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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

New teen fiction genre: School shootings

Books about school shootings are a popular new subgenre in young-adult fiction, reports Mark Walsh on Ed Week.

Lilia Martinez, 15, a student in Michigan “estimates that of the 28 books she read over the last school year, both for pleasure and schoolwork, as many as 20 of them had themes of school violence,” write Walsh.

In addition to books, “movies, TV shows, and other popular entertainment” have featured school shootings, writes Walsh. Here’s Ed Week‘s gallery movies, TV and fiction with school violence themes.

Teachers believe the genre motivates teens to read.

“The biggest way to get a high school-age student to get off their phone and read a book is to find something that really relates to them,” said Jessica North, who taught English for eight years at Gloucester High School in Gloucester, Va., before becoming the school librarian there last year. After the Parkland shooting, North said more students at her school checked out young adult titles such as Give a Boy a Gun, a 2002 book by Todd Strasser; Hate List, a 2009 work by Jennifer Brown; and Shooter, a 2004 title by Walter Dean Myers. (There’s also a 2017 young adult work titled Shooter, by Caroline Pignat.)

If it’s not violence, it’s sexual abuse, racism, gang life or domestic violence, writes Steve Salerno, an author and journalism professor, in The Unbearable Darkness of Young-Adult Literature.

A recent Summit on the Research and Teaching of Young Adult Literature featured “socially aware” — and very depressing — books, he writes.

• “How It Went Down,” a novel by Kekla Magoon, presents 18 different perspectives on the shooting of an unarmed black youth. (This is the second prominent young-adult book on the topic published recently. While not featured at the summit, Angie Thomas’s “The Hate U Give”—also about the shooting of an unarmed black youth—contended for a National Book Award in 2017.) • “Shout” is author Laurie Halse Anderson’s memoir of her sexual assault and struggle with eating disorders while growing up with an alcoholic parent suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Ms. Anderson’s debut novel, “Speak,” examined sexual assault from the viewpoint of a ninth-grade girl.

Attendees said “they left the conference more confident than ever of literature’s power to inspire,” writes Salerno. He wonders if this sort of literature inspires hopelessness.

Consciously or not, adolescents will seek membership in the group that appears to be getting all the attention. And if indeed it is psychologically debilitating for the young people depicted in today’s YA literature to inhabit a world of virulent racism and interminable bullying and sexual abuse, then why make the vast majority of students, who don’t live amid such conditions, feel as if they do?

Salerno observes that anxiety, depression and suicide have increased among teens.

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