Tear-soaked novels keep readers coming back for more
(Just a minute. Got something in the ol’ eyes. What’s that? Crying? Nope, it’s allergies.)
Anyway, Aristotle wrote that tragedy, as a dramatic art, serves its audience as catharsis. It purges the passions of fear and pity and is, in fact, a spiritual cleansing. The audience comes away exalted and with a greater understanding of the ways of men and gods.
(Hang on. Deep breath, deep breath. Dang cottonwoods.)
Which is dandy, a lucid explanation of what’s going on, heart- and head-wise, when everything veers south in a hurry. Unfortunately, Aristotle, that doesn’t bring the coon dog back to life, it doesn’t unmake the unthinkable choice and it certainly doesn’t uncrash the car.
(Does anyone have a tissue? Anyone?)
It brings to mind “The Fault in Our Stars,” John Green’s bestselling young adult novel that will premiere on movie screens June 6. It’s about the blossoming romance between teenagers Hazel and Augustus, who meet in a cancer support group, and it’s also about friendship and what it means to live fully (if briefly).
It is not an easy read, but it’s an excellent one, deserving of its place in the new pantheon of young adult literature. It also begs the question: This is for kids? But it’s so sad!
It joins a whole sub-category of literature that dwells in a puddle of tears, that draws sighs and breaks hearts, that even in adulthood elicits tears over memories of childhood reading.
Gail Yerbic, head of youth services for Mesa County Libraries, said that sadness in literature, especially youth literature, can help young readers know that they aren’t alone in going through tough times. It can be a catalyst for parents to talk about difficult topics, she said, and ultimately show a light shining through the darkness.
“I think children’s books are great because they can approach difficult subjects in an optimistic way,” said Trevor Adams, a youth services library assistant for Mesa County Libraries. “They can shed light on a subject that’s really sad and heavy and give kids hope for things being better in the future.”
Not that this in any way alleviates the stomping young hearts take when Old Dan and Little Ann… experience what happens to them in Wilson Rawls’ “Where the Red Fern Grows.” That’s just brutal.
And while the causes of sorrow may be situational and subjective, there are certain books whose pages are never anything but tear-soaked, herewith ranked on a scale of one to 10 tissues:
“Where the Red Fern Grows” by Wilson Rawls (1961)
Young Billy Coleman saves for two whole years to buy two coon hound puppies, which he names Old Dan and Little Ann. They roam the Ozarks together, enter the coon hunt contest and win a gold cup and catch the elusive ghost coon. Then a run-in with a mountain lion ends poorly and let us just say that dogs are as capable of love as humans.
Tissues: 11. Billy visits a… place (not to give anything away) and sees a red fern growing there, which according to Native American legend can only be planted by angels.
“Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson (1977)
Shy Jess Aarons and bold Leslie Burke become friends, creating an imaginary kingdom called Terabithia. Leslie helps Jess find courage and everything is going great until one day, when something terrible happens while Jess away is touring art galleries with a teacher. It’s enough to put you off rope swings and creeks forever.
Tissues: 10. In the end, Jess lays some planks across the creek and takes his younger sister with him to Terabithia, telling her she’s the new queen. And if you can hear Jess’ voice telling you that the Terabithians are standing on tiptoe to see you, well… we’ll give you a minute.
“Sounder” by William H. Armstrong (1969)
A poor black sharecropper is accused to stealing a ham and during his arrest the family dog, Sounder, gets shot. The man ends up on a chain gang, his family suffers greatly, but Sounder comes home because the shot wasn’t fatal. But things do not go well at all when the man gets home. Like, at all.
Tissues: 12. And a correspondence:
Dear authors of children’s literature,
What the heck do you have against animals??!? And fathers!?! Good grief! And don’t even try pulling the ol” “but the son learned to read at the end so it’s OK” ploy. We’re not buying what you’re selling!
“Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” by Eleanor Coerr (1990)
A little girl named Sadako, who was born in Hiroshima, Japan, becomes ill with “atom bomb disease,” or leukemia. She hears a legend that if she can fold 1,000 paper cranes then the gods will grant her a wish, and her wish is to be healthy again. She finishes the cranes, but…
Tissues: 10. And thanks for nothing, origami.
“The Yearling” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1938)
Young Jody Baxter lives in post-Civil War Florida with his parents, Penny and Ora. His three siblings are dead and he finds companionship in a fawn he names Flag. Over the next year they are inseparable, but unfortunately Flag becomes a crop-trampling, fence-ruining nuisance and Jody’s parents make him deal with the problem.
Tissues: 11. How Jody must deal with the problem is not good.
“The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton (1967)
Friends Johnny and Ponyboy get caught in the middle of the clash between the wealthy “socs” and rough-around-the-edges “greasers.” A bunch of tragic stuff happens, Johnny ends up with a broken back and just never mind, OK?
Tissues: 11. Because of this: “Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.”