Dark Material in YA Literature

Do you become what you read? Okay, probably not. BUT that’s what some people think (primarily adults and parents).

I thought about this topic while I was watching the newly released Netflix series, Thirteen Reasons Why that has everybody and their dog talking (and you can bet that everybody has an opinion about it too). What I had not previously known, was that this series is based off of young adult literature. Some teachers have even chosen to teach it in their classrooms.

But, I have read several reviews of unhappy parents, and other adults who make comments such as, “it’s inappropriate” and “we don’t want our children being exposed to that type of stuff”. My favorite of all though, “that stuff isn’t even real, kids shouldn’t waste their time watching/reading it”. They place Thirteen Reasons Why under the category “Dark Literature”.

So this week, I decided to venture out and research what “Dark Literature” really is and how it may be affecting young adults. This is what I found:

Definition of Dark

Okay, what consists as “Dark” literature? I think this is a really great question to consider and something that is useful to think about. Something that I think we have done is distorted what “Dark” really is. We think we owe it to our young adults to shelter them from novels that talk about difficult topics such as: rape, sex, drug addiction, alcohol, etc…

What really happens, however, is what we describe as “dark” are issue topics that actually need to be discussed with young adults.

Author Perspective

Gayle Forman stated in early 2015:

Are dark books the ones that allegorically explore serious subject matter, like warfare (The Hunger Games) or the human capacity for destruction (Grasshopper Jungle)? Or are they the ones that reflect our actual world, including the capacity for human cruelty and kindness (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian) or the messy stuff of human mortality (The Fault In Our Stars)?

All of which these topics are encouraged to be used in schools. So why can’t they read them? Because they are dark? I have personally read each of these novels, and they are all exceptionally well-written and explore particular areas of humanity that young adults need to be exposed to.


I read another article that talks about teen fiction as being dark. And what it brought to my attention is the reality of “dark” literature.

The idea that because young adults read “dark” literature it will normalize what is being discussed and potentially encourage that behavior is almost ridiculous. The reality of the matter is that “dark” literature offers awareness.

Things we don’t recognize or are not aware of occur in some of this dark literature. It gives students an opportunity to read about and learn  from. That doesn’t mean that they are going to go out and do that thing, but they will walk away with a new understanding about the topic.

Also, can we point out that books are supposed to relate to people? What if one of these “dark” novels actually does relate to a student? I can almost guarantee that every person who reads/watches Thirteen Reasons Why can connect with it on some level or another. The fact that we claim literature may be too dark, shouldn’t be up to us, because some of those novels actually might be what helps a person relate.

And let’s be real on another level. We TEACH students Shakespeare, Hemingway, Poe, etc… in the classrooms. There is definitely “darkness” weaved in literature from these authors. Even the Bible itself has “dark” areas.

Let’s stop criticizing literature for being too dark and accept the fact that there is no such thing.


One thought on “Dark Material in YA Literature

  1. lizkrohn says:

    I love your statement “Let’s stop criticizing literature for being too dark and accept the fact that there is no such thing.” This really affected me after I read it and had time to think about it. I completely agree with you. The term “dark” can mean so many things to so many different people so who should get to decide what topics fall under this adjective. Great post!


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