Realistic Topics in Teen Fiction

In the 2019 spring issue of Canadian Children’s Book News, the teens take over and share their views on literature and the current scene in Canada. While all of the articles were great, one in particular, caught my eye. It is by Sara Rigotti and it is her perspective on how authors should tackle ‘Themes of Social Justice in Teen Fiction.’ She says, “We need stories with real issues to break through the barriers of our society.” Her article aptly reminds us that “teens are the generation on the brink of entering adult society. They have the capability of understanding these issues and working toward changing them.”

Two publishers of teen fiction here in Canada offer stories that are realistic, that look at challenges our youth are facing, and do all of this with an accessible reading level for any reader. They are Orca Publishers with their Currents and Soundings series, and Formac/Lorimer, with their Sidestreets series. Orca is also introducing a new series called, Orca Issues. I am proud to write for the Currents and Sidestreets, and to shed light on tough topics. Sara suggests that authors not shy away from these issues, but that they treat them with openness and honesty. Some folks criticize the teen novels that look at tough topics, but today’s youth are hungry for them. Even when I was a teen in the late seventies and early eighties, I gravitated toward stories that shed light on mental health issues and LGBTQ youth. Back then, the novels were few, but they spoke loudly to me and helped shape my understanding of the world – they helped me to further develop empathy and care.

Today, we are more open to conversations, but still have work to do – the low star reviews of my books often suggest I got the rating because I should have ‘fixed the problem at the end of the story.’ But I wrote my novels without a tidy, neat ending because that is real life. Sara Rigotti says, “Everyone enjoys a good happy ending, but honestly, sometimes it is better to have a realistic ending… A realistic ending shows that even though the story’s conflict is over, there may and probably will be more conflict to come, more obstacles to overturn. It gives the sense that this is not over. This is current, this is real, this is ongoing.”

Real stories, with real endings allow teens the opportunity to ask more questions, to look at issues from a number of perspectives, and to further research topics they find important to them. Real stories sit with them and impact them, emotionally. Librarians, and some of the teen readers themselves, tell me they come back to my stories and read them again. They feel connected to the characters and their unique journeys. They recognize their own struggles in the authentic struggles of the characters portrayed in the books. And this makes them want to change the world for the better. As Sara says in her final lines, “Fiction can make us want to learn more, it may encourage us to help. We need to look at social justice issues in teen fiction because our generation can make a difference.”

Thank you, CCBC for the teen issue, and thank you, Sara Rigotti!

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