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?