This is a guest post from young adult author and ASU student Tom Leveen. Tom will be launching his new novel, Sick, at ASU’s Tempe campus on October 1. To learn more about that event and RSVP, click here.
Adolescence. From the Latin adolescere, “to grow into adulthood.”
My newest young adult novel, Sick (Amulet/Abrams, October 1, 2013), follows a group of adolescents who become trapped in their high school drama department during what amounts to a zombie apocalypse. (I will leave the debate as to what constitutes a “zombie” to those more learned than I.) On its surface, Sick is the fast-paced bloodbath I intended it to be from the start; the action is quick, the pacing is brutal, and I’m told the violence is graphic. (I think that’s a matter of personal “stomach,” myself; I didn’t write anything I couldn’t handle reading! Eh…well…I may have squirmed once or twice.)
If the action and suspense are all anyone takes from the book, that’s cool. I am an entertainer first and foremost, after all. I hope, though, readers will find more to discuss. In particular, I hope the novel opens some doors to talking about the nature and cost of violence, particularly among and against the young.
If the action-violence in Sick is graphic, it is because all violence is graphic.
As both an entertainer and as a victim of violence myself (although “low grade” compared to what close friends have seen and done overseas in our recent wars), I wanted to synthesize our love of great action scenes with the cold and brutal reality of violence. I like explosions and car chases and sword fights as much as the next guy. Does watching (reading?) violent content “desensitize” us or turn us violent? I’m not personally convinced the evidence supports that idea yet. (But have you noticed after every mass shooting, the media never reports the killer’s hobbies as including “hiking” or “canoeing” or “loved the outdoors”? That’s an inference, of course, but notable.)
What I do know is that in real life, violence – whether domestic or international, in the bedroom or across an ocean – dehumanizes us. Both the perpetrators and victims of violence come away (if they’ve survived) a little less human than they were before. The protagonists of Sick realize this long after it’s too late to prevent the damage that’s been done.
Adolescence may very well be defined as the “growth into adulthood.” Splendid. The characters in Sick, and the real, living teenagers (let me say that again: teenagers) sent off to fight our wars and conflicts go well beyond “growing into adulthood.” They – and after a fashion, we – become something other than just grown up, or adults, or mature. They and we become something that can never be undone. We’re all a little less than in the wake of violence of any kind.
Having said all that, let me add that I am not a super political person; I’m not formally educated in all the aspects of war, crime, or violence; I try not to be an armchair general. What I do believe is this: We keep trying violence to solve things, and it keeps not working.
This is true on our streets, in our penal system, and abroad. The characters in Sick use violence to obtain their goals. Without giving away the story, I will say that regardless of their relative success or failure, it is the cost of that violence I hope people will remember and talk about. Especially with their own kids or students.
Sick is a work of fiction. I only wish it weren’t also a true story.