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Saturday, February 13, 2010

To Chicken With Love

Okay, one of my clear memories of childhood goes like this:

My grandparents used to take their kids to Lake Shasta all the time to go water skiing and camping--one year, my mom and I went with them. My mom's younger sisters and brother were still living at home, then, and the lot of us were thrown in the back of a van and left to rattle around like pebbles in a stinky shoe for a couple of hours, sans air conditioning, and I got whiny. (I was like five at the time.)

So I whined and I whined and I whined, and finally Alexa (my bio mom) said (in desperation) "Okay, sweetheart. How about I sing for you. I'll sing you a pretty song."

She sang "Puff the Magic Dragon."

And I sobbed violently all the way home. It was the saddest goddamned thing I'd ever heard. Of course it didn't help that her follow-up song was "You Are My Sunshine"-- complete with the ball-cracking second verse that ends "so I held my head and I cried."

Anyway, it has occurred to me since that things meant for children and young adults are not always cheery. In fact, "A Series of Unfortunate Events" is one of those things that totally capitalizes on the fact that children have a taste of the tragic and macabre. So Chicken and I (upon the heels of this story) began to list, in random order, the saddest goddamned things we have ever read--let's call this the adolescent girl's slit-yer-wrist collection, shall we? For anyone who has read Vulnerable and hated my guts, these are the inspirations I shall cheerfully blame for your misery--I'm serious. THEY did this to me.

And here it is, in no particular order--and I'll tell you this, I'm not sparing the spoilers. If you haven't read them and don't know the ending, by all means, skip this post:

* All's Quiet on the Western Goddamned Front--okay, I'm going to throw in some spoilers here. Everybody fucking dies. Yes. Even the main character. And (as Chicken noticed as she was throwing the book across the room) "He dies less than a month before Armistice, mom? Where's the fucking justice in that?"

God bless the American school system-- this was required reading.

* The Giver by Lois Lowry. More spoilers. The kid gets to watch his father euthenize an infant, and as he's reeling from that, he finds out that his girlfriend is doing the same thing to all the old people in the soulless dystopian community. Why does this bother him? A. Because he's the repository for ALL the emotional upheaval of the community, and B. BECAUSE HIS ONE YEAR OLD BROTHER IS NEXT.

This one has one of the most famous ambiguous endings of all times, in which either A. The kid and his brother find shelter, or B. Everybody fucking dies. I tell Chicken I think it's A. Privately, I think it's B.

* The Silent Boy by Lois Lowry. *shudder* Chicken introduced me to this one. The emotionally scarred kid who doesn't speak tries to save a farmer AND sister's incestuously produced offspring and the baby dies. Then the kid is institutionalized and we're pretty sure HE dies because it's the 1950's and that's how they rolled.

Chicken fucking sobbed for a week after this one. Bastards.

* The Lord of the goddamned Rings. Are you shitting me? Frodo goes to HEAVEN in a boat? Jesus save me. Or him. Whatever. I cried for two days.

* The Chronicles of Prydain. They kill off the Prince of Llyr. They kill off the bitchy Queen Achren. They killed off Col, the gentle farmer. They let our heroes survive, announce their love, and then get told that everybody they've ever loved HAS TO DITCH THEM while they rule the country.

Shit. Seriously. Just shit.

* The Hero and the Crown. Because choosing between Tor and Luthe was like choosing between Spike and Angel. Who wants to make THAT goddamned choice.

* Harry Fucking Potter. Unlike Lord of the goddamned Rings, which frequently condemned random anonymous BRAVE MEN to die, Harry Fucking Potter kills off your family. It kills off half of Fred&George. It kills off the pet owl. It kills off the finally happy lovers and Harry's last godfather. GodDAMNit, it kills off DOBBY. Children everywhere have been cursing and blessing Ms. Rowling for a year, and I don't think it's going to get any better. Well done, J.K.-- another person cheerfully scarring the psyches of children everywhere. (You know I adore this series, don't you? I'm only partly ironic.)

* Love Story. Yes. I know it's not officially adolescent fare, but I was 13 when I read it, and it hurt me, guys, it hurt me. "Love means never having to say you're sorry?" Bullshit. "Love means sobbing your heart out in your twin bed while the cats make a nest in your hair!!"

* The Cold Equation. I read this story to sophomores when I have it. I cry every goddamned time. That poor kid, getting jettisoned into outer space for one goddamned stupid move. If that happened to everybody, the race would have died out.

* Hamlet. Are you shitting me? The body count alone would cause a hardened veteran to vomit. The fact that Ophelia dies thinking Hamlet didn't love her? Or that Horatio loses his true love and soul mate just when he recovered his sanity? I mean really. What was Shakespeare thinking? Weren't they dying of the plague in big enough numbers back then? Did they have to add suicide to the mix?

And that's ten and where I'm going to stop... but by all means, help me add to the list here. I mean, if there's the potential for a richly emotionally scarring reading experience to be had before she turns twenty-five, we wouldn't want Chicken to miss it, would we?

11 comments:

Chris said...

Damn. I'd blocked some of those out. Thanks a lot. ;)

Hmm. Gone With the Wind? Oh! I know! I remember crying my eyes out over The Yearling. *sniff*

Where the Red Fern Grows
Ishi, Last of His Tribe
The Outsiders

NeedleTart said...

Can't add to the list, but Elder Son came home this weekend and said that everyone is afraid to meet his parents because His Mom (!) explained that the gun goes *under* your chin not at your forehead, and if you put bleach in the tank, when someone pees and flushes you get chlorine gas and you should cut...never mind we've been bad parents.
The Husband required the boys to read Swift's "A Modest Proposal". Yup. Twisted,

DecRaink said...

Ummm half of Mercedes Lackeys books - tons of heartache and pointless pain (good books all though!)
Bridge to Terabithia
The Hatchet
Lord of the Flies (required reading for HS students, really??????)
Island of Blue Dolphins ( I havent read this one, my friend has)
The Cure (creepy and sad - I read this around the same time I read The Giver.... cried for a week)
etc etc


I love this post. So true . . . .

Mardel said...

I'm not commenting on the books - just the Shasta Thing

When I was 6 through 12 my dad was married to a woman who had parents and siblings that all went to Lake Shasta as a group for two weeks every summer. They would rent two house boats, two of them owned speedboats and we would all sleep on the beach or house boats and go waterskiing everyday. It was some of the funnest times, as well as some of the most frustrating - grownups arguing, kids running wild, toilets dug into the ground up-camp, eating whatever we wanted. I miss those times. But sadly my dad and his wife divorced, and the family my sister and I were encouraged to call aunt, grandma, uncle, grandpa, etc, faded away....

Those were fun times though.

gemma said...

What ever you do, don't give her the Fionovar Tapestry, sob Kevin and Dair ....

Anonymous said...

Hi,
for emotional scarring I can highly recommend "The brothers Lionheart" by Astrid Lindgren. It deals with death and the question if children should be able to decide if they want to die, it's also great fantasy. Both brothers die in this book- twice.

Xyvara

Roxie said...

You want psychic scarring? How about Grimm's Fairy Tales? Cinderella: The wicked stepsisters were put into barrels driven full of nails and rolled down hill, and the wicked stepmother was made to put on red-hot iron shoes and dance till she died.

Hansel and Gretel: the stepmother persuades the kids' own father to abandon them in the woods. They are captured by a canibal whom they manage to burn to death.

Patient Griselda? The whole story is so damn sad you want to join a nunnery.

Heck, take it back to Oedipus. Evidently we just love to see some other poor bastard suffer. That's why I can't sell my stuff. It's too damn cheery.

Catie said...

Bridge to Tarabithia - someone has already said this one but I second it.

Julie said...

Anything by Kate Chopin. It's allegedly Great Literature, all sorts of Victorian-era angsting on the burdens of women. Usually the heroine dies at the end. Dismal as hell.

Tell Chicken that book-throwing is a fine response and to keep up the good work.

GrillTech said...

Try "The Immortals" by Tracy Hickman. If you can't find it let me know and I'll send you my copy.

Littlewitch said...

They forced me to read "A Tale of Two Cities" when I was a freshman. Thinking of Sidney still makes me cry...