Tuesday, 14 February 2023

How scary is too scary?

West Coast trail ladder

I'm reading a novel for middle grade readers that focuses on disasters caused by climate change. I like a good adventure novel, so I'm not usually put off by scary things happening in books. Worrying whether everything is going to turn out okay keeps me turning pages. Usually.

In my own writing, disaster and survival situations act as metaphors for the hard things we have to tackle in real life. I think I've always liked reading adventures and survival stories because they help me see that even extreme situations can be managed. My own problems pale in comparison to being lost at sea, for instance.

But there is a line for me in survival stories, especially those meant for kids. Reading this climate change novel, I felt like the author crossed that line at times. Dead bodies in burnt-out vehicles or floating in floodwaters -- it was kind of relentless. I wondered if it was necessary. Yes, it made for a page-turner, and I could see why the writer's books are best-sellers. But I began to lose interest, because it started to feel like I was being manipulated by the writer. And it seemed to hard to envision a way that the scary situations could be managed. I want a sense of control being regained, a sense of hope. 

I visited a few middle schools recently and asked kids what they thought about scary scenes in books. Only a few kids admitted to closing a book when it was too scary. Most said they liked it, including (maybe especially) the "jump-scare." What do you think?

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