Do you ever wonder why so many books aimed at young teens are so depressing?
I do. Regularly.
As Flea has got older, she’s really outgrown the Diary of a Wimpy Kid type books she was reading at 10 years of age.
Flea has always read widely and a couple of years ahead of her age – but at 12 that’s a problem. She wants to read more challenging books, but some of them aren’t what I’d consider to be age appropriate.
As kids get older, they also get a clearer idea of their preferences. At this point, Flea has read Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and The Dark Materials. But she isn’t really interested in science fiction, dystopian fiction or fantasy. Nor is she interested in classics.
Having tried to re-read the copy of Anne of Green Gables that Flea’s Dad bought her, I can see Flea’s point. Those books do NOT age well.
After some trial and error, Flea has learned that she enjoys contemporary fiction about girls in settings that she can relate to. We’ve been borrowing and downloading a lot of different authors while we discover what she likes, that I’m also happy for her to read.
Tween Books are Super Miserable
What strikes me is how many of these books are about characters having a TERRIBLE time.
I became really aware of this last year, on our summer road trip. We tend to share books on holiday (I’m a HUGE fan of YA), and we also tend to listen to audio books while travelling.
After just one week on the road, Flea and I came up with a new game: Guess How This Book Character’s Life is About to Go Horribly Wrong.
Because seriously, nobody in these books ends up in a happy place.
Flea loves John Green books but they’re sort of depressing. Looking for Alaska? Don’t bother, she died in a car crash. Turtle all the Way Down is a great book but the backdrop of the protagonist’s severe anxiety and OCD doesn’t make for a light read.
It’s not just John Green. The majority of the books Flea read last year were “issues” based.
Eleanor and Park is wonderful, but there’s domestic violence, poverty and guns. The Summer I Turned Pretty starts out cheerful, but then there’s a Cancer storyline and (spoiler alert) it doesn’t end well. And let’s not even start on “They Both Die at the End”.
Perhaps the Most Miserable YA Book Prize goes to a story called Hopeless which we bought on audio book. Granted, the title should have tipped us off. But seriously, what started out as a teen romance turned into kidnapping, recovered memories, child abuse and – big finish – murder of a parent.
What gives? Can’t teens in books EVER be happy?
I realise that teens learn a lot from these books, and it’s important to have access to them, but sometimes I worry that Flea’s getting a distorted view of teen life.
And she is only 12, so there’s plenty of time to get into the nitty gritty of mental illness or abuse or crime. Do I really want her reading about eating disorders and self-harm and suicide?
Even if sometimes she reads darker storylines, don’t we all want to read something cheerful once in a while?
Cheerful Books for 12 Year Olds
So if you have a 12 year old and they’re looking for a lighter read where nobody gets cancer, finds out they’re kidnapped or develops a debilitating mental illness, here are our top suggestions:
Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell
Rainbow Rowell is a fabulous writer, and I need her to write more books, ASAP. Fangirl is the story of twins who go off to college, and have vastly different experiences. While Wren is the life and soul of the party, shy Cath prefers to stay home and write fan-fiction.
This is far from a fluffy book, it’s interesting and the characters have some depth. But there’s nothing TOO depressing here, and if you like it, you can even buy Carry On, the fan-fiction that Cath/Rainbow creates (and it’s really, really good).
Famous in Love, Rebecca Serle
Famous in Love is serious wish fulfilment for teen girls. Student Paige lives in LA and reluctantly goes along to an audition with her room mate – only to get cast in the biggest new movie franchise since Harry Potter. It’s a tale of being flung into Young Hollywood, with handsome co-stars, amazing costumes and glamorous parties.
It’s light and fluffy with the obligatory love triangle, and it’s really just a fun read.
As a sidenote, this is currently showing on Amazon Prime and the TV show is all sorts of amazing.
Heartbreakers, Ali Novak
As a Mum, I have some issues with this book – The Heartbreakers started life as a fan-fic project on the writing site WattPad,and honestly the writing is atrocious. And I’m not coming at this from a super literary perspective. It’s just not great writing.
Flea, however, has no such issues. She just loved the story of a girl who happens to bump into a pop star from the biggest boy band in the world and winds up working for the band as their official photographer.
So it’s a glimpse of what life might be like being on the road with a boy band, when the handsome lead singer falls in love with you (naturally). There’s a sick sister but it’s pretty low key and nobody dies. Phew.
Dumplin, Julie Murphy
Proof that not all “issues” are depressing, this is the story of funny teen Willowdean, who lives in Texas with her single Mom and decides to enter the beauty pageant. Except Willowdean doesn’t quite match up to the town’s idea of what pretty should look like. Dumplin‘ is funny, and inspiring.
It Only Happens in the Movies, Holly Bourne
Flea is about 80% of the way through this book, so I’m taking a gamble here. But I don’t THINK anybody dies and so far Flea says the book is really funny. It’s the story of Audrey, who works in an indie cinema and meets a boy. They fall in love – and that’s where the story you expect to read ends.
While the book isn’t at all depressing, it does have a serious element in that it deconstructs all the cliches of romantic love and makes girls think about what real life looks like compared to the movies. Just because a boy LOOKS perfect, doesn’t mean it’s true love for ever.
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