Thursday, March 22, 2012

Trayvon Martin and the Reality of YA Novels

I could tell you the entire story of what I've been doing that's kept me from blogging in the last few days, but it's a long and involved story, so we're going to skip right over that for the moment. In what little free-time I've had lately, I've been following the Trayvon Martin case closely. It's heartbreaking.

For those not familiar with the case, in late February, seventeen-year-old Martin was shot and killed after leaving a convenience store. The twenty-eight year old man who shot him, George Zimmerman, claims the shooting was self-defense.

Martin's girlfriend, who was on the phone with him immediately before the shooting, says that's not true. Martin was trying to get away from Zimmerman when he realized that Zimmerman was following him. When he ran, Zimmerman followed him and a confrontation ensued. Martin was unarmed, and was eventually shot by Zimmerman during the course of the confrontation.

There has been a lot of coverage on the case, and a lot of controversy surrounding the case because of Zimmerman's self defense claim. A lot of people are arguing that it's not legal to use deadly force against an unarmed individual. That's not true, at least not in Florida. In Florida, the Stand Your Ground law allows you to use deadly force to protect yourself if you feel that you (or someone else) are in imminent danger of serious harm. It doesn't matter if the individual you fear has a weapon or not.

So, the question has become less if Zimmerman had a right to use deadly force, and more if it was really self defense.

Personally, I can see both sides of the issue here. If I'm being chased by someone I don't know, I'm going to be scared. If that individual then approaches me, I'm probably not going to be particularly reasonable when it comes to listening to his rationale for following me, or to anything else he has to say. I'm going to do what I need to do to get away...just like I was taught to do by every single case that ends with someone just like me being kidnapped or robbed in just such a situation.

At the same time though, we've got Zimmerman in a similar situation. He thinks he’s following a suspicious person up to no good. Adrenaline is already high, and then Martin runs, confirming in Zimmerman’s mind that he’s guilty of something. If he then catches up to Martin, already fearing that Martin is a criminal, and Martin takes a swing, fearing that Zimmerman means him harm, the situation can quickly spiral into what we’ve seen in this case.

Neither Martin nor Zimmerman was in a mind-set conducive to rational decision-making, and a tragedy occurred as a result. Whether Zimmerman is eventually charged with the murder or not, it's a sad situation that could have been prevented had Zimmerman simply not pursued Martin when he ran. But hindsight is always 20/20, isn’t it?   

This case, and the real life situation that's pulled me away from blogging in the last few days, has had me thinking a lot about the realities of being a teenager and how that plays out in young adult fiction.

We see a lot of love triangles and bullying in popular young adult novels, but at first glance, we don't see a lot of issues like this in those same novels. That is to say, you're probably not going to find ordinary teen Trayvon Martin getting shot and killed by ordinary adult George Zimmerman in the pages of a popular young adult novel.

Look deeper though, and you will find a slew of popular YA novels peppered with similar situations that play out in subtle and unique ways. In Harry Potter, for instance, Harry deals with evil deeds (including murder) perpetrated by adults, as well as the resultant community backlash and fear. He and his friends also deal with racism in the form of the hatred of mudbloods and muggles that Voldemort’s followers display. In the Mortal Instruments series, Clary deals with parental abuse (verbal and mental abuse at the very least) and murder committed by her father, while Jace deals with manipulation by an adult. In the Hush, Hush series, Nora deals with the consequences of her parents’ lies, the murder of her father, and parental abuse. In Twilight, Bella deals with the manipulation and machinations of Jacob, teen pregnancy, and physical abuse and torture. In Shiver, Grace deals with the consequences of neglect at the hands of her parents.

Each of these novels is steeped in extraordinary circumstances, but at the heart of each is a grim or tragic situation that’s not that much different than the frightening things young adults see and experience now. Whether it’s losing a friend in a shooting, watching a young friend become a parent, or dealing with racism, abuse, or sexual assault, popular YA novels deal with the grim realities of life in spades. They just do it a little differently.

That’s one of the things that draw a lot of readers my age to YA novels: they deal with reality in unique ways.

I’m twenty-eight. I have no clue what it’s like to be thirty-five, a single parent, and trying to juggle a new relationship, a kid, and a career. I just finished grad school. I have no clue what it’s like to have a career threatened by some villain, or to be in charge of a multi-million dollar corporation. Or to be divorced, take care of ailing parents, or find out my husband’s become embroiled in a scandalous affair. But I do know what it’s like to be fourteen and find out a friend has been murdered, or to be fifteen and hear that a friend is going to prison for murder. I know what it’s like to deal with the issues teens in YA novels face because, if I haven’t been there, I know someone who has. And I don’t need these situations to be blatant or in your face to understand them. I can pick up any newspaper, any day of the week, and find that. So can any teen.

YA may deal with the same situations we see on the news every day, but the authors do it in just the right way to keep teens (and readers like me) engaged. Their stories blend reality with imagination in a way that gives you the people and situations you know, but the HEA you crave. So we may never see Trayvon Martin’s heartbreaking story in a bestselling YA novel, but we will certainly see teens like Trayvon Martin facing difficult decisions and life-changing situations, because those are the teens we know, and the situations they face. And, I think, because those are the teens we wish had been given a real-life HEA. 

But then again, that might just be me. ;)  

Your ever-hopeful author,


  1. Amazing post. Gave me plenty of food for thought for the YA novella I'm working on. Thank you so much and please keep up the great work.


  2. Thank you for this post. Trayvon was obviously a good kid, and it's quite a tragedy for someone like him to have this happen. Also nice comparison with tragic real life situations and YA. That reality is part of what makes YA so incredible. It's fearless, dealing with tough situations. perhaps it is intended to teach some of these lessons to our youth and (ahem) those twenty-somethings who are still reading it (guilty!).

    But, uh, on a humorous note--is there really anything gained by reading Twilight?


Blog Archive