This week for the I Love Dark YA Blogfest I’m supposed to discuss how a YA book made an impact on my life. To begin, I’d like to first introduce the two Dark YA books (or in this case, series) that have significantly influenced my life:
The first is the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. Anyone who knows me can tell you that the Harry Potter books are, without a doubt, my favorite series of all time. The truth is, I hate saying things like that on my blog because half the people who read this will say, “Of course it is. It’s everybody’s favorite.” Which is true. Millions of readers around the world love these books, and lined up at midnight time after time just to get their hands on a copy of the newest release. But to me the Harry Potter books are more than just a fun story about witches and wizards at a magical school. To me they’re the books that helped me realize that I didn’t want to be a photographer, or a marine biologist, or a ballerina (all former childhood ambitions). Apart from the sheer joy and pleasure they brought to my life, it was reading the Harry Potter books that made me realize that I wanted to be a writer. For real. They helped me realize that the stories I kept stashed away and never really thought about were more than just the scribbles of a bored teenager. In a lifetime of moments leading up to my realization that I not only wanted to be a writer, but already was – reading Harry Potter was the BIG one.
The second is The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. Unlike Harry Potter, which I started reading between the publication of the third and fourth book, I began reading The Hunger Games a few months after the final books was already released, and therefore got to skip the long, LONG wait for its conclusion. I read all three books in the space of one weekend, and cried almost from beginning to end. The moment I finished the final page I knew that these books were important. They had affected me in a way that, up until that moment, only Harry Potter ever had.
Both of these series were so different from anything I’d ever read before. [Spoilers ahead.] When Rowling killed off Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, it was the first time I had seen death of that nature in a book intended for children. I was too used to books like The Chronicles of Narnia where a magic potion brings the dead back to life, and the safety in knowing that authors almost never kill off children in their stories. Sure, the parents sometimes died – to which I say Disney, you are NOT forgiven for the tragic, early deaths of the mother in Bambi, The Land Before Time, and The Fox and the Hound. But NEVER the children. That would be too upsetting for their adolescent audience – right?
But Rowling changed that with Harry Potter. She didn’t shelter her young readers. She killed off seventeen-year-old Cedric in a heart-breaking illustration of ‘collateral damage’. She ripped apart the Weasley Twins with Fred’s death and even killed underage Colin Creevey in Voldermort’s siege against Hogwarts. And through these deaths proved that children are not too young to understand the costly and senseless consequences of war.
I couldn’t admire Rowling’s faith in children, and what they can understand and be trusted with, more. Or Suzanne Collins, who takes it one step further. Collins’s trilogy depicts many of the same images – war, death and the tragic murder of young kids. And she does it all without even a hint of the light-hearted moments J. K. Rowling employs to break up the darkness. Collins seeps her books in gloom and sorrow. And all too often, hopelessness. She puts enormous faith her readers’ ability to handle the bleak tone and desolate landscape of her dystopian world. And it’s that faith that Rowling and Collins exhibit that has impacted my own writing.
I’ve just begun work on a new story – something I originally intended to write for adults due to its heavy content. Though I write almost exclusively Middle Grade and Young Adult material, I didn’t trust that children could handle what I had to say. But I was wrong. J. K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins helped me understand that, and opened my eyes to the broad and accepting nature of young adult literature.