Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bullying in YA literature

At my in-person writing group yesterday, we drifted off-topic into a discussion of peer pressure and bullying, both subtle and not so subtle, that our kids encounter.

Bringing the discussions back to literature, we wondered about good YA stories that deal with bullying and how to cope with it.

Too much of the popular media seems to glorify bullying. Look at something like "American Idol." (Not to single it out--almost every reality show has this problem.) Watching the hosts publicly humiliate performers seems to be a public sport akin to rooting for the lion at the Coliseum. So perhaps it is only an unfortunate example of human nature.

There is no doubt that bullying is an abusive and destructive practice. At least schools are attempting to confront it through education. When I was in primary school, the prevailing attitude was 'suck it up,' or 'it's just kids being kids.'

So where is the fiction that reflects this shift in attitude? Admittedly, most of my YA reading is in the fantasy/science fiction genres, so maybe I'm just not savvy about the literature, but I wonder about books like 'The Clique' series (Disclaimer--I haven't read these, only read about them, so I may be judging them unfairly) where the story revolves around characters treating each other badly.

Maybe stories about characters with a moral compass who triumph are just boring. One of the perils of adults writing for a YA audience is the risk of preachiness and any story that even smells of a lecture will crash and burn with this audience.

I could only think of 2 stories that dealt with the negative consequences of bullying in a way that does not glorify the bullying: "To Kill a Mockingbird" and the Ray Bradbury short story "All Summer in a Day."

But both of these examples were written decades ago.

I started to wonder if I could find a story here. One that would have an urban fantasy/mythic fiction twist, and deal with bullying in a realistic and hopeful/helpful way. (I am an unrepentant optimist. Sorry--can't write a nihilistic worldview. Just not me.)

So the tickle of an idea has taken up residence in the back of my mind. I'm thinking of the story as "The Bystander," the main character a HS kid with a dangerous secret and an ability that he must hide. The question that this story revolves around is: What would you be willing to risk to save a life?

I have promised this story that I will pay attention to it. I will give it the space to mature and flourish. Just not right now. I need to finish 'The Between' first. That's just the way it is when you are a serial monogamist writer.

If any of you have book suggestions in this area, I would appreciate the references.

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