This summer I kept finding myself reading fiction about teens and death. There was The Fault in Our Stars of course, which I avoided reading for a long time because-- teenagers! With cancer! But it was really good once I relented, and read it in two tearstained days. I also enjoyed Goldengrove by Francine Prose, about a girl whose sister dies in a boating accident and how she, her parents, and her sister’s boyfriend deal with their grief. The writing in this one is extraordinary, evocative and poetic. And then I read Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall, which is kind of a Mean Girls/Groundhog Day mashup. We watch Sam, one of four horrid, popular girls who rule their suburban high school go through a day-- Valentine’s Day-- being so mean to everyone around them that you don’t mind when their car flies off the road that night. And then Sam lives that day again, and again. It's so interesting to watch how things change, how Sam changes, as she lives through that day repeatedly.
What is it with teenagers and death? I wondered.
But the truth is that we're all interested in death. When my kids were really little, they tortured me by playing with the idea of their deaths or mine. Shakespeare’s plays are full of it, the whole mystery genre is built on it, and let’s not even talk about movies, TV or video games. Death is a great big, dramatic mystery, and we’re all interested in it.
If you’d like to plunge into the mystery-- at least in the context of YA books-- here is a list of good ones. Please let me know if there are any you’ve enjoyed that I missed.