Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Does ‘Pushing the Limits’ push the limits when it comes to the teen-troubled genre?

I apologise for the quite awful play on words but it was too good not to write! In this post I want to talk about a couple of things; one: Katie McGarry’s fantastic book ‘Pushing the Limits’ as well as the issues surrounding it and the newly popular YA genre named ‘sick-lit’.

I don’t want to scare anyone away from reading ‘Pushing the Limits’ by associating it with the topic of ‘sick-lit’ as it does sound a bit scary – my premise being that ‘PTL’ does not (thankfully) fall under this genre, and in fact takes troubling issues and makes them approachable and acceptable through the powerful relationship between the two main characters Echo and Noah.

I’ll backtrack a little and give you the quick synopsis of PTL incase you haven’t read it yet *no spoilers*:

“No one knows what happened the night Echo Emerson went from popular girl with jock boyfriend to gossiped-about outsider with "freaky" scars on her arms. Even Echo can't remember the whole truth of that horrible night. All she knows is that she wants everything to go back to normal. But when Noah Hutchins, the smoking-hot, girl-using loner in the black leather jacket, explodes into her life with his tough attitude and surprising understanding, Echo's world shifts in ways she could never have imagined. They should have nothing in common. And with the secrets they both keep, being together is pretty much impossible. Yet the crazy attraction between them refuses to go away. And Echo has to ask herself just how far they can push the limits and what she'll risk for the one guy who might teach her how to love again.”

Exploring the issues of ‘troubled’ and ‘traumatised’ teens, ‘Pushing the Limits’ is such a great read because it shows how these things are okay and that you don’t have to be alone with them. Unfortunately there are teenagers out there who have to struggle with dysfunctional families, mental health, loss, foster homes as well as a social status, but ‘PTL’ makes you feel like you’re not traveling alone and that there is someone, lots of people out there who want to stick by you and support you through it, be it family, teachers, authority or friends. Echo and Noah are thrown together by therapy sessions, rather begrudgingly, but it is after they start to get to know each other and see the real characters under all the trouble and defences do they begin to realise how much they need each other. Although their problems are completely different, they mould together to try find the solutions and start to gradually work their way back into feeling good about the world again. It is a relatable story, even for those without anything in common with the characters, which makes it such easy reading.

Whilst ‘Pushing the Limits’ finds a level balance between portraying issues that teens may suffer and the positive outcomes of it (i.e. bringing people together, enjoying life, making friends, falling in love etc.), some books have started to make more of an extreme statement with a negative effect. I was pointed towards an article the other day that honestly left me horrified. The new YA fiction trend is apparently ‘sick-lit’. Publishers are publishing a large amount of books for teenagers, even younger teens, that talk of terminally ill characters, suicide, depression, self-harm and death. Books that will leave their readers ‘devastated’ but “inadvertently glamourise”* these issues. These stories describe the feelings and effects of these issues so much that they quite often become seen as more like an instruction book than a fictional story. One book about self-harming is meant to have sparked some reaction in some readers to actually start self-harming themselves as a ‘comfort’ as the story was “too close to home”. I don’t want to make rash judgements about these books without having read them myself or got reader reactions beforehand, but it just strikes me as something going very wrong here, publishers are making it a 'trend' rather than a delicate issue? If teens as young as 12 and 13 are reading these books? I think as genre trends go within fiction, as much as I have my own opinions on the likes of the Twilight fandom and 50 Shades of Grey trend, I think ‘sick-lit’ is something that shouldn’t be encouraged in the way that it seems to be. It is fantastic that there are ways these issues that can be approached and talked about through fiction that a reader may not feel comfortable sharing or dealing with in real life, but I would say it still needs to be done delicately in what is being promoted. I'm not saying let's cover up the harsh realities of it, but maybe the portrayal of this 'trend' need to be re-issued? Pushing the Limits does this excellently, the biggest message that I picked up from it is that you don’t need to hide away, by letting yourself be supported you can pick up the pieces and start to rebuild your life in the way you want it to. Even if your body isn’t letting you, like Echo’s, when you’re ready it will come.

On a slightly more cheery note (I promise the next post will be full of sunshine and rainbows, figuratively). If you want to read ‘Pushing the Limits’, which you all do straight away(!), you can buy the book or it is currently storming through at number one in the Kindle charts at only 20p! It would be rude not to read it now!

Please also tell me what you think of both ‘Pushing the Limits’ and also the issues on sick-lit. Do you agree with what I think, or do you think it is an exaggeration and not something that should be worried about? All comments welcome.

Have a great week!

Emily x

*I know that the Daily Mail doesn't have much credibility in terms of hard facts, but it was the article I had that could be linked on here.


  1. I don't know...when I was 12 I wouldn't have read something and then gone and done it myself (unless I was reading Harry Potter and then I would run around the garden with a stick shouting spells at my dog) but that was me. I don't know if the Daily Mail is really all that credible but these are issues that kids will be facing at some point in their lives. I don't see it as a bad thing that they should know about it at a young age...

    I suffer with mental health problems like many, and if I had known that there were people out there that suffered with it like I did (it began for me at 13) then maybe I wouldn't have felt so alone. I don't think it's as bad as the media make it out to be...I think this stuff needs to be addressed and the kids that are out there that are impressionable, well, maybe the parents shouldn't let them read stuff that might be inappropriate?

    1. I know (thankfully) that not every person reading these books decide to go and do it, and obviously the likes of the Daily Mail sensationalise and pick the most dramatic cases, even if they are the minority. I think I possibly worded my attitude towards it slightly wrong, I agree it's not a bad thing that these issues should be addressed - in fact it is a good thing to allow readers to be able to relate to it. I just feel like the 'sick-lit' genre of publishing that is being treated as the new YA trend is something that should have been treated with some delicacy.

    2. There are still those that would though I guess, take the whole 'Justin Bieber smoking weed' incident in which loads of his fans decided to cut themselves to get him to stop (the result of a horrible troll on 4chan) and then mass hysteria ensued...I don't know why people find morbid things so impressionable but there you go. I do agree that these things should be treated delicately because mental illness needs to be treated delicately, but if the parents of these kids that read these books are willing to let their kids read this stuff and then question why their child is acting strangely are equally to blame if they are that ignorant really.

      I don't know. All I know is that I know I came out of it okay, and maybe if these sort of books weren't glamourised but maybe marketed so that they were seen to address these issues as help and awareness then people would think differently. And trust me there are far worse books out there you could read...

  2. I’m not even going to touch on how disgusting I think the term “sick-lit” is, and how horrendously sensational and ill-informed The Daily Mail article is (oh wait, I did sorry). What I am going to say is that I think the issues covered in this supposed genre NEED to be covered. They need to be talked about and discussed simply because they exist. They need to be shared. As readers teens and young adults need to be trusted to make their own choices about the subjects. And to be honest, there are some readers who will need these subjects to exist within literature so that they know they aren’t alone. I think the idea that these books should be censored is totally wrong. Maybe instead these books should have a list of phone numbers or websites (or both) that readers who are in a similar situation can call or visit if they need/want help.

    And I'm afraid the author of The Daily Mail article would disagree with you and say that PtL is very much part of the genre as they have included mental health problems as part of scope of it - ie. the self-harming you mention in your post. So with that in mind I find it worrying that you think it "shouldn’t be encouraged in the way that it seems to be". Because by your own argument PtL gives a very positive message.

    I apologise if this comment comes across as a personal attack, it isn't. I just find the way you've phrased this post as highly offensive and totally insensitive to the issues discussed in the post.

    1. I agree that The daily Mail is highly sensational and so I haven't taken it as law and I'm sorry you find my post to be highly offensive, that was not my intention at all. If anything I would be quite interested to what you found highly offensive about it?
      I agree that these issues need to be covered, as I said in the post, part of the many joys of reading is to be able to relate to what youre reading and topics such as these can help readers not feel alone and that there is things that can be done/people to help. I just feel like maybe some of the books that are going into such core detail of suicide and other such things as deeply as they are isnt something that should be promoted as a 'trend' in literature to 12-13 year olds. It needs to be covered, sure, but in a way that inspires hope maybe? Which is where I think PTL comes in. It covers different types of mental health problems, but it doesn't involve self harming or suicide or extreme tragedies like that but, I don't know if you have read it yet?, what stood out for me was the 'pick me up', hopeful attitude there was about dealing with it, that it is possible to be happy and letting people help you.

    2. One of the things I find offensive is the fact that you don’t seem to acknowledge that from the definition of “sick-lit” you use, PtL falls straight into the category – it deals with the idea of suicide amongst other mental health issues, it also deals with the idea of death. The idea that it is an okay example of this so called genre because it has a hopeful ending is just wrong.

      The other thing I found offensive was the fact that you say you “don’t want to make rash judgements about these books without having read them myself,” but then you add that it strikes you that there is “something going very wrong here, publishers are making it a 'trend' rather than a delicate issue”. By your own words you say you haven’t read the books involved, but you make a judgement call without any evidence that there is something wrong and therefore something needs to be done. Not all stories have happy endings, so why should all books that deal with mental health problems or terminal illnesses have them – why can’t they be realistic? Everyday lots of teenagers (and younger) have to deal with the fallout of these problems, so why shouldn’t their very real experience exist in books so that others have the chance to empathise with the ideas, or offer others ways of dealing with the situation. Coping strategies, even bad ones, can show readers what the outcome of certain situations can be – like the idea that using cutting to cope isn’t a great idea because it can cause long term problems and even death. I do however think that if such topics are covered in books then the author/publisher should provide a list of website/telephone numbers/organisations that readers can approach both for help (if they are in that situation) or for more information (in case they know someone in a similar situation). These issues aren’t something that can be just swept away and ignored. And we cannot pretend that they all result in happy outcomes either. Teenagers and young adults just have to look at the news to know that.

      “I just feel like maybe some of the books that are going into such core detail of suicide and other such things as deeply as they are isnt something that should be promoted as a 'trend' in literature to 12-13 year olds.” As far as I am aware none of the books discussed are aimed at that particular market, and to be honest even if they were to pretend that 12-13 year olds don’t know about that topic is to ignore both real life and movies and TV programmes that they can watch. I am also of the opinion that for those who cannot deal with such subjects it should be up to their parents rather than authors or publishers to ensure that they don’t read such subjects until they are able to.

    3. Again I'm sorry for offending you with my post - it was definitely not my intention but it is interesting to find out alternative opinions on the topic and your reaction to it.

  3. Good post, I find this discussion fascinating.

    I think the whole thing has been blown out or proportion. These types of books have been around for a long time, just because they are becoming more popular it's suddenly a bad thing? Maybe it is just publishers jumping on a band wagon but the people are too. After all the publishers wouldn't print something that wouldn't sell. Whereas I can't understand the trend with books like 50 shades (eewww!) I can with these, it's something more real, something people can connect to, try to get an understanding of.
    I have read PTL and thought it was a truly amazing book and it deals with all of it's issues very well.
    I have also read 'Before I Die' and felt it to be a terrific story. There are people of all ages - children right through to adults that suffer from cancer. I read this shortly after my gran died of cancer and it made me feel less alone, the ending was really realistic and made me realise that what I had experienced was something a lot of people had gone through too and that was a comfort to me. It reminds us we are not alone.

    I can't judge widely as I haven't read that many of this type as I prefer happier books, (I refuse to call them 'sick-lit', it's a dreadful name and degrades the whole genre) but when I do read them I take them for what they are - fiction with a hint of reality.

    People can't cast a blanket sensor over humanity, saying we mustn't tell people these things exist as it could damage them, well I'm sorry but it's better for someone to read about it in a book and then discuss what they have read (this is important) with a friend or family member than to actually do it, or live thinking they are isolated and the only one suffering.

    The important issue that should be addressed here is not down-casting these books or saying people shouldn't read them, what should be said is that these are books that can be discussed, the sort of book that if it leaves someone with doubts or worries they can talk to someone about them. I was lucky that my parents have always been happy to discuss things I'm not sure about and if I don't want to ask them my friends can help.

    It's good to get these stories into the world - it's part of reality, cancer, suicide, depression, illness, harm etc, it all happens so why shy away from it? I personally think that if the world was more open and easier to talk about problems in without being made to feel like a freak then there would be a lot less problems in the first place.

    I have been fortunate in my life really and having experienced most of the issues raised in these books, I read them because I like to get a view of what is going on, how people cope, what could be happening behind closed doors. Reading a book with a self-harmer in isn't going to make me start cutting, and if people are doing that then I don't blame the book - there is a deeper underlying problem there that has been going on for longer that a few hours spent in the pages.

    I think the Daily Mail was really out of order with that article and didn't get all the facts right before they published. I think they did it to spark a debate, which really only goes against their article - it generates more interest in this genre, more people are likely to now look into some of the mentioned titles to see what the fuss is about.

    As I said - good post and I like your fair look and judgement.

    Ultimately it's up to the readers - how they choose to look at it. Common sense helps!

    1. I agree with what you've said, these books are a necessity to help educate and provide support, relief and hope for people, of all ages. Most fiction in fact does this in some way, which is possible one of the reasons it is so great.
      I do agree that the term 'sicklit' is horrible and very degrading, maybe that is what struck a cord for me - it degrades the genre making it into a 'trend' that is not treated in the way it should.

      Thankyou for liking my judgement on it, its an interesting topic of debate amongst both readers and non-readers!

    2. Thanks! Was a good topic to discuss and you did it well.