Teen fiction and the shadow of cancer | Books | The Guardian

Guardian Review

I have always admired Mal Peet's reviewing and I think this piece - both a review of John Green's The Fault In Our Stars and an incisive musing upon the current spate of young adult novels about characters with a terminal illness - is his best yet:

One of the stranger recent cultural shifts is that teenage fiction has become a branch of oncology. Cancer is rampant. You're barely a chapter in before a tumour erupts or a lymphatic system turns nasty. Young heroes and heroines are terminal from page one, or a friend is, or a parent. The shadow of premature death has fallen upon the genre: one half-expects

It is axiomatic (though wrong) that teenagers will read only books that reflect teenage experience. It is blithely asserted, for instance, that their hunger for dystopian fiction is whetted by having to live in a bleak world under the pitiless authority of adults. Is cancer, likewise, a metaphor for the incurable cruelty of being young? Perhaps, but I doubt it. I suspect that the real reason for the pandemic is that cancer is an exceedingly convenient subject for teen authors.

Sex and death, the magnetic poles of fiction, attract us children's writers no less than adult authors, but we have to be more leery of their pull. We have gatekeepers to sneak past - and we have a "sense of responsibility", of course. Cancer is handy because it is all-permissive. Sex is omnipresent in teenage cancer novels, and who dare complain? How cruel to insist on virginity in the face of death: it would be perverse of us not to write scenes of last-chance deflowering... MAL PEET

Reading of whole piece highly recommended.