September 2, 2011

Guest Post: Reading YA books with the Psych Lens On (Part 2)

Here's Len from Musings of a Reader Happy for Part 2 of her Psychtember guest post! You can find Part 1 here.

In part 1 of this post, I highlighted the topic of Bullying and Eating Disorder found in YA books, and how I see it with my Psych lens on.  This second part includes the subject of Sexual/Physical/Verbal Abuse, and of Suicide.

Sexual/Physical/Verbal Abuse

Sexual Abuse or rape is still misunderstood by some people, causing them to be judgmental on the victims.  Though it is universally viewed as a criminal offense and an act of human violation.  Sexually abuse victims are psychologically abused too because they are traumatized and also have to endure the prejudice of other people on being a rape victim. 

Just only last year, authors, book bloggers, and readers alike were on an uproar over the issue raised about the topic of sexual abuse (rape) in Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak.  This was the event called #SpeakLoudly, where it elicited comments and insights over the different perceptions of rape, and how books that raise issues on sexual abuse help in broadening the perspective regarding the matter at hand.  The book/s also gives you a story about something that is real - ugly but real. 

The pain and struggle of the character's experience comes through the pages, reminding readers that the victim is already going through mind numbing suffering on her own, to merit other people's judgment of their experience. 


Touchy subject this is - but real and alarming. The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) said that, "about 8 out of 100,000 teenagers committed suicide in 2000.  And for every teen suicide death there are estimated 10 teen suicide attempts" (

Some studies in Psychology suggested that suicide or attempt thereof could be a dire call for help by the individual.  Perhaps the individual is misunderstood, conflicted, stormed with emotions or none of it, and has no one to turn to who could probably understand their predicament.  Most often those who experience (severe) depression are prone to this, but sometimes there are no symptoms, no trace, no warnings whatsoever. They could have a problem, an inner turmoil, which no one seems to take seriously, overlook, or simply fail to attend to in time…until it's too late.

I remember we were discussing in Developmental Psych class that the teenage period/years, perhaps is the most tumultuous period in ones' developmental stage.  So much is going on in a teenager's life that they are highly volatile, as well as vulnerable psychologically and emotionally.  They are open to all possible influences for they are in the stage where they are trying to figure out their self and establish identity.  

Tabitha Suzuma's Forbidden is such a powerful story for me that touched on the subject of Suicide.  Though it piqued curiosity based on the incest-premise of the story, it was part of a larger picture.  There is a part in the book that somehow gives a good imagery of perhaps, what it feels on the edge:

"It’s about a young man, an undergraduate, returning to university in the summer break to find out whether he has got his degree. Joining the throngs that crowd the display boards, the guy discovers to his astonishment that he has received a first, the only one in his department. But instead of elation, he feels only a sense of emptiness, and as he moves away from the crowds of students hugging distressed friends or celebrating with others, nobody seems to notice him, no one even looks in his direction. He receives not one single word of congratulation. My first thought is that this is some kind of ghost story – that this guy, at some point between sitting finals and coming back to find out his results, has died in an accident or something – but an eventual greeting from one of his professors, who manages to mispronounce his name, proves me wrong. The guy is very much alive. Yet, as he turns his back on the department and crosses the quad, he looks up at the tall buildings that surround him, trying to gauge which one will guarantee him a fatal fall."

This issue is real and relevant, and needs to have a voice in books such as in young adult genre. This is not to romanticize the idea of suicide but to just put it out there for readers to discern it.  The issue is a complicated thing that calls for attention, understanding, and acceptance.  The age of those committing suicide gets younger and younger across the years based on statistics.  And it's not surprising at all it has found its way to YA.

As parting words, I leave you with some bits from Carl Gustav Jung:

“Enlightenment consists not in seeing the luminous shapes and visions, but in making the darkness visible.”

[Len Delgado (maidenveil) graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology, and MA in Counseling Psychology. She currently focused with research and recent studies on social, young adolescent, gender, and personality, and exploration on Forensic Psychology.]

Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts on psychological issues in YA books, Len!

Readers: how do you feel YA novels handle the topics of abuse and suicide? Do you have some recommendations of books that fall into one of these categories? 


  1. The more people know about these serious issues, reading about them in books or otherwise, the better chance they can recognize that something may be wrong and do something about it. Keeping them hidden away helps no one.
    Thanks for the great post Len :]

  2. There is a need for these books, because more often than not, they end up saving quite a lot of their readers.
    Stephanie Kuehnert's Ballads of Suburbia is a brilliant book that deals with all kinds of depression and abuse and suicidal attempts.
    What a relevant and fantastic post!

  3. I liked reading both of your posts. You chose some great books to feature. My favorite of them all was FORBIDDEN, which just tore me apart and pulled my insides upside down. More people need to read this despite the content. There's so much psychology at play, too!

  4. Speak was one of my favorite books that I've read. Such an incredibly well written book that dealt with the aftermath of rape. Easily in my top 20 books that I've ever read. this is a great post, and I agree we need more well written books about these issues.


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