Room for Reality

Last fall I was on a panel discussing trends in YA. One author talked about the need for more fantasy and the view that YA readers want to escape reality. As an author and vivid reader and mostly as a human, I agree that people need an escape sometimes. We need a mental vacation from the monotony of daily life and from the stressors and tragedies that plague our world.

We all need a little sip of Netflix now and then. A giant gulp of a sweeping fantasy where a character just might have magical powers that make anything seem possible.

But what happens when the book is closed, when the movie is over?

Is there room for reality in YA?

pexels-photo (1)

 

YES!

We all live in a real world. If Shakespeare was right, if “All the world’s a stage,” then some people get better parts in better plays, and others…well…others, through no fault of their own, end up in in horrific plays, in the role of tortured people.

Then all the more reason to escape, right?

All the more reason to curl up, alone, with a good fantasy.

It’s the ‘alone’ part that bothers me. Teens, like all humans, have to deal with reality. They have to live in it, and no matter how good a book is, if you’re locked in a lower cabin on the Titanic, reading that fantasy might not give you much comfort.

Okay, if you’re about to drown in icy, dark waters, nothing might bring you comfort, but given the choice, I think I’d prefer to read something about another person, another soul speaking to me from another doomed ship. “You’re not alone,” the words would read. “I’ve been where you are. I’ve felt what you feel. You are not alone.”

pexels-photo-342469

As a psychologist, I have been humbled so many times by what people endure, kids especially. People can be unimaginably cruel. The world can be unimaginably cruel. Whether today’s challenges are extreme or benign, the one thing we all desire is to not be alone. To be understood.

Reality in books lets readers know that they’re not alone — that there are others out there like them. Others fighting to get through each day, others fighting to keep their rage at bay, their fears hidden, and their tears confined to their pillows.

Realty in YA gives voices to real teens who may feel as though they have no voice, or who fear that using their voice will result in more pain, not less.

It reminds them that they are not alone. It tells them that they are understood, and if others are reading the same book, about the same difficult issues, then maybe, just maybe, a dialogue can be started. Other voices can be heard and things can get better.

pexels-photo-13918

I’m always telling my students not to escape from reality. If there’s something you don’t like, something stressing you out, making your life more difficult, change it. But you can’t change something you’re constantly running from, hiding from, escaping from.

Yes, give me a good fantasy,  a good science fiction story, a good romance. Let me step out of myself for a while, away from work and school and dishes. But once that story is over, let me not be alone. Let me read about others who struggle too. Others who have seen what I’ve seen, who know what I know. Others who have been in the dark, whose voices can sound in my head when I am there again and can tell me what I most need to hear.

You are not alone.

Is there room for reality in YA?

Of course there is. Reality is what life is made of.

pexels-photo-157231

A Room with One Door: What Hannah Baker Needed

 

Like so many other individuals, I’ve been watching the Netflix version of the bestselling YA novel, Thirteen Reasons Why. Everywhere I go, people seem to be discussing it, and on Facebook, I’ve seen a lot of teens starting posts with, “Let’s play Thirteen reasons Why”.

For those of you who haven’t seen this, it’s basically asking their Facebook friends to comment their name. The person whose post they are commenting on, will then comment “no tape” or “tape and here is the reason why”.

music-1285165_640

 

As a psychologist, a parent and a YA author, I have a lot of conflicting feelings about this. Then yesterday, I saw a post listing “Twenty Things I WILL NOT Do for my Child“. Things like, “fight their battles for them”.

This got me thinking about numbers. “Thirteen” Reasons Why.  “Twenty” Things I WILL NOT Do for my Child.  I thought of the “One” door I think so many kids today think they have access to, and that door is suicide.

Adults have to face the fact that schools today aren’t like the schools of ten, twenty, thirty years ago. Times change. We have the internet now. We have Facebook Live and Snapchat. We have a society where girls are publicly and privately sexualized, where girls are legally told that their work is worth less pay than that of males, where minorities and gays are legally persecuted and where schools hang anti-bullying posters in the hallway but then, so often, tell kids to toughen up and be less sensitive when someone bullies them.

girl-517555_640

Years ago, I watched a documentary where a beautiful nine year old boy killed himself because he didn’t know how to do his math problems and he feared his teacher was going to humiliate him in front of the class for doing the problems wrong. He took a belt and hung himself.

I’ve seen a lot of comments about the fictional “Hannah Baker” and how she should have been tougher, should have stood up for herself more, should have tried more to stop the various individuals who were bullying her.

But here’s the thing. So many times kids, and adults, find themselves in situations that they can’t stand to deal with any longer. They may tell their parents, tell school officials, but so often nothing is done, nothing changes, and they find themselves in a room with one door.

room-1363773_640

They hate the room. They hate how they feel in it. They hate how they are treated in it. They try and try and try to survive in that room, but eventually they just can’t anymore and so they open the door and walk through it.

The thing is, suicide shouldn’t be their only option.

Adults all know that middle school and high school are temporary. Once you’re out of them, they seem so incredibly insignificant, and as time goes on, they become less and less significant. High school is kind of like a root canal. While you’re gong through it, it might seem unbearable, but once it’s done and over with, you rarely if ever think about it.

But like Einstein said, “Time is relative.”

Just remember being little and your parents telling you it’s still two weeks until Christmas. Two weeks felt like forever.

Adults can look back and see those four years of high school as just drops in the bucket of time, but when you’re there, when Facebook posts ping on your phone even when you’re trying to sleep and you know people are constantly judging you, high school can feel like a life sentence. And there’s no parol. There’s no early release for good behavior.

I don’t have the answer, but I know as a society, we need to create a second door and a third and a fourth. We need to LISTEN. We need to help kids fight their battles because they are kids. Yeah, we all want to teach self-reliance, but wars aren’t fought by individuals; they’re fought by armies, and in the stressful world we live in, sometimes kids need an army behind them.

Whether you like the Netflix show or not, the reality is that suicide amongst teens is up 600% from 1950.

Hannah wasn’t guilty of selfishness or lack of creative thinking. She was trapped in a room and only saw one door. It’s up to us as a society, as parents and friends and teachers to create more doors. Or better yet, let’s bust the walls down.

summer blooming poppy field

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love Letter from God

First Love letter from God

It’s difficult to know how to start this. You’d think it would be easy, after all, I know you. I know more about you than you do. I even know your blood type, your genetic sequences, the exact minute your first tooth came in.

And I know that at night you wake up sometimes feeling alone, even though I’m there with you.

I’m always with you.

I could send you a text. I could put myself in your phone as a contact so that ‘God’ would flash across the screen every time I reach out to you. I could message you, tweet you, swirl words into the clouds or commandeer the lyrics of your favorite song. But I guess I’m old fashioned, so I’ll just write you a letter. A love letter.

I’m going to keep this one short, sort of an introduction. You might not think I need one, after all, the world is filled with ideas about me. But this is about you, for you. So let me just say that in this letter and those to come, I don’t want you to think of me as the creator of the universe, but more as the creator of you.

I don’t want you to think of me as the force that makes the wind blow or the sky rain. I want you to think of me as the air you breathe and as the one who always sees your tears, even the ones that stay hidden in your heart.

I look forward to talking with you. It’s hard to connect through all the sounds in the universe – all the voices and noises and concerns that occupy your mind. Maybe when you read my letters, you’ll be able to escape from those for just a little while.

Anyway, I look forward to my time with you.

Until the next letter, know that I love you.

 

God