Stina Leicht‘s debut novel Of Blood and Honey, a historical Fantasy with an Irish Crime edge set in 1970s Northern Ireland, was released by Night Shade books in February 2011. She also has a flash fiction piece in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s surreal anthology Last Drink Bird Head.
During the last panic over the dark trends in YA fiction, a few questions cropped up over and over: “Why are our kids are so attracted to dark literature? Why do they seem to think the older generation are out to get them? Or is this attitude merely being projected onto them?” I believe this trend in dark fiction for young adults happens for a reason, and yes, they do sense hostility from older generations. They’ve good reason for it. It exists.
Before I go much farther I want to point out that tension between generations is as old as humanity, and it isn’t worth panicking over. In fact, I seem to recall a certain older generation not that long ago shouting, “Never trust anyone over the age of thirty!” (Humans do have short memories, don’t they?) This is normal. Growing up is stressful and scary, and if YA literature is to remain relevant it should reflect that aspect of becoming an adult. Dark fiction aimed at teens is nothing new. One particular series, The Tripods Trilogy by John Christopher, was a favorite of mine as a kid. In it, an alien race conquers the planet. They rule using mind-control devices implanted in humans at puberty. The process is called “capping” because it takes the form of a fine metal mesh surgically installed close to the scalp. Once capped, the person loses certain aspects of their personality so that they become more docile workers for the aliens. It obviously addressed my fears about becoming an adult. As a young girl I was quite aware that there were certain freedoms I’d have to give up when I became a woman. I was concerned I’d lose my identity and justly so, as it turned out.
Kids aren’t stupid, nor are they totally oblivious to what goes on in the world around them. Childhood has a frightening under-layer that adults tend to forget. It’s a mixture of powerlessness, frustration, and uncertainty, compounded by a lack of information–at least that’s what I remember. As adults we tend to forget what it was like to be told you could be anything, do anything and then be shown by the outside world that this simply isn’t true–not yet, certainly not easily and maybe not ever.
There is hard data to back up this point. A New York Times article analyzing United States Census data recently outlined the current financial crisis and the groups hardest hit. It illustrates in black and white that the younger generation’s fears of the older generation are justified. The part I want to draw your attention to is this:
“Perhaps no households have weathered the downturn better than those headed by people 65 and older, whose incomes rose 5.5 percent from 2007 to 2010. By contrast, household income for every other age group fell. Among people ages 15 to 24, it plunged 15.3 percent.”
Teens and young adults are among the hardest hit by the current economic downturn. I’d venture to say that they’re among the most effected during any economic downturn. I believe that darker fiction tends to trend during dark times because human beings often use storytelling to cope with reality. Science Fiction and Fantasy in particular are a terrific means of looking at the problem from various directions and thinking of solutions. If nothing else, it provides the hope that one can live through the worst. Certainly, every young adult is different, and dark fiction isn’t for everyone. However, such trends in general aren’t bad. It’s a means of expressing a very real fear.