Why Are Teen Novels So Dark?

Mighty Writers intern Yadi Angeles says there's a reason for the attraction to books about vampires, eating disorders and suicide

Yadi Angeles is in 10th grade at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. She is currently a high school intern at Mighty Writers, a nonprofit writing program for city kids seven to 17. The Philly Post occasionally features the work of Mighty Writers students.

People have been reading and sharing writing for centuries, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that interest in specific genres changes as often as opinions and lifestyles. Recently, it’s been noted that the most popular teen reads have all been “dark” stories—from Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games to Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls to Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why. Many adults out there are asking why. Why are so many bestsellers about suicide, death, vampires, blood or eating disorders? Why are teen novels so dark?

The answers can only come from teenagers themselves. So as a teen, I give you this: Teen novels seem so dark these days because as we grow and mature, the need to relate grows within us, and so we see ourselves in others.

Sarah Debraski, the president of Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), says, “Whether realistic or fantastic, historical or futuristic, teens want a book in which they can see a bit of themselves.”

Teens see the environment they’re in and the life they’re living, and they look for books they can relate to. When teenagers see darkness in their personal lives, or in the economic crisis going on, they want to escape into a world where the darkness can be molded into something—anything—else.

Another factor is that most teens hit a phase where they are no longer afraid of “the monsters in the closet” and instead have a bigger curiosity about dark and scary topics. I’ve always been an easy person to scare, and until now I spent most of my childhood purposely avoiding things such as scary movies, or dark shows and books.

Katie Roiphe, an American author and journalist, says, “Teenagers have historically shown a certain appetite for calamity. They like a little madness, sadism and disease in the books they curl up with at night.”

This is very true. Lately, I’ve found myself being dragged into darker books because they’re a break from the cliché love stories that always end happily.

Darker books are closer to a teenager’s heart because of the pain that shows up in most teens’ lives. I’m not the only one attracted to dark novels. One student I spoke with from a local high school, Science Leadership Academy, said, “We like dark books because we get tired of the lights.” Another student said, “I like them because even when I do stupid stuff, I like knowing my life is better than the character’s in the book I’m reading.”

Both students compared themselves to characters in dark books and said they can relate to what the characters are going through. Right now, in hard times, we all need to be able to relate. That’s why the media has become more and more realistic. Realism has a sort of darkness that comes from real life.

Some people don’t believe that teens are fully to blame for the “darkness” going around, though. Jay Asher, author of the book Thirteen Reasons Why, says, “I don’t think it’s that teens are now more interested in exploring these issues. It’s just that publishers aren’t afraid of these themes like maybe they once were.”

It’s true that over time, new generations develop different opinions, have different needs, and often become more open-minded about things that wouldn’t have been accepted in the past.

Whether it’s because authors and publishers have lost the fear of the dark genre, or because more and more teens are reading dark books, one thing is clear: We are quickly moving into a strange new era with millions of dark possibilities.

Are you ready?