Young Adult Lit/Crit

March 26, 2008

Reflections on Kari’s seminar: Teen suicide in YA lit.

Filed under: seminar feedback — scrollman @ 1:09 pm

I found Kari’s seminar topic to be both fascinating and extremely relevant to ELA instruction.  In the town of Candor, there have been a number of teen suicides since I’ve been teaching (five years), and students often have a difficult time processing this most tragic and complex of events.  Kari made a very compelling case for the inclusion of three key YA texts dealing with teen suicide: You Know Where to Find Me, by Rachel Cohn: Impulse, by Ellen Hopkins: and It’s Kind of a Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini.  These three books seem to offer different forms and perspectives on teenage suicide and allow for a teacher to choose the “right book for the right kid”.  Impulse seems like a book that is both dense and intense and might not be appropriate for a depressed individual; rather, this is a book for a student who wishes to understand more about the different ways suicidal kids struggle and cope with their illness.  It’s Kind of a Funny Storyseems like a great book for a student who wants to know more about teen suicide, but who doesn’t necessarily want to read a really heavy book.

I think Kari did a really great job of including a wide range of material concerning teen suicide.  Of particular interest was an article by Joan F. Kaywell entitled, Teachers Offering Healthy Escape Options for Teenagers in Pain.  This article not only offers practical ways that teachers can intervene in their students’ lives, helping them to cope with the daily pressures which can often lead to suicide, but also reviews a number of YA titles which deal with teenagers in difficult and painful situations who make good choices for themselves.  These books seem like they would be incredibly useful for ELA teachers wishing to make a positive and substantial impact in their students’ lives.

I also think Kari’s seminar maintained an excellent balance of focusing on her key texts and also the larger critical issues at hand.  For example, there was a lengthy discussion of when the use of these books might be appropriate and when they wouldn’t be.  As Sarah mentioned in her post, the decision to recommend or not recommend a book can sometimes mean the difference between further depressing an already depressed student, or allowing a student to work through and cope with his/her problems.  The idea that teachers and books can have that much power (potentially the power of influencing life and death decisions when it comes to suicidal teens) is incredibly profound, and should never be taken lightly.  What made Kari’s seminar so important was that she gave us a context in which to frame and deeply consider these challenging questions as they pertain to our own classrooms.    Unfortunately, given my school district’s history of teen suicide, I know that I will have a reason to use these texts.  Fortunately, they may potentially help students to understand and cope with a reality that is often misunderstood and avoided. 

Jonathan

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