Be warned, I am about to rant a little. Yikes and oh my, I think we need to be so careful with how we talk about books we don’t like.
I just read a comment about how books about grief are boring. Okay, sure, not every reader loves every kind of book. Personal preference reigns supreme in the literary world. I just don’t understand why some people bash emotional books. If a book explores death, grief, sickness, pain or suffering, it is painted with a wide sloppy brush saturated in black paint: too dark, too sad, too depressing, to be avoided.
It is “too easy to write about grief” the criticism continued. Grief seems, to me, one of the most complicated things to write about. At least to write well. It is comprised of such a range of feelings: anger, sadness, guilt, confusion, pain. To hit all of these things correctly for a character. Believably. Honestly. This is not easy.
Grief and hope are intertwined. When a character stands balanced precariously between them, that is when the reader feels the most. Achieving that balance in life or in words, is not even close to easy. But it is truly beautiful.
Readers seek out what they need. When we find books that allow us to experience emotions we can explore vicariously and from a distance, a book can really be the right book at the right time.
Stories let us choose our vantage point: witness, companion, fully immersed. That choice keeps us safe. That choice lets us have the experience we need.
I know I have avoided highly emotional books out of fear of my own strong reactions. Books that especially scare me? Books where children die, go missing or contract an incurable disease. But honestly, when I finally pick up emotional titles and let myself be surrounded by the story, it is here, where I feel the most human. Sometimes, turned inside out and raw but sharp and clear and wiser.
Not that I am an advocate for only sad books. Hardly! Different readers want different experiences and they seek out books looking for a myriad of things: adventure, action, humour, drama, escape, high fantasy, etc. No one genre makes us more or less of a reader.
For a while I thought amusing stories were fun but kind of forgettable. Then I began sharing silly, funny and absurd stories with my students. There is nothing like the amused joy of a room full of children sharing a story together! Laughing deep and contagiously? It doesn’t get much better.
Lots of books. Lots of genres. Available for lots of readers. This is how it should be. If we are in the business of helping books land in the hands of readers, we should not be painting any genre with a dismissive sweep. Instead, we should be polishing the shelves and helping them all shine.
And since I feel the current need to be champion for highly emotional stories (of the middle grade/young adult variety), I am going to share ten of my favourites.
Read one or all ten.
Cry a little and feel big.
The older I get, the more I realize that every time your heart breaks a little, it heals a little stronger with room for more.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
Bird written by Crystal Chan
Nest by Esther Ehrlich
The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart
See you at Harry’s by Jo Knowles
The Summer of Letting Go written by Gae Polisner
The Boy in the Black Suit written by Jason Reynolds
Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
Each Little Bird That Sings written by Deborah Wiles
I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.
Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.