Dealing with Tragedy and Terrorism in YA Lit

Last Patriot’s Day – a state holiday observed predominantly in Massachusetts but Maine and Wisconsin get in there  Massachusetts honoring the first American patriots of the Revolution – was a strange and hard day for many of us in the Bay State. It was a day off for many, and a start to school vacations for most students. There was the perennially inspiring promise of the Boston Marathon with such big stories as the amazing elite runners, the Hoyt father/son team running their last race, and the triumphs of every day people running their first or special race.

Shoes at the Boston marathon bombing memorial 2013 photo by Flickr user Megan Marrs
Shoes at the Boston marathon bombing memorial 2013 photo by Flickr user Megan Marrs

Then the bombs went off and the difficulty began. Over the next few days and since then, I’ve thought how about the marathon bombings might affect teens and especially those teens who may  have been on lockdown in their homes in Boston and many surrounding cities as the hunt for the subjects spewed gunfire along their streets.

One year later, I’ve looked to YA literature to see if anything can help us and help those teens near the disaster to deal with it. A far as I know no YA novels have been written about the tragedy yet, but it may happen as it does with many major news stories. Instead here are some books deal with running injuries or terrorism and the healing that can come after those.

Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowtiz – Set in 2002 with the two main characters still reeling from the September 11 attacks in their two respective hometowns of Washington D.C. and New York, Craig and Lio try to figure out how to be normal teens in love when the Beltway sniper attacks start. I admit to having mostly forgotten about these murders when I picked up the book, but Moskowtiz captures what I would the imagine the paranoia and terror of that situation would feel like. Through her two characters, she allows us to ponder the meaning of safety and how that affects who we love and how we recover from trauma. 

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van DraanenThe Running Dream by Wendelin van Draanen, a 2012 Schneider Family Book Award Winner – This is the story of Jessica, an avid runner who loses a not to a terrorist attack, but rather a car accident. While recovering and itching to get the prosthetic leg that will allow her to run, Jessica makes friends with Rosa who has cerebral palsy. Rosa helps Jessica to catch up on her math and Jessica decides to help Rosa run with her. The friendship between Jessica and Rosa is what makes the book and you grow and heal along with Jessica.

 sisterMy Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher – Five years after his sister Rose is killed in a terrorist attack in London, Jaime and his family are still reeling. Their mom has left, Jasmine – Rose’s twin – is breaking the rules and dying her hair pink, and their dad is always drunk. Rose’s ashes as a constant reminder to Jamie about how his life as been ruined and he doesn’t even remember her . . . or even miss her. This is a lovely story about the longterm effects of a loss and a terrorist attack. Even five years later, Jamie’s dad doesn’t like his new friend Sunya –  a smart, kind, and super-heroic Muslim girl –  because some of the terrorists who killed Rose were Muslim. The family to get back together and figure out how you move on, teaching us all a lesson about resilience.

The recent release of Stronger, by Jeff Bauman, a victim made famous when a graphic picture of himself, terribly wounded, and his rescuer became the image of the marathon bombings, may be of interest to teens as well.

It is my hope that teens witnessing either on TV or in person these events may find some hope in these books. Hopefully, the city of Boston, my current state of Massachusetts, the running community, and all affected can find closure, kindness, and hope with today’s running of the 118th Boston Marathon.

-Anna Tschetter, currently reading Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor