Death In Young Adult Fiction Essay

2441 words - 10 pages

There are many reasons why authors of young adult fiction write character deaths in their novels. In their article “Death and Dying in Young Adult Fiction” Carolyn Harvey and Frances Dowd state, “Reading about the death of a fictional character can help adolescents develop a personal code of values, appreciate life more fully, and release feelings of grief or anger that result from the loss of someone close to them” (141). It is not only the readers who benefit in these ways, but also the characters in the novel. In The Outsiders, Johnny’s death helps Ponyboy and the gang clean up their acts and appreciate the fleeting nature of life. Johnny’s death was a catalyst for change in the gang ...view middle of the document...

Early books like The Outsiders and The Chocolate War avoided killing off the protagonist, or would not comment on it directly. Additionally, in earlier YA fiction, only one or two characters would meet their demise, whereas in later YA books, such as Divergent and the Harry Potter series, multiple characters die in each book installment, including both of the title characters. Readers tend to presume the protagonists will survive, but the characters themselves cannot know if they might – so it can be argued that they indeed commit themselves to the ultimate sacrifice at one point during their stories (Loidl 181). Harry, Tris, and Enki from The Summer Prince, all make these shocking sacrifices.
Alaya Dawn Johnson does something rather shocking with her young adult novel The Summer Prince: she kills off one of the three main characters. Johnson’s Enki meets his demise at the hands of a female-run futuristic Brazil. But Enki’s fate is laid out from the novel’s opening line: “When I was eight, my papai took me to the park to watch a king die” (Johnson 1). It becomes clear shortly after this that Enki is to be the new king, and the king must always die in order for Johnson’s Palmares Tres to continue. Enki is choosing to die the second he is introduced to the reader on the page; in a way, he is committing suicide. Throughout the novel, Enki’s thought intercut June’s narrative. The reader gets a glimpse into his mind, and the choice he has made. He says, “You ask me why I want to die, like you have no idea, like you haven’t known all this time exactly what I want to do” (Johnson 42). Enki believes that this is his destiny, and that he is doing this for Palmares Tres and all the people who live there.
Enki fits perfectly into one of Sonja Loidl’s observations of self sacrificing characters in YA lit: “It is indeed an expected convention of the genre that a self-sacrificial trait is often present in the characters of fantastic narratives: at some point they are ready to offer their lives to protect others or to achieve final victory over their enemy” (Loidl 181). For Enki, his martyr-like death served both of the purposes Loidl addresses. Enki died in order to continue the tradition that kept the world of Palmares Tres safe, and he was victorious over the current queen’s evil reign by crowning June the next queen.
Enki’s death is unique from Johnny’s in two distinct aspects: that it was foreseeable, and that it had an unusual suicidal overtone. “Death and Dying in Young Adult Fiction” states that when a character is aware of his/her own impending death, that character will usually go through the five stages of grief, the last being acceptance. The article states that, “Psychologists indicate that young adults have an almost compulsive need or rumination during the stressful time of anticipating a death and that it is a vital part of the healing process of the psyche” (Harvey and Dowd 147). Enki is unique in that he does not visibly experience the...

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