Violence in YA

The other day I was having a conversation with a high school Teacher Librarian and she mentioned that her students are not into violent books, but they are fine with books like Hunger Games and Game of Thrones, both of which are pretty violent. This lead us to start considering whether we are somehow classifying violence differently in different genres, and I realized that this is definitely true of me.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m not typically the type of person who enjoys watching tv shows or reading books with lots of blood and guts, but I’m more o.k. with it in Game of Thrones than say a book focused on a school shooting, which does tend to upset me more.

The same feelings seemed to be true of this customer’s students. The question that arises from this, and that seems to be of general concern is why there is a The characters in The Hunger Gamesare human, and many of them are killed in terrible ways. In Game of Thrones characters are stabbed, poisoned, impaled, burned alive, and by countless other methods, and yet beyond mourning the death of a favourite character (I’m still broken hearted over the Red Wedding) the violence is somehow less traumatizing.

One of the most frightening books I’ve ever read is Scowler by Daniel Kraus. The father character in that book was so evil and so violent it made me wince. He wasn’t a king brandishing a sword, gleefully chopping people’s heads off. He wasn’t using magic powers to kill everybody in his wake. He was real, doing terrifying things to real people, and that’s what had me so frightened- knowing that he’s the type of person you hear about on the news and that he could exist in the world.

This is where the difference seems to lie. Every day the news reports on an act of terrorism, gun violence, bombs, murders, etc… We know that these things are real and happening, and thus seeing them depicted in a book/television show/movie is disturbing and difficult to handle. Game of Thrones, while drawing inspiration from history is pure fantasy. Fire breathing dragons and White Walkers are unlikely to ever pose a threat in our world, and therefore it’s easier to become desensitized to it. In most fantasy/sci-fi stories, the world is under threat of destruction or domination by the villain and violence happens, but readers can rest assured that the hero(s) are going to step in and save the world. Good prevails, evil is defeated so it really isn’t that disturbing to readers. In the violent stories set in reality, they are disturbing because they are real. They strike a nerve and hit close to home in ways that fantasy never will, and that’s why it is and should be viewed differently.

3 Responses to Violence in YA

  1. Regina Apr 25 2016 at 6:13 am #

    Realistic violence is way harder to read!!!! I can’t read about sexual violence & anything related to drugs. Those are my hard limits. Because in your mind you’re like, this is happening somewhere in the world right now.
    Only two books have really frightened me in all of my years. 1- it’s called Hush, and it’s a YA nover about sexual assault in a orthodox Jewish community. 2- And Fight Club. I think I was too young, because that book was crazy as hell.

  2. Susan Hughes Apr 25 2016 at 7:44 am #

    Interesting topic, Rachel. Thanks!

  3. Marilynn Byerly Apr 25 2016 at 5:10 pm #

    What gets me is that I’m fine with icky forms of fictional deaths of adults, but, if a kid or a pet gets killed, I get really upset. We all have our own limit of emotional disconnect, I guess.

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