What has happened to the cautionary tale?
All the rage since the dawn of time, but now young adult writers such as Ellen Hopkins and Alex Sanchez are turning their backs on the formula genre. In their stories, those who do the wrong gain acceptance and little in the way of dire consequences.
Normally, a cautionary tale is told when the teller, a wiser person with years of experience, wants to warn the listener, a naïve younger person, against a danger such as grab a hot poker and your whole body will burst into flames. In the irrational example, the dangerous thing now done and someone must endure horrible pain.
Cautionary tales are not based on normal circumstances like break a law and go to jail, but hyper-penalties like point at a dog and lose a finger even though the dog is a block away.
When I was a young adult, I remember reading an odd connection between family members as an example. The daughter gets pregnant and the grandmother has a heart attack. This cause and effect were directly related, yet granny was probably a heavy smoker with a love of bacon.
Ellen Hopkins is the author of ten young adult and two adult books all in verse format. Her titles for the YA crowd include her first book “Crank” that is based loosely on her daughter’s addiction to crystal meth to her latest “Smoke.” Each book possessing a potential to knock the socks off us literally, but the consequences are actually common sense.
Young readers are already scared of becoming pregnant or addicted to drugs, but Hopkins pushes the fear aside as her characters work through solutions to make things better despite being pregnant or addicted or both. And, yes, sometimes there are dire consequences, but Hopkins keeps them in balance with the problem.
I read “Tilt” this weekend and thought, wow, times have changed! Pregnancy happens, drugs happen and no one is struck down by lightening. I have to say, while I read, I kept my head down waiting for the boom!
The story follows two families with parents that are either divorced or thinking about it. The young adults are in their senior year of high school, and either popular or outsiders. The situations are tough, but Hopkins brings solutions not consequences. Young readers will benefit.
Maggie Moran is director of Learning Resources for Northwest Community College