The Controversy over “Sick-lit”
I’d never heard the term “sick-lit” until recently, when I came across a UK Daily Mail article delivering the news that there is a rise of “exploitative” modern YA fiction in our midst. Allegedly, sick-lit is the rising sub-genre of realistic fiction that — at its worst — aims to glorify death, suicide, and cutting; at its best it encourages vanity and shallowness.
Which books are these? you ask. Well, according to Tanith Carey, author of the aforementioned UK Daily Mail article, one of the worst offenders is John Green’s The Fault in our Stars. Another is Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why. By the Time You Read This, I’ll be Dead by Julie Ann Peters also makes the list. Tanith, with encouragement from popular children’s book reviewer Amanda Craig, has determined that these books and others like them that take on such serious topics such as terminal illness and suicide do more harm than good. Their concern is that rather than providing a safe means to explore tough subjects from a safe book-land distance, these books might encourage damaging behaviors or depression merely by planting the seeds into young, impressionable minds. Evidently, by reading about a teen who attempts suicide in reaction to a stressful event, a teen reader has been prompted and prepared on the dos and don’ts of successful suicide. Or, as is the case with our beloved Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars, sick-lit presents characters who romanticize death and dying by being overly concerned with trivial teen-aged topics like love.
‘Cause you know, when you’re dying, apparently you should be out campaigning for a cure for cancer or saving the world, or at the very least not be charming; you definitely should not be thinking about kissing or experiencing life to its fullest or even just watching reality TV, either.
The author of this article (and others like it) claims that publishers and “sick-lit” authors are negligently trying to shove “depravity” down teens’ throats all for the sake of the mighty dollar. Instead, they claim, authors should be protecting their readers from exposure to potentially damaging content.
However, although the term “sick-lit” may be new, the range of situations the teens in these books are experiencing certainly aren’t. Abuse, depression, suicide, terminal illness; YA authors aren’t fabricating these topics. Many teens throughout the world have already been, and still are, living these tragedies every second of every day.
YA readers, what are your thoughts? Could books with these topics push a damaged teen over the edge? Do they falsely represent and romanticize afflictions?
— Dena Little, currently reading The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate