Is YA Fiction Too ‘Dark’ For Young Adults? | Book Snacks Babbles

Book Snacks Babbles is a discussion feature here at Book Snacks where I talk about all things bookish & bloggish! For more info, check out my intro post here

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Say hello to the first discussion of 2016!! Woot woot! After starting my discussion feature, Book Snacks Babbles, last year, I severely lacked in keeping up a consistent schedule, but for this year, I’m hoping to have more of them written! They’re lots of fun to do, and it’s always great to have conversation with other bloggers, so fingers crossed I’ll have more free time to do them.

SO. This question kind of stemmed from when I was reading the controversial Wall Street Journal article by Meghan Cox Gurdon about how YA is too risky and too dark for the targeted audience. And I know many people argued back against this, but I’ve decided to join in as well. I mean, Gurdon does have a point… about how YA is becoming more and more dark, that is. In the quest to get more diverse books out there, there are books talking about all sorts of topics judged as ‘dark’: suicide, murder, cancer, and many more. So yes, I do acknowledge the fact that YA books can and do have more ‘darker’ content. But is that necessarily a bad thing? In my opinion, definitely not—and let me tell you why, in a very helpful list, if I do say so myself. Get comfy, and let’s babble!

Note: Please, I must ask that comments be kept respectful. I understand that this is a more controversial topic and may be subject to different opinions—and I’m all for discussion!—but please, no rude or disrespectful comments.

Is Ya Fiction Too Dark For Young Adults-

What is Dark YA anyway?

I know some of you may be asking this question to yourselves—and if you are, I don’t blame you. Really, there is no specific words to describe what it really is, but I’ll try anyway.

According to most people, and specifically Gurdon, dark YA are books that include topics that are generally considered inapporitate for the intended audience of 12-18. Things like abuse, violence, suicide, cancer, even vampires, included in the novel. I know that’s a pretty small definition—and I’m sure there is a much better way to explain it, but I’m assuming you all get the gist of it, right? If anyone has anything to add to it, feel free to tell me below.

The Importance of Dark YA

Truthfully, I hate calling books that deal with what people deem as risky or inappropriate as ‘dark’ but for the sake of shortening things down, that’s what I’m going to use. But really, just because a book deals with suicide, or murder, or cancer, or anything like that, it doesn’t mean it’s ‘dark’. It’s a part of YA fiction, and life, at that. But I digress.

One of my biggest arguments about this whole topic is how dark YA is important, essential, even, for readers. Teens, and adults, read young-adult fiction to fall in love with a story, to read about different characters, yes, but also to explore and learn about the things that fascinate or even scare them, in a way. Death, murder, suicide. Books dealing with social and personal problems are ways to show readers that there are ways to cope. The world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and in the world we’re in today, it would be naive to believe that people are oblivious to that.

Reading about these supposedly dark topics, represent and answers those questions teens and older people will inevitably ask to themselves. Books about death aren’t just about death, they answer questions surrounding the topic, about how to cope. Books about suicide aren’t trying to encourage it, they’re trying to explain. I can’t account for ALL the books out there talking about these topics, but I can believe in my heart that no author would intentionally be trying to encourage the behavior in their novels. In reading books surrounding ‘dark’ topics, younger and older readers alike aren’t corrupted (as far as I know), but instead is given a way to relate their own lives with the lives of others—even if the ‘others’ is fictional.

Reasons Why I Love Dark YA

It’s important that dark YA exists, but there are a few other reasons why I enjoy reading it:

  • It’s an escape from reality. And I know some of you might be wondering, why would you want to escape into a reality that may (or may not) be worse than yours? Well, I can’t give you an answer for that any more than the answer you’d give for why you read a dystopian novel whose world is at war. Because yes, it’s true that perhaps our reality might be better than what happens in the book, but it’s that difference, that makes it an intriguing read. Also, I guess sometimes, when reality becomes too much, reading about how another person copes with a reality much worse than ours puts things into perspective, and in a way, is comforting (as odd as that may sound). Yes? (I hope that made sense..)
  • Because it’s a glimpse into a different life. At the base of it all, fiction lets us imagine the life of another person. Just as with any other YA book, dark YA fiction tells a story about another person. The only difference (in most cases, at least) is that it includes a more sensitive story—and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Instead, in seeing this story, this different life of a character, is enlightening and thought-provoking.
  • It pushes me outside me comfort zone (sometimes). From time to time, I find it to be helpful if I read something that really makes me think, you know? Yes, it’s something that I don’t usually read, (and we all know how difficult it can be to accept a kind of story you’re not used to) but that’s what challenges me to reconsider my opinions and to see things from another point of view.

So… IS YA Fiction Too Dark For Young Adults?

Maybe it’s a matter of opinion, maybe not. But for me, I’d say no. At least not for the majority of it. As a general statement, I don’t believe dark YA is meant to corrupt young adults—or anyone. Adults and teens alike are old enough to realize what books suit their fancy, and just because books deal with more sensitive topics does not mean it’s bad or inappropriate for teens. These days, people deal with a variety of problems and situations. Bullies, violence, suicide. If there weren’t books representing both the good and the bad, then it wouldn’t be the truth. With so many causes of problems out in the world, the last thing anyone needs is a lack of books that represent those problems, right?

So what is your opinion? As I mentioned at the start of this post, please keep comments respectful! I’d love to know what you think: What IS dark YA, really? Do you stay away from it, or accept it? Does it seem to you that YA fiction is becoming too ‘dark’? Let it be open for discussion!

Until the Next Meal, Analee

49 thoughts on “Is YA Fiction Too ‘Dark’ For Young Adults? | Book Snacks Babbles

  1. This was such an interesting discussion! I definitely agree that YA Fiction is not too dark for teens, I think it’s essential and allows us to learn more about ourselves and humanity in general. Great post Analee!:)

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m so glad you think so! Yes, exactly; we are already in a world where there is plenty of dark things we know and hear about, reading about it only educates us further and helps us get a better understanding. Thank you for stopping by! 🙂


  2. I totally agree with your reasons as to why you love Dark YA. I also love Dark YA because to me, it’s interesting to read while it is also an important topic to be aware of as a reader. Great discussion post, Analee. 🙂

    -Jess @jbelkbooks

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Fabulous post! Completely agree! I also think that Dark YA is important for pushing the boundaries and making young adults (and adults) question the world around them. Sometimes books need to have an unsettling element to resonate and make their point, otherwise they fall flat. It’s also silly when people don’t like them because they’re supposedly “bad for you”, because young adults and even children, can cope with a lot more than we give them credit for. It’s not about corrupting impressionable minds, but helping a younger audience cope with the realities of this world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you!! Glad you agree. 😊
      Oh yes! For sure that is a very good point. Things definitely stick in the reader’s mind more if it’s memorable. Not to mention keeping things hidden from young adults and/or children for the sake of protecting them has more of a counter effect when the things they’re being ‘protected’ from are things that are a reality in the world around them. Thanks so much for joining in the discussion! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is such a great discussion post, Analee! I agree with everything you said. I believe the YA audience is the one that needs the most diverse content because it is at their ages that minds undergo the most development. In that context, “dark YA” as it is so called, acts as an essential raw material of sorts for our minds, throwing light on important parts of our world that would remain mostly undiscussed otherwise. They bring our attention to issues that we might never have cared about otherwise, and make us emotionally invested in them, broadening our perspectives in the process. They serve a pretty important role, really.

    Nevertheless, a “dark” book should give a fair warning about what it deals with. No reader should have to go in unprepared.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Bhramori! I agree with you wholeheartedly; what typically constitutes as dark YA is crucial, to further help develop a young adult’s mind and help to have them understand the important issues that are usually not spoken about. Very well put, you put all of what I said to shame haha. 😝
      And yes, that’s a very good point! The blurb/synopsis of the story should give a relatively clear indication what it’s all about and what it deals with, as you said. In that way, readers will be aware of the content and whether it is truly something they want to read or not.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Oh Analee, your post was too good to be put to shame by anything else, believe me! Nevertheless, thank you! ^_^
        Yes, and especially taking into account people who are themselves having a rough time. Some of them may find solace in reading about others who share their pain, but others… they might just be looking for an escape read. For them, dark themes might bring back bad memories — memories which they were trying to avoid in the first place. That’s not something that they should have to face, is it?

        ^Not sure if I made much sense there, but I tried.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I love dark fiction in general and am planning to read loads this year. I mostly love it because it does make me feel uncomfortable and sometimes it’s good to feel uncomfortable. And most of the time these novels have the most beautiful writing. Teens should be exposed to darkish content, no good comes out of bubble wrapping people.
    Great post and discussion!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I really enjoy this post, partly because it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I was expecting ‘dark’ YA to be more along the lines of discussing dystopian and post-apocalyptic genres, but I LOVE that we’re talking about REAL LIFE scenarios existing in fiction. I like the idea of these ‘dark’ topics in YA because, as many people discuss, YA can be used to teach the young adults reading the book how to handle things. If they’re exposed to such tragic real life scenarios through a lighter, fiction aspect like a book, they may be better prepared to handle it later in life when such a scenario presents itself to them.

    One thing I’d really like to comment on is your question: “why would you want to escape into a reality that may (or may not) be worse than yours?”
    Answer: You’re a millenial.
    I know. That’s not really an answer, but it has become quite the trend for millenials (myself included) to be obsessed with dark, tragic, broken worlds. In fact, there are quite a few millenials who fantasize about an apocalypse in real life.
    Why? Well first off, it’s a fascinating and ‘I’m invincible’ complex. I can’t recall the number of millenials I’ve talked who talk about surviving the zombie apocalypse or some such thing. Odds are, most people will be dead. But the real problem with their idea of an apocalypse is it’s fantasized. They don’t understand exactly what would happen in the fall out of an apocalypse, such as nuclear reactors malfunctioning, or lack of plumbing, fresh water, food production and transportation. All they see is this new world with zombies to fight. Sounds pretty cool when you look at it that way. It’s also why so many people were psyched about post-apoc and dystopian worlds like from Divergent and The Hunger Games. Sometimes the dark worlds are the most fascinating.

    Sorry, that was way off topic, but I really wanted to comment on it. Hope you forgive me!
    P.s. I don’t think YA is too dark. Last time I checked, those ‘dark’ scenarios happen in real life. So, why shouldn’t they happen in fiction, too? I mean, they’re pushing diversity like crazy because that exists in real life, but it’s not considered controversial.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you!! Glad you liked this post despite it being not what you expected. 😉
      That’s a very good point, reading about possible tragic life situations that COULD happen in real life can definitely prove to be useful if said situations ever DO happen in real life. Taking away dark YA would only do more damage.

      Also, no need to apologize for veering off topic! That’s a very interesting idea you brought up, truthfully I haven’t often heard of the idea of millenials, so I have to thank you for that. I must say what you’re saying makes sense in a way. Like, it makes sense that it’s one of the reasons why dystopian books are so popular amongst the YA community. People are subconsciously aware that this post-apoc world they’re reading about has a possible chance of occurring in real life. (Or at least I believe that’s one of the things you’re talking about… I hope, haha)
      The idea of a millennial is an intriguing idea for sure, thanks for sharing!

      Yes, exactly!bIf it happens in real life, there’s no reason why it can’t happen in fiction. In fact, it SHOULD happen!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh! People are definitely aware of the possibility of an apocalypse in this century and, as seen in books and movies, people are jumping on the bandwagon to ride the wave and be part of it. Unfortunately, the books and the movies are WELL into the future of post-apoc. They don’t generally cover the direct aftermaths of an apocalypse or the high death-toll that would occur. (Granted most millenials think we’ll have a zombie apocalypse, which is as absurd as saying vampires walk the Earth.)

        But this idea of romanticizing an apocalypse is having a negative impact on today’s youth. And not just in literature and what they read. If they see how life can get back to normal, they are less likely to do something to stop an apocalypse from happening, which is terrible because it’s quite widely believed that if there’s a generation to change and improve the way things are done, it’ll be the millenials. Yet, if we don’t teach them the facts, how will they know what to change?

        Okay. WAY off topic now. What I mean to say in all of this is that dark fiction is required. We can’t ignore. We need to face it head on and use it as a teaching tool because YA fiction is so widely-read. So, yes. We need dark fiction, whether that be suicide, mental illness, cancer, or an apocalypse. It may be fiction. It may be entertainment, but it can also be more.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I am a total sucker for fluffy contemporaries, but if I had to choose, I prefer to read books that deal darker themes. They just strike a deeper cord with me and they make you think because you get to see life through someone else’s perspective. Reality is not all hearts and flowers and darker contemporaries do a great job at representing these different perspectives. Great post Analee!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, there’s nothing wrong with a fluffy contemporary once in a while! 😉 They’re always great for a light and quick read.
      Darker books can definitely have more of an emotional theme to it than some other genres. As you say, it does a great job at representing the different perspectives, most of all the parts of life that aren’t always full of sunshine and rainbows. Thanks, Ari! ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  8. My first point is that calling cancer too dark for YA is like saying that young adults will never experience is. Thanks, but no thanks. My father passed away of cancer when I was 14. It’s already been shown (multiple times, I believe) that reading has a strong correlation to higher empathy, and sometimes you need this to understand and appreciate what other human beings are going through.

    Second, if YA isn’t enough, young adults will simply read adult, which definitely will be, so trying to censor YA (which another writer a few years earlier called too simple, too good, too happily-ever-after) seems rather counterproductive.

    And that is all I have at the moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly! Things like cancer is very much a reality for some teens and adults, so labelling it as too dark or even inappropriate, in books is definitely wrong and not the right thing to do. I’m so sorry to hear that though, Blaise, I’m sure it must’ve been (and might still be) extremely difficult to bear.

      I agree, trying to bubble wrap or censor what young adults read hardly ever provides good results!
      Thank you so much for joining the discussion, Blaise! ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

      • I just don’t think we should try to protect young adults in that way because it leaves them unprepared to deal with these supposedly dark things later in life (one of the issues with the school system, as far as I’m aware, in my area, too, actually). While perhaps well-intentioned, it feels misguided.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. This is such a great post! I 100% agree with all you said. Very often adults underestimate how mature teenagers are, so they look down on YA. I have a 13yo sister and she has no problem reading about dark subjects; in fact Rick Riordan is her favourite author and his characters tend to have dark pasts as well as issues that still plague them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you! So happy you think so. 😊 Yes, exactly! YA books seem to constantly be under inspection by adults who appear to think that young adults cannot understand the material, or shouldn’t read the material, that is presented in YA books, when the opposite is true. Dark subjects are definitely not something to be hidden away; teens are more than capable of understand and accepting it!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I totally agree with you! The best thing about YA is how diverse it is within the genre and it allows the us to develop ourselves through these stories. Dark YA is just one of the many that allow for this and they really do ask us the hard questions which is great because it’s not often that we are give exposure to such issues. This is such an interesting discussion. I’ve never really thought about this so thank you for making this amazing post 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I LOVE THIS POST SO SO MUCH OMG I AGREE! I AGREE!! I didn’t actually start reading much YA until I was 16 or 17…so I kinda missed the years when I would’ve had to worry about it. But I really like dark YA. It’s my favourite. I ALWAYS reach for it. I think because it’s telling the truth? life is never going to be all butterflies and happy endings. And I think as you grow up (especially during the teen years!) you’re learning that and you stop wanting books to lie about it? I did anyway. xD I wanted to read the TRUTH. And I wanted to read realism.

    Plus teens aren’t children. I mean, at 18 you’re a legal adult (at least in Australia) and so being 16 and 17 is like the last few years of childhood, so of course you want to be reading books that raise tough issues. *nods*

    Least to say I totally agree with you. ;D I think it’s a personal choice, of course, and if a teen hates dark YA then they should totally skip it. But I would feel absolutely horrified if literature started to get “censored” to be “appropriate” and “not too dark”. Ugh. That’s would be wrong.

    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!

    Liked by 1 person

    • EEP THANK YOU SO MUCH!! 😘 I’m so glad you liked this post.
      And yes!! That’s one of the reasons I love it too. No sugar-coating, you know?
      Yes, definitely! Even 14 or 15 year olds these days are pretty aware of the tougher issues around the world as well.
      Right again, haha. No one should have to read something they don’t want to read. Oh my gosh , that would be terrible! 😨 I sure do hope that never happens.
      No problem!


  12. Wow, this is such an awesome topic to bring up! I think dark topics are important, but i think that some younger readers of ya might not be matured enough for them. Of course, the dark topic will likely be represented by the blurb so the reader will be prepared and know whether or not to read it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So happy you think so! Yes, that’s a great point, these books need to exist, but they might not always be suitable for younger readers. Everyone should be prepared and should know what kind of things their book deals with before reading it, one of the reasons why blurbs are so useful, haha.
      THANK YOU!! 😘

      Liked by 1 person

  13. It’s been so long since I was a YA that I find it difficult to comment on this. I do read a lot of YA books and occasionally find myself wondering if it really is suitable. Occasionally the violence seems a little OTT and I could understand why some find it inappropriate. One of the best examples I can think of is the Hunger Games. It’s literally a book about a load of kids trying to kill each other. They had to cut parts from the film so that it could get a certificate that YA’s could actually watch it. It seems odd to me that it’s not ok to show the scenes in the cinema but fine to read about them.

    Thinking about it though, I’m fairly certain when I was in my teens (about 20 years ago) I was reading Dean Koontz and Anne Rice 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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