People have been asking “Why do you like horror movies?” My mother asks me all the time “How can you watch (CSI, Criminal Minds, Walking Dead, etc.)?” as she’s shaking her head wondering how she raised a woman who likes to watch this kind of stuff. “I just do” is my only answer. It’s also a question that has been bandied about concerning young adult books. Sometimes, I think kids like to read about people whose lives are worse than their own; who have problems bigger than theirs. I don’t know if it’s because they want to see how the characters handle the situations so that they can be inspired to tackle their own issues or if my answer to my mother is also theirs. I do believe that reading about someone close to their own age who solves a problem or survives the catastrophic event helps kids deal with their own insecurities and issues. I read a great blog post by a young woman taking a course on Horror Literature and she had some interesting insight.
I just finished reading Blood Wounds by Susan Beth Pfeffer. It is not horror in the traditional monster, blood & guts, slasher story. It is based on a story you might see featured on the evening news.
Willa and her mother escaped a horrible situation back in Texas. Her father was a heavy drinker and violently abusive. One night, Terry packs as much as she can, grabs Willa and flees into the night. Willa barely remembers Budge until the day she was forced to. It was all over the news…the bloody murder of a mother and two little girls, and a third one is missing…Budge is the prime suspect. Worse, the police say that he is headed east where Willa and Terry now live the perfect life with the perfect man and perfect teenaged girls. How can it be that quiet, calm Willa is the child of a murderer? As she tries to balance the good things she does remember of her father and the man who killed his wife and children, Willa must uncover the secrets her mother kept and figure out who she is now.
Pfeffer’s dark tale is about a monster of a different sort…the human kind which is actually more frightening than the made-up ones you find in traditional horror because he is a real person you might have passed on the sidewalk or riding along the highway. Young adult authors are accused, unfairly, of writing sensational stories that are “ripped from the headlines” merely to sell books. I’m not sure I understand why it’s a bad thing to write about what we see everyday when adult writers do it all the time and don’t catch any flack. Even the so-called “classics” were popular fiction at one time. You can’t tell me that Frankenstein wasn’t sensational fiction back when Mary Shelley wrote it and I’d be willing to bet that critics blasted it as such.
Young people in modern times need a way to explore darkness from the relative safety of their own homes. We don’t send our children on quests to find themselves like our ancient ancestors did. If a book can help show a teenager that, despite how horrible a situation might be, A. it could always be worse, and B. there is a way out then I’m all for dark and frightening tales of horror.