Do you see yourself in the things you read? What about the problems and issues you and your community deal with, or the joys and successes you experience?
Have you ever gotten a new perspective on a problem or issue in your life with the help of a book? When?
Two recent New York Times articles take on novels for young adults that help make sense of problems in our world. In “A Graphic Novel Aimed at Young Adults Takes a Personal Look at the Opioid Crisis,” George Gene Gustines writes about the popular author-illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s latest book, a graphic memoir that deals with drug addiction and is very relevant today amid the opioid epidemic plaguing the country:
“Hey, Kiddo,” which arrives in stores on Oct. 9, is about being raised by his grandparents in Worcester, Mass., because Mr. Krosoczka (pronounced crow-sauce-KAH) did not know his father, and his mother was battling a heroin addiction that eventually claimed her life. It is a story that the author has seen resonate with audiences at schools around the country. “There are so many kids out there whose parents do terrible things,” he said during a telephone interview while on a family vacation away from their home in western Massachusetts. “It’s important for kids to know that it doesn’t make them a bad person.” …
While critical reaction has been favorable — “Hey, Kiddo” is on the National Book Awards Longlist for young adult literature — being embraced by the general public is not guaranteed. Just two years ago, when “The Seventh Wish,” a middle-school novel by Kate Messner about a family dealing with addiction, came out, the author found herself disinvited from speaking at a school in Vermont.
“They decided the book might raise questions they were not prepared to talk about,” Ms. Messner recalled recently. “I was devastated. I knew that school was in a district where families had been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. It was a school where many kids might have seen themselves in that story.”
Since then, the tide has turned and she has seen a rise in requests to speak at schools and community events. “We only have to look at the statistics to know how many families are affected by the opioid epidemic,” she said. The chance to have a dialogue is important. “You can’t solve a problem that no one is talking about.”
And in “Using Young Adult Novels to Make Sense of #MeToo,” Julia Jacobs writes about books that address consent and sexual violence:
As the country continues to respond to the #MeToo movement, teachers and librarians are turning to fiction to help teenagers understand emotional trauma and make sense of this cultural reckoning.
Kami Garcia, an author and former teacher from Annapolis, Md., wrote a novel called “Broken Beautiful Hearts,” which tells a story about relationship violence that parallels her own experience as a teenager. Ms. Garcia, 46, said that when she was 17, she broke up with her boyfriend over his use of steroids and, in response, he pushed her through a screen door. For two years after that, he stalked her, she said.
In Ms. Garcia’s novel, released this year, the 17-year-old protagonist, Peyton Rios, is pushed down the stairs by her ex-boyfriend. But the difference is that the fictional character tells her mother about the abuse. Ms. Garcia said she didn’t tell any adults.
“I wanted to rewrite history and do all the things I wish I would have done,” she said.
On visits to schools to discuss the book, Ms. Garcia asked students to raise their hands if they knew someone who had experienced dating violence or had been sexually harassed or assaulted. At most schools, nearly every girl in the audience raised her hand, Ms. Garcia said.
Novels can provide a safe place to explore ideas about consent and speaking out after abuse because young readers can inhabit the experience of a fictional character rather than face their own trauma head-on, said Amy Reed, an author from Asheville, N.C.
Students, read one of the above articles in its entirety, then tell us:
— How do you learn how to deal with issues and problems in your life, or in the world at large? Do you read news articles and opinion pieces? Watch videos, view photos or listen to podcasts? Talk to friends, family members and teachers? Follow or interact with others on social media? Something else? What seems to work best in helping you understand the news today? Why do you think that is?
— Have you read any fiction or graphic novels that have helped you make sense of things going on in the world today? If so, what did you read and what issues did they help you better understand?
— What can you learn about the world from a novel, short story, comic book or graphic novel that might be more difficult to grasp from, say, a news article?
— Do you think novels that deal with especially sensitive or uncomfortable topics — like drug use and sexual violence — belong in schools? Should these books be part of the high school curriculum? Why or why not?
— In your opinion, are there any subjects that should be off limits in books written for teenagers? Why or why not?
— Laurie Halse Anderson, the author of “Speak,” said, “It finally dawned on me that adults have a responsibility to be honest with kids about what they are facing every day.” Do you agree with this statement? Do you feel that the adults in your life are transparent and truthful about the things that are happening in the world around you? Why or why not?