Tales of Survival: Teenagers, Trauma and Resilience in Crime Fiction

After the events of last week, I really hoped I was not writing this post. But I am, and before you continue reading, I would like you to know this post is about gun violence, mass shootings, trauma, and the tales of those who survive.

The attack on a Florida high school last week is the 8th to happen in the USA in 2018. That is, in less than two months. But this time things have changed: Students who survived the shooting are using their social media profiles as platforms to denounce the need for a change in the US constitutions about the right to bear arms. More importantly, they are making their voices heard. It is not the first time in history that survivors make their voices heard, but it is certainly the first time that teenagers – who have been insisting on their speeches and tweets that they are still kids – are clamouring for political change, denouncing the inconsistency of their nation. These kids, who are proving to be more mature and more caring than their older peers, are changing the way we approach victimhood and survival.

Though fictional in their approach, some recent novels have been preoccupied with the same issues, some focusing on the immediate aftermath, some others on the long-term consequences, but all of them giving voice to the survivors, making sure their stories are being heard. And crime fiction has a lot to say about this, not only because violence is at its core, but because only of recently have we wondered “what happens afterwards?”. What happens when your wife’s killer is caught? What happens when you solve the murder of yet another teenager? How does life go on? The following 4 stories deal with the complexity of life, the resilience and strength of survivors while functioning as critical accounts of what is wrong with us as a society and the individual effects of said evils on individual and unique lives.

The Fever by Megan Abbot

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Though this novel does not feature a school shooting, it offers a magnificent portrayal of both the psychology behind events that affect communities where teenagers are involved. As the title suggests, it is not an attack on the school itself, but rather an enigmatic disease that affects female students and their families. As usual, Abbot masterfully explores the complexity of the teenage mind and the struggle to relate to those people you trust your life with on an everyday basis.

Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

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This celebrated novel about a teenage friendship is set in motion by a crime that will tie two very different girls together in small-town America. Not having enough with the trauma, the girls face difficult situations at home where they are no longer seen as the people they are turning into, nor are they understood as what they are: Survivors.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

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After a school shooting that kills 9 students and 1 teacher, we learn the ins and outs of that day through Josie, the daughter of the judge in charge of sentencing Peter, the shooter. As most of Picoult’s novels do, this one does not fail to examine the everyday life and the little things that can change our lives forever. And though Josie swears she does not remember anything from the day of the shooting, is that true? A riveting character study with snippets of a legal thriller through the eyes of a judge’s daughter and a teenager.

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

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Knoll’s debut novel can be considered a literary aftermath of what happens after survivors of a school shooting grow up and choose to live their lives. TifAnni, the main character, is now on her mid-twenties and she has finally ticked all the boxes: New York Fashion job, high-class finacé, and the perfect wardrobe, but her past hides a dark secret that indeed makes her the luckiest girl alive.Thought I initially praised the novel for its concise description of a certain type of modern womanhood, it also offers a breath-taking portrayal of PSTD and trauma – which we later learned was inspired by Knoll’s own experience as a sexual assault victim.

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4 thoughts on “Tales of Survival: Teenagers, Trauma and Resilience in Crime Fiction

  1. I think the young people of Parkland offer us hope in the aftermath of this appalling attack, not least because their dignity, articulacy and good sense are shown in such vivid contrast to their president. These are people who, I’m sure, will go on to work in areas where they can make a difference. They are astonishingly brave.

    1. It makes me so happy to see a younger generation fighting for what is right. I know for sure I would not have half of their strength in their situation.

  2. The teenagers from Parkland are truly inspiring. I hope they succeed where generations of adults have failed. The only one of these I’ve read is the Megan Abbott – she’s so brilliant at writing the teenage psyche and always reminds me just how tough that particular time of life can be.

    1. I am in awe at their strength, and it makes me happy to see that some writers have already seen this coming. That teens are far more complex and stronger than we are made to believe.

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