How death in young adult literature can teach us to live
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According to scholar Roberta Seelinger Trites, death is “the defining factor that distinguishes [young adult literature] both from children’s and adult literature.” Death is pertinent to all young adult readers, not just the ones who happen to be dealing with death themselves: the proportion of teens experiencing death is a minority, but the prominence of death in YA literature is uncanny. It has to have a deeper purpose than counseling the grief-stricken. Two of the most popular YA books in recent years that focus on a death have been Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why (2007) and John Green’s Looking for Alaska (2005). Though both books are at least a decade old, they have both remained significant and popular with the critical reception of the recent television adaptation of Thirteen Reasons Why and with Looking for Alaska being implemented in some school curriculums. The deaths of Hannah Baker and Alaska Young, the main female characters in these novels, communicate larger messages about how to live; through Miles’ process of searching for existential answers in the absence of certainty, Looking for Alaska suggests that readers should engage in the same exploration. Through Clay’s realization that he and Hannah Baker will never have closure, Thirteen Reasons Why suggests the importance of being an active participant in life because “everything affects everything.”
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