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Coping with Death, Disease, Accidents, and Suicide

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

On a daily basis, many young adults see and hear about death and debilitating diseases. This takes a toll on their emotions, especially when the event is an accident or an unexpected suicide.

Both Jesse and Roxanne cope with death and loss in Martha Moore’s Under the Mermaid Angel (1995). While Jesse grieves the death of her brother, Roxanne must deal with giving up her child at birth. Bobby, in the classic My Brother Stealing Second (Naughton, 1989), is also grief-stricken about his brother: Although his brother Billy was a star athlete, he killed both himself and a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary while driving drunk. In Deborah Froese’s Out of the Fire (2002), Dayle is seriously burned in an accident and must go through therapy and treatment for her burns. Other books in which teenagers must face the death of a family member or friend include Facing the Music (Willey, 1996) and Dinah Forever (Mills, 1995).

Too often, murder and suicide find their way into the lives of young adults. In Colby Rodowsky’s Remembering Mog (1996), the Fitzhugh family remembers Mog’s violent death and tries to move toward healing. Todd, a 16-year-old African American teenager living in Denver in Soulfire (Hewitt, 1996), experiences grief over the death of his cousin, Tommy. Will in Freewill (Lynch, 2001) must deal with the suicides in his town and wonder what part, if any, he is playing.

While an accident or violence can cause a very sudden death, characters who have, or know someone who has, a life-threatening disease must struggle to cope with their feelings. Samantha and Juliana, better known as Sam and Jules, are close friends in Davida Wills Hurwin’s A Time for Dancing (1995). Their story becomes one of death and dying when Jules learns she has cancer. In Liza Hall’s Perk! (1997), bulimia becomes a life-threatening disease. Other books that examine this topic are Hope Was Here (Bauer, 2000), the various books by Lurlene McDaniel, and the classics A Summer to Die (Lowry, 1977) and Tiger Eyes (Blume, 1981).

During the later 1980s and 1990s, as the AIDS epidemic spread, there was an increase in the quantity and quality of young adult books that addressed the topic by looking at the loneliness of the disease, the change of relationships (and sometimes outright rejection) with parents and friends, attempts to make others aware of AIDS, the transmission of the disease (whether from a blood transfusion or sexual contact), and HIV-positive babies. For example, Joel keeps the memory of his uncle Michael alive in his thoughts after Michael dies of AIDS in Patricia Quinlan’s Tiger Flowers (1994). In M. E. Kerr’s classic Night Kites (1986), 17-year-old Jim’s relationship with his family and friends changes when his older brother announces he has AIDS. A similar thing happens to Liam in The Eagle Kite (Fox, 1995). In Diving for the Moon (Bantle, 1995), Bird struggles through her mixed emotions when she discovers that her best friend Josh is HIV positive. Also, in Earthshine (Nelson, 1994), living with her father means that Slim will also be living with her father’s long-time companion, Larry, who has AIDS.

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