Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.


The “Sick-lit” category of YA books

So we’ve seen (and we think a number of you have also seen) this article on the Daily Mail Website: The ‘sick-lit’ books aimed at children: It’s a disturbing phenomenon. Tales of teenage cancer, self-harm and suicide…

The article is looking at books like John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (which they mis-title), Before I Die by Jenny Downham and Never Eighteen – and accusing them of… I’m not sure what, actually…

First of all, the article is critical of the fact that children “as young as 12″ would be reading these sorts of titles. This is a facile argument – it’s been proved many times that children will read as widely as they are allowed to, that they will pick up adult novels at the age of 12 and enjoy them.

Then the article criticises the novels named as being mawkish and exploitative, that publishers are using this topic as a way to manipulate readers to tears.

The Fault in Our Stars has been consistently named in Top Ten Books of 2012 lists. I’ve seen 5 star reviews all across the board for this novel, and it has sold phenomenal amounts. I sincerely doubt this is because of the sensationalism of the storyline. Rather, it is more likely thanks to the excellent writing of John Green and a subject matter that is treated sensitively and with compassion!

So, what do you think about this article and the term ‘sick-lit’? Something you agree with? Or something you are spitting mad about? Discuss in the comments!


Christina (A Reader of Fictions)

Oh wow, I do not like that term. Honestly, I thought it was going to be about books like Chuck Palahniuk’s or something, books that make the reader feel sick. O_O

Sean Cummings

It might well be seen as a trend but whether it is or not is up in the air. I still hold to the notion that publishers publish what they think is going to

a) Be a damned fine read
b) Sell

My sense is the author has an issue with books of this type, but how is this a bad thing when books like this reflect the reality of life for a lot of today’s youth?

Cassandra Rose Clarke

I think it was weird that they suggested this was a new fad. When I was in elementary school (back in the 90s), I devoured books by Lurlene McDaniel, who wrote exclusively about pretty teenage girls dying of terminal illness. I suppose this handwringing went on then, too, I just didn’t know about it.


Kids ARE morbid and overly-dramatic, and they tend to romanticise all the wrong things. That stage is part of growing up and learning to deal with adult issues. I think that kids today are lucky to have books written to specifically address these issues, which would be a huge help to someone stuck in a truly hellish period of life. (I wouldn’t go back to my teenage years if I could – barely survived them the first time around!)

When I was in high school I kind of had an alter-ego. I got great grades and had a lot of friends, but I was also cutting (how I referred to self-harming) myself on a regular basis. No one talked about things like that, and I never told anyone. I grew out of it in the natural course of things, but I can’t tell you what I would have given to read a book about someone like me. I felt like the only person in the world to have ever felt that way or done that.

So I think I find the term “sick-lit” to be rather offensive. Childhood isn’t all My Little Pony and cheerleading practice. Sherman Alexie once wrote that “the best children’s book are written in blood,” which I think is a very good way to describe it.


Yep, Lurlene McDaniel (and Jodi Picoult) and loads of others, this is not a new trend. I think that fiction is one of the best places for kids/teenagers to encounter the “hard” bits of life. It gives them somewhere safe to explore the scary stuff, and hopefully they have people around them to talk about it if they need to. Some of these books are so incredible, and many of them spark important conversations. I think books like Speak tackle topics that teenagers might struggle to articulate but are certainly feeling. Why would we want to prevent those conversations? Wouldn’t we rather that kids and teens thought about them in terms of fiction first? Whose life are we actually trying to make easier? As a teacher, I sometimes found that the tough conversations were harder on the parents than the kids, so they wanted to avoid them at all costs (not really all that helpful for the kids, actually.)

AE Rought

This reminds me of the time when a mother complained that YA lit was “dark.” Yep, it is. Despite popular songs claiming life is beautiful, it isn’t. Life is ugly, full of hurt and pain and sickness and shadows. It’s only intensified for teens–for teens, everything is intense. There are kids suffering slut-shaming, hurting themselves, dying of diseases they didn’t in a million years ask for. That an opinionated person wants to shine a light on literature dealing with illnesses and issues like that to help our youth understand and cope is little more than an attention grab for the article author. Let’s face it, ‘sick-lit’ is getting talked about. The phrase is catching like wildfire. Might be negative attention, but it IS attention.

Dave Robison

On the whole, the article was fraught with the same fear-mongering and frightened ostrich frothing that is endemic of so many self-appointed “watchdogs of decency” and “protectors of our youth”. The cases they cited were anecdotal (at best) and served only to muddy the waters and incite fear rather than provide any relevant context to the issue.

The biggest objection I have with the article is implication that the subject matter is inappropriate for young readers. ‘They are aimed at young teens at the time when they are most likely to go through self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts.’

Um… I think that’s the point, gang.

The value of literature – regardless of age group – is the sharing of experience and the expansion of awareness. The issues of cancer, depression, suicide and self-harm are a real and relevant part of our world. The article suggests that these topics shouldn’t be addressed in the literature aimed at the very people who are trying to deal with them.

I wonder if Ms. Carey actually knows any 12 year-olds. They’re intelligent, savvy, and aware (way more than I remember being when I was twelve) and they’re applying those qualities to defining who they are and what they’ll be in the world. YA literature is (or can be) a superb asset in that quest. Even the much-maligned “Twilight” series brought into the open the dysfunctional aspects of teen romance, providing a platform for discussion and raising of awareness.

Another quote from the article: ‘When you write for children, you have a moral and social responsibility.’ You’re damned right you do, and that includes offering an honest, authentic treatment of painful and relevant topics.

The ONE point I applaud from the text came from child psychologist Emma Citron, who affirmed the importance of parents discussing these topics with their children. I agree… topics of this importance and gravity deserve the attention, support, and full engagement of the young reader’s family/adult support group.

I’m not saying these topics can’t (or won’t) be exploited by publishers who put profits before literary merit, but that’s a poor reason to invoke a witch-hunt on novels addressing these topics. They deserve attention, not a sweeping under the rug.


Well, this is ridiculous. Teens reading about sickness and death–the horror! Sigh.

There has always been (and always will be) room in children’s lit and YA for books that tackle illness and death and grief. When one of my best friends had cancer in high school, I turned to books to cope after her death…and couldn’t find much that spoke to our situation. I can say without a doubt that TFiOS or A Monster Calls were absolutely the kind of books I was looking for then. Funny and honest, infused with sentiment but *not* with sentimentality.


This is all incredibly ridiculous.
I swear, sometimes, the Daily Mail just feels the need to come up with the most ludicrus articles just to inspire discussion.

This is not a “new trend” as many comments have mentioned. Authors have been writing about these type of things for years. These books manage to approach this “taboo” subjects with sensitivity and a way that allows readers to think about them in subjective and objective ways, allowing them to look at their own lives and understand more about them.

They’re ways of opening the eyes of teenagers to things they may not have truly understood before and they are just so damn beautiful and amazing and should never have ever been described as “sick-lit”.

I just hope that those amazing authors do not take these horrid words to heart and realise that despite what media claims, their books are powerful, inspiring, helpful pieces of literature.


As before stated, this ‘trend’ is not even CLOSE to new. This used to be some of the only YA out there to read back in the 80s and 90s. It was that, or RL Stein. And why would sick-lit books be any worse than something like The Hunger Games? Because the sick-lit stuff is ‘real’ and THG is not? Please. Sickness has been made romantic since the days of Shakespeare, and for whatever reason, it works. (Nicholas Sparks? What? Who’s that?) Honestly, I think a lot of the time, people just need something to complain about or be offended by. If you enjoy it–read it. If not–move on to the next book on the shelf.


I don’t see the same narrow minds labelling and facile debate being had pertaining to children’s laureate Michael Morpurgo, Charles Dickens or the Brothers Grimm, to name a few well known examples.

I can imagine the ensuing ruckus from every corner of the literary world if one tried.

Leave a comment