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9 Books That Made Us Terrified of Puberty
by The Mary Sue Staff and Contributors | 12:30 pm, November 8th, 2011
Allow Us To Explain
Okay, here’s a Grid that really needs some explaining. It may come as a surprise to you that many of the people behind the writing on The Mary Sue have read a lot of books. Many of us were even reading a lot of books when we were little kids in elementary and middle school! Shocking, I know.
And one of the things that comes along with being a young and voracious reader is that people give you books to read, or recommend books to you, or require you to read books when they haven’t really thought about the consequences. After all, if it’s got a Newbery medal on it, it can’t be that bad. And so with all the lovely books we read as kids there are a number that we’d rather have not, and that we’d rather only be given to kids if you’re going to have a serious talk with them afterwards about what the book may or may not be implying about their bodies, their lives, or their futures.
Yes, we’re going to talk about the bizzare experiences that we’ve had with young adult literature that’s full of body horror, menstruation horror, pregnancy horror, and characters with really legitimately terrifying reasons to be apprehensive about reaching puberty and who see their fears realized before the end of the book.
This is not to say that one can’t write about menstruation or the onset of puberty without scaring prepubescent kids. The best example I’ve seen of a book that neither skips over nor shocks by showing a young girl’s first experience with hormonal adulthood comes from, wouldn’t you guess, YA fantasy fiction. Tamora Pierce’s The Song of the Lioness series concerns Alanna of Trebond, who spends most of her childhood posing as Alan of Trebond while she trains as a knight. When Alanna wakes one morning to find blood on her sheets, she dashes off to the only healer she knows who knows her secret, the mother of a friend. And you know what happens? The mother says:
1. This is normal. It happens to most women.
2. It’s going to happen once a month. Here’s what you should do to not get your clothes dirty.
3. If you sleep with someone now, you could get pregnant. And I’m not saying you’re going to (Alanna is adamantly uninterested in sex) but just in case here’s a mundane magical charm that will keep you from getting pregnant.
And that’s that. Alanna gets all the pertinent information she needs, and an affirmation that not only is nothing wrong with her, but that nothing about her has fundamentally changed that can’t be dealt with relatively easily by taking a few precautions. Thanks, YA fantasy fiction!
But this grid isn’t just about gross descriptions of bodies. We’re also talking about a trend of telling stories about people who want to break free from the unreasonable restraints that society has placed on them and then either fail to do so by the end of the book or are punished for their transgressions. These stories are absolutely important to tell, but when they become a trend that makes failure and fear the dominant tropes that we associate with characters with these kinds of desires, that’s when things go wrong.