Saturday, January 25, 2014

Is it wrong for writers to "profit" from writing about emotionally distressing subjects?

I finished the Fault in Our Stars yesterday and went on Amazon to read some of the 1 star reviews out of curiosity. One comment stood out as interesting to me: an actual stage 4 cancer patient complained about John Green using cancer kids to "make a quick buck" and wondered how much of the profits he was going to use off his book and movie deal to give back to cancer patients. While I do have sympathy with the poster for their situation, I felt like their comment was a bit harsh. Other posters said similar things. One person asked who would be sick enough to write about terminally ill kids falling in love? Again I ask the question...what is wrong with that?

A lot of the people on Amazon complained that reading should be an escape from reality and that writing about topics like cancer and death was "wrong" because it made people feel sad. They felt that stories should not depress the reader with showing them how raw and naked and harsh reality can be. I have a lot of respect for writers who are unafraid to write about sensitive topics. Cancer patients, in particular kids, are still people with thoughts and dreams and desires. They are not just a disease. I thought John Green's book was a fascinating insight into the mind of a person with a terminal illness: How would you cope if you had to breathe with the aide of an oxygen tank day after day? How would you feel about not reaching your 20th birthday? What you want to do with your final days? Would you want to kiss a boy or travel or do something silly and stupid like watch some bad TV? What makes life worth living? How would you accept your fate? Your stars?

John Green's book asks all of these questions and more and would be a great tool to get discussions started in the classroom. Is he "profiting" off cancer patients? Is that wrong? Are there some subjects writers should avoid? No, to all of these questions. He is not profiting off cancer patients, that makes it sounds like he stole something from them, he made this story up from scratch, it is fiction, thus he owns no one any profits. Saying that he should be ashamed for writing about terminally ill kids and that he should give them some money is like saying that every crime writer should give money to a victims of crime organisation. He has done nothing wrong. He used his imagination to write a sad romance story. That's not a crime. Life is full of sad stories. Life is unfair. Not all of us will be blessed to live to a ripe old age. Some of us will die young. And that's okay. That's a good message to give across to readers. Enjoy life. Every moment of it. Do not question the fates. Just accept things. And find love if you can. These are all good things to tell kids.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Is "Sick-Lit" bad for teenagers?

I'm reading a book at the moment called "The Fault in our stars" by John Green. It's about two teenagers with terminal cancer who fall in love and find joy in their final days together. I'm pregnant at the moment and last night I read a particularly sad bit and I started bawling, tears streaming down my face, big loud sad sobs that had my husband rushing up to me all concerned.

"What's wrong?" He gasped.

"This-book-is-really-sad!" I said between sobs.

He rolled his eyes, smiled, and said "Aww, Jeez..." and walked off shaking his head at his crazy, adorable pregnant wife.

"The Fault in our stars" has been labeled "Sick Lit" by some people in the media and publishing. "Sick Lit" is a genre of fiction that deals with teenagers combating real life issues like death, illness, self-harm, drugs, bullying and drinking. Another famous book in this genre is "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold. The Lovely Bones is about a girl who is raped and murdered and spends the book looking down on her family and friends from haven and watching them as they move on with their life.

I've read the book twice and it's a sad, wonderful story. I loved the film version too but not a lot of others did. It wasn't that it was a bad film, it was just depressing, and I think the reason it failed was because not a lot of people want to go and see a film about a little girl who is raped and murdered and goes to heaven. We don't want to think about such terrible things happening.

I told my Mum she should read "The fault in our stars" because I think it's written really well. Her response was "I don't like sad books" The problem a lot of people have with "sick lit" is they think that these books are too emotionally intense and that readers in particular young adults should not have to "deal" with the real life issues featured in them.

I actually read one article about sick lit that said Twilight was a better book for young adults to read because it was a harmless fantasy. There is something a little hilarious about people wanting young adults to read books about vampires rather than a book about real life issues like death, illness, and depression because god forbid they even think about such things.

Death, illness, depression and sadness are a part of life. Vampires, while fun to read about, are not. Why should we hide these books from young teens? Some people think that if kids read about sick kids dying from cancer it somehow "glorifies" being sick or if they read about kids who self-harm that they might run out and try it themselves.

There's also been a lot of criticism about kids in sick lit books having bucket lists that include having sex. That's encouragin pre-martial sex!!! Um, so? If a kid is 16 and dying of cancer, let them have sex, let them live the rest of their short life out how they choose. After all it's THEIR bucket list.

And how, exactly, can you glorify having cancer? I'm about half way through the fault in our stars and there is nothing about the kids in that book that makes me go "Wow, these kids are so inspiring!" It just makes me sad. Imagine being 16 and knowing you will not live more than a couple of years. Imagine having to go to bed at night hooked up to an oxygen tank. It does not sound like fun. This book makes me grateful to be healthy, alive, happy and about to have my first child. It does not make me want to develop cancer to get attention and special gifts from people.

Why do we treat teenagers like idiot children? And why do some people want to shield them from everything in life? It's just stupid. You can plug your child's ears with cotton wool, you can wrap them in bubble wrap, and you can put them up on a shelf but eventually they'll wiggle free, pull the wool out of their ears and unwrap themselves and will go out into the big world on their own. A good parent raises a child to become an adult. They do not hide a child in a cupboard so it will remain young and innocent and shielded forever. You cannot hide things like cancer and death. They exist in this world. Let you child read these books. It will not harm them. It will make them appreciate life more and the feel of sunshine on their face.