Tread lightly. Beware of modern YA fiction.



w.mahamnadeemcolumnphotoDisgust. Sadness. Anger. Those three words accurately summarize my reaction after reading the top-rated novel for teens on

Last weekend, after a long time, I finally got a chance to read a novel for my own pleasure, a book that had no relation to school, a book I wouldn’t be quizzed on. Eagerly, I had typed “best teen books 2013” into the search box, clicked on the Goodreads link, looked for the highest rated novel and made my purchase. I chose Beautiful Disaster. Rated 4.3/5, it had colorful reviews, ranging from adoration for the main characters to appreciation of the plot. At first I was a little skeptical, but then I thought if so many readers had enjoyed it and rated it so highly, even going as far as saying that the female character was admirable, then surely there must be something powerful about the story.

Boy, was I wrong. Labeled young adults (YA) and romantic, the book was sitting on the shelf labeled “Teens 12-18” at Barnes & Noble.  It was truly the opposite. The novel was definitely not romantic, but rather a story of codependency and abuse, a trend that has become far too common after the incredible success of the Twilight saga.

According to Merriam-Webster, codependency is a psychological condition in which someone is in an unhappy and unhealthy relationship that involves living with or providing care for another person. This recaps the so-called “romantic” element of the book I recently read. It centers around a girl enamored by a dark and dangerous stranger who supposedly turns her world upside down. Under close scrutiny, their relationship is clearly obsessive, unhealthy and even in a sense abusive with violence that somehow passes as steamy romance nowadays. Not only this, but as soon as the boy leaves her in this all too familiar cookie-cutter plot, she delves into depression and ultimately, is unable to function without him until his eminent return. Abby, the female lead, is portrayed as completely dependent on Travis, the male protagonist. Her happiness, her success and basically her entire life seems as though it is at the mercy of his nasty and deplorable attitude toward her. She clings onto this unhealthy and harmful relationship and depicts it as an epic love.

What rightly saddened me was not the fact that reading this novel was a complete waste of my time, but the reviews and comments of adolescent girls regarding the book. They had come to idolize a weak and easily manipulated girl. They had come to fanaticize of an unhealthy and dangerous relationship. Reviews from 13- and 14-year-olds literally stated that they desired this kind of bond. This is a clear red flag. I can say from experience that fictional stories do leave a profound impact. When you’re so engrossed in a book, it’s natural to develop a connection with a character; oftentimes it is impossible not to want to adopt some of the qualities of the protagonist’s personality.  However, this is where the quality of the literature we expose ourselves to comes into play. The recent upsurge of YA novels with weak and inept female characters is not only disturbing to a reader but also troublesome for the future.

According to research conducted at the Missouri State University, teenagers go through a phase of learning and grow during this period of their lives and, therefore, are susceptible to many aspects of their environment, including literature. If those who this novel is intended for read it, they will naturally assume that relationships are as portrayed in this novel: unhealthy and obsessive. Their minds are growing, adapting and soaking up knowledge.

Oftentimes, just reading is considered an achievement. I clearly remember my parents seeing me with a book in hand and happily saying “at least she is reading.” I remember teachers in middle school having stacks and stacks of popular books—many of which were definitely inappropriate for middle school—just for the sake of having options so that we would read. However, it is imperative to understand the effects of the kind of literature we expose ourselves to. Especially in middle school and early on in high school, our brains are still in the process of growing. I urge you all not to just read for the sake of reading, but to be very careful and deliberate in your choice of books.


The views in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of the HiLite staff. Reach Maham Nadeem at [email protected]