“I’m just going through a phase right now. Everybody goes through phases and all, don’t they?”
So says Holden Caulfield in the classic Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Holden may have just been going through a phase, but he became a cultural and literary icon when he paved the way for teenagers to tell their sides of the story in mainstream literature. The floodgates opened, and now we have a thriving YA genre to enjoy, opening our eyes to the pains and glories of those confusing few years between childhood and adulthood.
While young-adult-driven fiction certainly hasn’t been just a phase, we tend to see teenagers as mostly carefree, their troubles coming and going with a capriciousness that adults can look back on nostalgically. But what happens when a teen experiences something formative that doesn’t just fade as time goes by, something appalling, something that stays with them forever?
We’ve come a long way since Catcher in the Rye, and one thing that has evolved over time is the discussion of the real, difficult, and sometimes dire circumstances teenagers can be subjected to even when things seem idyllic and ideal. Mental health issues, suicide, bullying, abuse, violence and sexual assault are all very real traumas that far too many young adults experience; but speaking up and bringing these issues out in the open is an important step in their eradication.
People are increasingly deciding to do their part by writing their experiences down, or drawing inspiration from others’ stories, bravely highlighting a need that must be met. This list is full of books that focus on teens, and especially on teens who aren’t exactly living the perfect life. Some are darker than others, but all provide a unique perspective and lessons to be learned. Though these are no fairy tales, some actually have a bit of a happy ending and hope for a brighter future.