The Millions : The Talking Cure at Work in Contemporary YA Fiction

I don't read YA fiction and I certainly don't write it – by my writing pal Lyn does. She's darned good at it, and she's working to make the genre stretch structurally.

But what, really, does this genre of fiction mean to its youthful readers? This essay from The Millions book blog explains a lot of that, I think. But to extend the genre in another sense, can reading YA books become a form of therapy in itself? I hope it can. One of the social fuctions of literature should be that in the process of creating characters readers can identify with and stories that mimic at least a tiny aspect of one's life, one can find safe passage through a few of life's own pages.


                                                             image via

As an English professor and unabashed therapy-junkie, I recently made it my business to read every YA novel I could find in which an adolescent protagonist visits a psychotherapist. It surprises me that teens in contemporary Young Adult fictions are still submitting to the rigors of talk therapy. This seems to be passé. According to a myriad of recent articles and books, more Americans — adolescents included — are tossing back pills for depression than trudging to therapists’ offices. In a recent article in The New York Review of Books, Marcia Angell explores the “shift from ‘talk therapy’ to drugs as the dominant mode of treatment” for mental illness. Nevertheless, fictional teenagers are still talking to therapists for pages on end. Having now read a growing pile of novels, I can vouch for the fact that teen protagonists are actually having insights and getting better. In fact, the majority of these novels depict psychotherapy as transformative.



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