I attended a book launch one night last week. Instead of being a participant, I was a supporter and observer. It was a fun change! I had a chance to mingle and talk with other writers, editors, and a few marketing types. The refreshments were great, the surroundings (Munro’s Books) were delightful, and the crowd was supportive. Best of all were the readings from half a dozen new books.
Except. There was a moment.
I was tucked up around a stack of books chatting with an editor. It was moderately quiet, or as quiet as it can be when the room is full of chatting people. But we were apart from the crowd. After a few minutes, though, a couple of women stopped to chat on the other side of the book stack. They couldn’t see us and we couldn’t see them, but their words were clearly audible. And as you’d expect at an event that celebrates books, they were talking about literature.
“You’d think kid lit would be so over it by now,” said one woman to the other. “Honestly, I can’t stand it.”
Given that I write kid lit and the editor I was chatting with edits books for a variety of age groups, we stopped talking to listen.
“I know,” the second woman replied. “It’s so damned depressing. If I read one more sick lit book I’m going to gag myself with a stethoscope. I’d rather read about happy childhoods instead of miserable ones.”
I’m sure I blushed. I felt like I did. And I’m pretty sure some pink hit the editor’s cheeks too.
Sick lit – books that deal with children and teens facing an illness of some kind – have proliferated for three or four years at least. And I’ve written more than one.
It would be lovely if childhood was rainbows and white puppies. If the only misery kids faced was a sprained ankle, a bad mark on a test, or not enough money for a trendy pair of jeans. But that’s not always the case. And until ‘sick lit’ came along, kids and teens who were ill weren’t well-represented in literature.
The best books of the subgenre, if I can call it a subgenre, illustrate how young people grapple with some pretty bleak situations. They show characters digging deep, learning to cope, struggling to hold onto the essence of who they are in spite of their illnesses. Readers who’ve been through something similar in their own lives may feel empowered, not so alone. Readers who haven’t may gain some understanding into how illness is often one of life’s big game changers. Some of the books end in heartbreak, that’s true, but others end on a hopeful note. Kind of like life itself: sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t and to pretend otherwise is to act like we live on a planet where the sun always shines, the temperature is a perfect 25 degrees and no one sweats. It’s not real. Life is sometimes crappy and it’s not always fair, and it’s okay for some of our books to reflect that.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s a place for light, escapist fiction and for positive, upbeat stories (I’m releasing a frothy, fun read later this month under my Laura Tobias name). But there’s also a place – a need – for books that deal with heavier subjects too.
Karen Rivers https://twitter.com/karenrivers has one coming out in March of 2017 and I can’t wait to read it. It’s called LOVE,ISH. Here’s what Kirkus Reviews said about it: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/karen-rivers/love-ish-rivers/
Sick lit exists because sick kids exist. They’re not going away any time soon. And it’s okay if they show up in our books once in a while.