Stuff for the Teen Age
Can Fans of "Survivor Stories" Appreciate a Book About Someone Who DOESN'T Survive an Ordeal?
When I first saw a copy of Regine's Book: A Teen Girl's Last Words by Regine Stokke, my first thought was that this would be a great book to recommend to teenagers who are always looking for more books like Dave Pelzer's A Child Called "It" and other books that are both tragic and real.
But then I thought... there's a big difference between someone who goes through an ordeal but survives at the end and someone who goes through an ordeal but ultimately loses that battle.
A Child Called "It" has been at the front of a major literary trend in recent years. Something about the true story of a boy who survived a horrific childhood and went on to write books about his experiences has struck a chord in young readers. Over the years that I've been a young adult librarian, teens have been asking me for books that are real, for books that are sad, and for books that will make them cry. I usually end up recommending books like The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon, which tells the horrible and amazing story of a boy who tried to kill himself by setting himself on fire, but survived and wrote this book about how the experience changed him. And yes, the story is even more amazing because it's true.
But what about a story that's told as it happens? What about a diary, journal, or blog that's left behind when the person is gone, and we read those words because that person can't tell us anything else? One of the most famous examples of this kind of book is Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. One of the most modern examples is Regine's Book: A Teen Girl's Last Words. Both books were written by girls who lost their lives because of something beyond their control.
Regine Stokke was seventeen years old when she was diagnosed with leukemia in 2008, and that's when she started writing her blog about what it was like living with a serious illness. Her blog was first published as a book in Norway in 2010, and the English translation was published in 2012. The book combines Regine's blog, in which she writes about the physical and emotional pain she endures, with the writings of other people who were touched by her condition. These include letters, diary entries, and comments on Regine's blog.
This is an emotionally painful book, and to be honest, it took me over a month to read it in bits and pieces. I had to keep putting it down because it was so sad, and picking up more cheerful books instead to lift my spirits back up. In fact, it was while reading the first few chapters of this book that I started thinking about how there's a vast difference between reading a story and thinking "it's bad now, but at least I know that it gets better by the end" and thinking "even if things are okay now, I know that the ending will be tragic."
I talked to the kids in my Teen Advisory Group about the trouble I was having reading this book, and their reactions ranged from loving sad books that made them cry to NEVER EVER being moved to tears by a book. Which briefly led into a discussion about if never crying over books means that you have no soul, or if crying over books too much means that you're an emotional trainwreck. In any case, I asked them if they thought that teens who liked A Child Called "It" would be interested in reading Regine's Book: A Teen Girl's Last Words, and most of them agreed that fans of the first book would probably like the second. Because even though it doesn't fulfill the "survivor lives to tell the story" aspect, it DOES fulfill the other two: it's definitely tragic and it's definitely real.
And now, in conclusion, here are a few questions that might spark a discussion or two:
- Do you enjoy reading tragic books? Why or why not?
- Does the fate of the protagonist make a difference in your enjoyment of the book?
- Is a tragic book more effective if it's a true story?
- Is it possible to read Regine's Book in less than a month?
- Do you lean more towards having no soul or being an emotional trainwreck?
and, last but not least...
- What do you do when you need to take a break from a tragic book?