Working through school violence in youth literature

Visiting author Tom Leveen, ASU Professor James Blasingame address the value of representing real-life trauma in YA fiction

man handing book to woman

“Gunfire Erupts at a School. Leaders Offer Prayers. Children Are Buried. Repeat.”

The title of Dan Barry’s Feb. 15 New York Times column following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, may seem callous, but its message rings true: Perhaps the most shocking thing about school shootings in America is that they are no longer shocking.

“We grew up post-Columbine. This is normal for us. We’ve never had a time where we didn’t have lockdown drills,” Kyra Sciabica said. The psychology and English undergrad shared her thoughts on the subject at a recent event at Arizona State University’s Memorial Union, where local young adult author Tom Leveen appeared to promote the release of his latest young adult fiction novel, “Mercy Rule,” which culminates in a school shooting.

Leveen, who graduated from high school in 1992, remembers a time before Columbine. The timing of his latest book release and the nightmare that unfolded in Parkland just a week earlier were purely coincidental — he began writing “Mercy Rule” three or four years ago — but he can’t say he was surprised.

“When [Columbine] happened, it was a tragedy,” he said Feb. 21. “It rocked our world, but it was an isolated thing. And now it’s not.” The Parkland shooting “was just statistically likely at this point. And that’s the hell of it. That’s the maddening thing.”

Before Leveen spoke last week, Sciabica and other students in Professor James Blasingame’s English 471: Literature for Young Adults course gathered in small groups to discuss their assigned reading, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” a 2006 novel by Ned Vizzini in which the 16-year-old main character is hospitalized for depression.

It’s one of hundreds of examples of young adult literature that deals with real-world issues faced by teens every day, Blasingame said. Another is the book “Speak,” by Laurie Halse Anderson, which deals with rape.

Please Continue @ Arizona State University

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