. That worked a little, but the thing that helped the best was something I stumbled into accidentally.
Just after the first anniversary of the shootings, I was like “That’s it. I’m just going to write a story and give my problems to a character and see how she deals with them, because I can’t anymore.” And I did. But I never finished that story. A few weeks in, I woke up with the idea that would become The Siren. I wrote every day for a month to finish that story, and after that the idea for The Selection and a bunch of other little stories were born and are waiting their turn to be told.
The Siren has language, a near rape, assault, and thoughts of suicide. And it saved my life. It was my path back to normal. The Selection (pending editing) will have some heavy issues in parts of the trilogy too. It’s just part of the story. But now, a year out from publication, it has become something amazing and is already making people excited, and every second of this journey is a gift to me. It’s saving me.
Maybe YA is dark sometimes, sure. But you know what? A few months ago when I sat down and read Jennifer Brown’s Hate List, I felt comforted. I’m glad someone wrote that story, because I needed to read it. I felt stronger when I was done. And I’m 30.
It’s okay to talk about the bad stuff because the bad stuff is out there. It makes us weirdos feel not quite so weird. The lovely thing about this country is the right to not read or listen to or watch things we don’t want to. It’s freedom. So I’ll write what I want, and I’ll be stronger for it, and if you don’t want to read it… don’t.