The real world of victims

chronic waste

Artwork by S.L. Listman

Fictional adolescents  that are able do anything they set their mind on tend to irritate readers with their unrealistic perfection. And, so do characters who cannot do anything to help themselves. In a reaction against the too perfect character there have been a series of stories about the victim—a young adult that is bullied, shamed, abused or otherwise ill-used who never gains the courage to confront their tormentors or even remove themselves from the situation.

Tossing a few viciousness attacks at the protagonist may gain reader empathy. And an  immediate recovery smacks of abilities beyond any expectation, so the main character needs to work hard to overcome these problems. However, the protagonist who does not make progress will be cast as a victim, and will gain little sympathy. Even in tragedies there are cycles of rising and waning hope. A narrative stuck in a state of depression weights heavily on most readers. But this has become a new trope, having an adolescent become completely disheartened as they are bombarded by bullying.

There have been an increasing number of YA novels that chronicle the downhill slope which leads to suicide. What is striking is that the victims are almost always females. Often the threat is one of social rejection and backstabbing rumors–as portrayed in Lane Davis’ I Swear– or being crushed by lies about reputation and being used by a boy as in Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why.

However, what is notable from these stories is that the victims of suicide are more wrapped up in social status and reputation, and making more foolish decisions than the doomed female protagonists in the classics. Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles or Stephen Crane’s Maggie a Girl of the Streets faced a struggle to survive and greater rejection of society at large for immoral behaviors, and not just rumors about them.

It seems the backlash against the too perfect, strong female character has resulted in portrayal of a very vulnerable female, a victim who continues to be victimized, without being able to take a stand or even attempt to defend herself. In real life, it is more likely to be a victim unable to defend “himself.”

That’s right, according to a report from Johns Hopkins, adolescent males are four times more likely to die from suicide than females. It seems that authors, reluctant to show this truth rarely write about the troubled teenage boy and the predominate causes of suicide: family discord, verbal and physical abuse, and drug addiction[1] It is time to move beyond the formula for books based on sensationalized tropes–books that highlight the female adolescent taking her life to escape the weight of cyber-bullying and gossip by mean girls. Such tropes reappear due to the lure of making money for their authors, despite portraying relatively rare situations in the real world of victims.


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