In honor of National Stress Awareness Day in the U.S., let’s all take a deep breath…and let it out slowly. For many of us, reading is our go-to method of relaxing. Add a blanket and some tea and the trifecta is complete. But for super-sensitive, empathetic readers, reading a story about a character in peril can actually be very stressful. Sometimes it’s good stress: adrenaline, adventure, and new experiences we crave. Other times we are truly worried and fearful, even if we know certain stories need witnesses.
But are there teen reads that don’t cause too much stress — just fun, chill-out books? Every person’s own comfort reads fall into that category, of course, and “beach reads” tend to skew toward chick lit. Here, I offer a few titles I consider to be low-stress without being too personal or chick-lit-esque:
Hope Was Here, by Joan Bauer (2001 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults). Hope moves with her aunt to Mulhoney, Wisconsin to take over a small diner, but finds the owner’s not quite ready to go — in fact, he’s about to run for mayor.
Seedfolks, by Paul Fleischman (1998 Best Books for Young Adults). Thirteen voices tell the story of a vacant lot transformed by an urban garden.
I don’t read as much horror as I probably should, since it’s very popular with a lot of teen readers. So, I was very happy to attend this YA Literature Symposium session presented by the two Paulas (Paula Willey and Paula Gallagher) both from Baltimore (MD) County Public Library. Not only did I hear about some horror books I wasn’t familiar with, I also won a scary shark t-shirt! Thanks to their generosity, lots of us in the audience got prizes of galleys of YA books, and everyone got creepy body part shaped candy and packets of Old Bay Seasoning (Why? Because it’s made in Baltimore).
I can’t describe their presentation any better than they did:
“Teens of all types gravitate to horror fiction – perfectly nice kids with perfectly comfortable lives (as well as perfectly nice kids with difficult lives) seek out books by Darren Shan, Alexander Gordon Smith, Jeyn Roberts and the like. In our presentation, we will make the link between the psychological developments that characterize coming of age and the metaphors of horror, and argue that just because it’s all in your head, that doesn’t mean it’s not real.”
They mentioned that teens who like horror are nostalgic for series they read as kids like the Goosebumps series, Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories, or David Lubar’s Weenies series. Teens today are cutting their teeth on new horror TV shows, and films, even foreign ones like Let the Right One In and are big consumers of media, especially horror series like The Vampire Diaries.
Paula Willey explained why it’s important that we understand why teens like horror:
1. We may need to overcome our own revulsion; people who don’t like it don’t understand the appeal.
2. Horror is unusually good at shining a light on concerns of adolescents in ways other types of fiction do not. Horror is a window into their worries.
They also said that issues of morality can be explored in horror. Alexander Gordon Smith can talk abut good vs. evil in his Escape the Furnace series and get away with it. I had to laugh when they showed a slide from their PowerPoint stating that adolescent development is characterized by poor decision making; risk-taking; and a changing sense of identity and the image on screen was a photo of Bella and Edward from the Twilight movie.