'Sick-lit' popular among youth, raising alarms in literary circles
Published Friday, March 22, 2013 10:25PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, March 22, 2013 11:28PM EDT
A genre of books rooted in self-harm, disease and depression is gaining traction among young Canadians, but some experts worry that so-called ‘sick-lit’ trivializes serious issues, and could even potentially encourage readers to harm themselves.
Sick-lit is not a new genre, but it is more widely available today than ever before, according to University of British Columbia information science professor Eric Meyers.
“The challenge when you first encounter thisis whether this is really appropriate for young people,” Meyers told CTV News.
“They’re not your happy novels,” he said. “In many ways, they deal with some very challenging themes. They deal with issues that we don’t necessarily want to acknowledge at times that young people have to deal with.”
One of the most successful novels in the sick-lit genre has been “The Fault in our Stars,” by American author John Green.
The book follows 16-year-old cancer patient, Hazel, who is forced by her parents to attend a “cancer-kid” support group. There, she falls in love with another terminally ill teen. When he inevitably dies, Hazel discovers he had been writing her eulogy.
The book spent about 40 weeks on the New York Times Best-Seller list.
Other popular – and controversial – titles include: “By the Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead,” following a protagonist obsessed with suicide, and “Before I Die,” which tracks a teen diagnosed with leukemia as she tackles her bucket list. Number one on that list? Have sex.
A B.C.- based teen book club recently took on the sick-lit title“Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher.The book centres around Hannah Baker, a teen who kills herself but leaves a lasting legacy in the form of 13 cassette tapes, each containing a reason why she decided to end her life.
Though the book was published in 2007, it became a best-seller in July 2011. A movie adaption is said to be in the works.
Some members say the book, while dark, could be used as a starting point to discuss mental-health issues.
Book club member Sofia Matthews commented: “People can definitely be influenced by the books that they read and that’s an amazing thing. But it can be a very tragic thing if someone is reading a book where someone cuts themselves.
She added: “For someone to get to the point where the book is going to influence them to do that, there’s going to be a lot of other factors too.”
Adolescent physiatrist Dr. Stan Kutcher says he worries that certain sick-lit books portray an inaccurate image of youth suicide.
“It sends the message that if you’re having social difficulties, then suicide is a way of solving that problem, and that just is not correct,” he said.
“The other side of this is it portrays youth suicide as the outcome of common difficulties in social relationship, and we know that that is also completely incorrect.”
Others disagree, saying the genre provides an important segue into tough topics some teens face.
“It could be a launching pad for conversations among friends,” said psychiatrist Dr. Shimi King. “So I think, in general, these are great topics to talk about.”
With a report from CTV’s Melanie Nagy