In The Fault in Our Stars (WARNING - MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD), we see Hazel on a journey toward acceptance, not of her own mortality, but rather of that mortality in others. Hazel has lived with the knowledge of her own death for quite some time and has accepted her own mortality, from that moment in the hospital before we ever met her on the pages of this book, when her mother asked if she was ready and she answered yes. We read The Fault in Our Stars, knowing that Hazel has already accepted her own mortality. It is the journey toward acceptance of Augustus’ death that is truly her coming of age journey - the acceptance that some will go before her, including the boy she loves.
In This Is Not a Test (WARNING - MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD),
Sloane too has already accepted her own mortality. She is ready to
die. She has decided on a day and time and it is only through sheer
circumstance that she ends up surviving beyond the moments of her
intended death. She is somehow caught up in the race for survival,
even as she has convinced herself she is in a race toward death. She
must somehow achieve an acceptance of the loss of Lily before she can
truly embrace the idea of life. She must somehow reach a point in her
coming of age story where her will to live drowns out her will to die,
where she is able to see that there is something worth living for, even
in a world defined by the words “zombie apocalypse”.
I’m going to throw in a third book here, simply because I just
finished reading it and it is on my mind as I grapple with the issue of
death in YA novels. Ashfall by Mike Mullin is another
end-of-the-world, apocalyptic YA novel. The main character, Alex, is
on a coming of age journey as well. As he treks through a
post-volcanic world, trying to reach his family, he encounters people
willing to help in times of terror and others who wish to harm. Along
his journey, he is continuously forced to make decisions that may not
only impact his chances of survival, but also his ability to retain a
sense of humanity. His journey isn’t necessarily one toward an
acceptance of death, or of Being-toward-death, but rather one of living
with strength and honor. He is continually confronted with the idea
that it isn’t how we die that matters, but rather how we live.
As for my own writing, my thesis project is a YA fantasy that
features quite a bit of death, some of which happened offstage before
the novel begins, and more that occurs as the novel moves us forward. I
don’t know that I am dealing with death in a way similar to either
John Green or Courtney Summers. Death hovered over The Fault in Our Stars
persistently. There was always an awareness that death was coming for
many of the characters, sooner rather than later. Hazel and Augustus
spend much of their time ignoring its presence until they are unable to
avoid its reality any longer. Courtney Summers had death occurring
offstage for much of the novel, then ruthlessly killed two-thirds of her
cast in the final chapters of the book.
In essence, our characters struggle to accept the mortality of others.
Though our methods for dealing with death are quite different, the
journeys of our characters may be the same - Hazel must accept the
loss of Augustus, Sloane must accept the loss of Lily, Alex must accept
the loss of his parents, and my own characters must accept the losses
in their lives.
In the end, I think that it is the willingness to live, the act of
turning away from death and embracing life, that truly represents the
shouldering of adulthood and is truly representative of the stories
being told in YA literature today.