Dead Siblings in YA
I started reading Shadow Hills today, and once again I was struck by a sense of confusion about the number of books I have read or heard about lately involving dead siblings. Sonya Sones wrote a book called One of Those Books Where the Mother Dies, and I’m beginning to wonder when there will be a similarly titled novel: One of Those Books Where the Sibling Dies.
I found this fairly old list of books that deal with the death of a sibling, and have seen other such titles on bibliotherapy lists. Now, I’m all for having models of grief and loss and psychological issues in YA books. I think that adolescents should be exposed to this stuff, and that young adults who are experiencing such tragedies should have fictional characters to look to when going through hard times. Yet, with the preponderance of books involving the death of a sibling, I feel like something more is going on here, and I can’t quite put my finger on it.
Just a few recent titles off the top of my head include:
- Shadow Hills by Anastasia Hopcus
- Losing Faith by Denise Jaden
- The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
- Tell Me a Secret by Holly Cupola
- The Beautiful Between by Alyssa Sheinmel
I know there have been quite a few others, and if you can think of them, please leave some titles in the comments. (I can think of a few in which revealing the death might be a bit of a spoiler, so will refrain from listing those for now.) I’m also really curious to hear some ideas about what is behind this common plot element. Sure, people die, and it is part of life, but I think there’s something more intentional than that going on.
What does the death of a sibling do for a character? In what ways do siblings reflect who we are, but also sometimes overshadow who we are? How does the death of a sibling help the character reinvent their identity or learn about the brevity of life? What is behind this, and in what ways does it differ from the death of a parent or boyfriend/girlfriend? I’ve seen a lot of those types of death in YA recently, too, but something about them usually feels different. Any thoughts on what it might be?