13 Ways Of Looking at Edgy & Dark YA Fiction

13 Ways Of Looking at Edgy & Dark YA Fiction


Figure 1. The Bummer Dixon. Which you will earn if you say the phrase, "Though this book is a YA novel, it is very DARK."

Figure 1. The Bummer Dixon. Which you will earn if you say the phrase, “Though this book is a YA novel, it is very DARK.”


1. “Edgy” and “dark” make YA sound like some kind of subgenre of erotica.

2. That’s not a direction I want YA to go toward. I think YA should feature more sex but erotica? No. Kelly Jensen explains here.

3. I’m thinking about what non-YA novels we might call edgy. Not making a snarky point here: just wondering  what would fit that adjective.

4. QUESTION: If YA books like Brandy Colbert’s Pointe or Christa Desir’s Fault Line or Stephanie Kuehn’s Charm & Strange or Erica Lorraine Scheidt’s Uses for Boys or Evan Roskos Dr. Bird’s Advice For Sad Poets or Andrew Smith’s The Marbury Lens are considered “dark” – who writes YA books that are considered “light?”

5. ANSWER: “Sarah Dessen, Carrie. She’s considered ‘light.’ Because the covers are so pretty!”

6. REBUTTAL: NO. Let me repeat myself. NO NO NO. Maybe the covers look “light” but Sarah Dessen’s books deal with all sorts of hard shit. All sorts of thorny issues. And the endings aren’t HAPPY. I reject this stupid answer. It does not honor how complex Sarah Dessen’s stories actually are.

7. I’d like to volunteer that “dark” in the minds of many readers might mean any of the following:
“not tidy”
“not finishing on a note of uplift”
“hopeless and/or depressing ending”

8. This assumption says more about the one wielding the word “dark” or “edgy” than about the book.

9. Maybe “light” means that the book diverts the reader in a nice way, until the last page, when it’s promptly forgotten? I do like books like that; I read them all the time.

10. There are times when I am reading books that I want to hold onto. I want to savor the experience, draw it out. Think about it for a while. I don’t want to gulp it down and easily digest it. I want to struggle along with it. I don’t mean that the book is boring or “difficult” to read or anything. I sure as hell find Faulkner difficult but I don’t want to savor that shit so much.

11. The books that stick with you long after you’ve finished? Do we call those books “dark” or “edgy” or something else? Maybe “literary” works there? *shudder*

12. Gross. The whole thing’s gross. Assumes that YA must be some kind of sunny-hearted fictional Chicken Soup for the Teenaged Soul enterprise. Like YA authors must serve up morality tales that’ll cause teenagers to lift their chins with pride and fortitude and continue fighting bullies/studying hard/standing up for what’s right. Like teenagers need a literary pep talk. Like they need some kind of motivational speaker in a portable volume. Like they’re in the market for more sermons. Like they need more people telling them what to do instead of less. But instead of sermons and advice, YA books would be hipper, full of inspiration and pithy knowledge and “buck up little camper – we’ll beat that hill! Together!” Because teenagers really like that kinda thing. They want it all simplified and positive and we shouldn’t reveal to them that life is unjust and difficult and cruel and random and uncaring and complicated. They can’t know that until they’re 21 and have been delivered safely to college, where they might encounter all of that shit, but HA! It’ll be too late; they’re already on the Right Track to Success.

13. Fuck that.


  • Alaa Al-Barkawi on May 13, 2014 Reply

    Next time my sister asks why I read “such depressing” books, I’ll be sure to send her this post. It gets tiring telling people that books aren’t wrapped in bright pink beautiful bows because no one’s life is like that and books represent the issues real people deal in real life. Love this post.

  • Jeanne Bain on Apr 04, 2014 Reply

    Betty and Veronica comic books are light. That’s all.

  • Sarah Combs on Apr 04, 2014 Reply

    I love and appreciate and applaud this. I LOVE IT. Thank you.

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