Do People Really Need To Die In YA Novels?

We’ve all seen it before. The Fault in Our Stars. The Hunger Games. Allegiant. Game of Thrones. All seems to be well. The characters aren’t facing much difficulty. The plot line is starting to flatten and the story starts to become a little stuck. Not much can happen next…

UNTIL BAM, A FIRE COMES OUT OF NOWHERE AND EVERYONE DIES.

Welcome to the 2016 world of YA novels.

It seems like every book and their dog nowadays ends with the death of a major character, the death of a dear friend, or the death of the major character. It’s become so commonplace nowadays that happy endings were everybody lives are now the rare stories to find.

I find it so hard to be touched by stories nowadays, simply because at the start of every story, I steel myself to not get too attached to the characters since it’s so likely that they’ll be killed in the end anyway.

But the big question here, is this really necessary?

Let me tell you about a manga I read. Some of you may actually read this manga at the moment, but I won’t name it because some of the stuff I plan to talk about includes spoilers for later sections of the story, but it goes like this. Because the manga is so “fluffy”, if you know what I mean (it’s not deep or meaningful in any way at all – pure entertainment), the author seems to have some sort of thing against killing people. Not a single person – not a bad guy, not a good guy – has died in the entire series (and it is a few hundred chapters and has been going on for years and years.)

However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not emotionally invested in the series. There are few heart wrenching scenes where I found myself REALLY, REALLY SAD. (Literally all the comments below a few specific chapters consist of “OMG SO SAD” and ‘ARGHHH THE FEELS”).

So this brings to mind… is death really needed in stories? Is the sacrifice of life always needed? The resounding answer, for me, is no. Death is overrated.

In that manga I was talking about (some of you who read it might have guessed it – let me know in the comments), many people make sacrifices, yet so few die. Some make sacrifices of their time (one girl goes from a healthy young 20 something year old to a 90-year-old immediately after a super intense spell), others sacrifice things such as their powers (there’s a particularly sad scene where a girl sacrifices her power – and she’s a wizard, so it’s like saying you’re sacrificing both your arms – in order to save her friend). Another girl sacrifices her relationship with another person (that scene was particularly powerful).

There are so many things that characters can sacrifice that don’t necessarily mean that they have to die. In fact, when done well, non-death sacrifice can be even more effective than simple death. Sometimes, I feel like death scenes can be a bit abrupt (“and then acid rain came falling down and everybody died. The end”) and sometimes, it can feel a bit lazy (“oh no! My cousin is in danger! No! My cousin is now dead! *cue the emotional music and tears*).

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have death anymore – I’m just saying that there are other alternatives that are just as good – and sometimes even better – for when you want to spice up your writing.

What do you guys think about death in YA? Let me know in the comments below!

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33 thoughts on “Do People Really Need To Die In YA Novels?

  1. Interesting trend and one I don’t particularly like. A long time ago, the movie industry went through a dark phase. The main character was not a hero and usually was not even likable. I think audiences reacted negatively to that trend and it gradually reversed itself. Perhaps the same will happen with YA novels. I’m not looking for Pollyanna in every book I read, but I like satisfactory resolutions.

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  3. Fairy Tail, huh? (:
    I love this anime. I don’t get to read much manga so I’m an anime obsessed.
    You’re right… Fairy Tail made me sad – even cry – without the need of a major character to die. The sacrafice itself was enough for my heart to clench.

    A beautiful post. For a moment there I felt like you pulled the thoughts right out of my head!
    I agree. I don’t think a major character’s death is a necessity. Ever since Allegiant… I’m aproching books with great care, and I hate that I feel like I need to do it.

    I’ve been wanting to make a post about the death of fictional characters for a long time now but never got to it… I think now I have the motivation I need (:

    Anyway, I really like your blog! Your writing style is so engaging and fun to read. I’m going to explore some more now ^^

    My blog: http://magiverse.blogspot.co.il/

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    1. HA
      HA
      HA
      ALLEGIANT

      I accidentally read a film-tie in before reading the entire series, and so I spoiled it for myself and decided not to read it because I already knew what was going to happen (plus, I really really didn’t want to read through that scene.)

      FAIRY TAIL! 😀

      Thank you for dropping by 🙂

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  4. Fatima @ NoteablePad

    Really interesting discussion! I’m not going to guess the manga (though I have a few ideas), but I’m going to talk about another anime I was watching called Gintama. It just ended (I’m very sad about that), but it turned reallllly dark. Death, secrets, betrayal – everything. I was an emotional mess, because I was so invested in these characters and their lives. I laughed and cried with them for 300+ episodes. I’ve never been that bothered by death in YA though as I feel like it always has a reason or a message to convey. But if I know for certain it’s particularly sad, I’ll think twice before I start it.

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  6. Ok I wouldn’t class Game of Thrones as YA but hey ho I know what you mean about the death thing. I just finished a series of 5 books and I was questioning why the author had to kill off one character that was quite key in the first 2 books. As if that was not enough the author then killed off the rest of that family. So the whole family was wiped out completely, where was the need?
    If any one should die it should be the villain because some are just despicable they should really die.
    It seems the YA authors don’t want fluffy stories any more, if not one dies then the story is not moving enough. But I am with you, no one really needs to die.

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    1. Haha, yeah true. GoT is pretty not-YA! I haven’t read it – I just know that it has an incredibly infamous reputation for killing off its characters at any moment. Unless it’s integral to the story, and is genuinely able to make the reader feel something, then it’s unnecessary and should be cut out. Thanks for dropping by!

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  7. I think that death definitely has to do with sacrifice (like you mentioned). In a story, I guess authors feel like they have to let their character experience extreme pain or emotion or loss (also for the readers! AAAAAGH FEELS)! I do agree that maybe death isn’t always the BEST way to execute (haha get it?) the climax of the story! Characters just need to develop throughout the story! In the end, I think it’s up to the author, since a good number of books get wrapped up nicely – it balances out the books that make people die!

    (I don’t think this comment made much sense, but IT’S THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS right?)

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    1. Nono, you’re right, it made perfect sense ( ̄▽ ̄) I definitely agree – there’s a fine line between adding death naturally, and adding death simply because they want reviewers to go: ERMAGORD THE FEELS (ノД`)・゜・。 For me, the majority of my books end with some sort of death. It’s very frustrating ( ̄д ̄)

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  8. This is such an interesting discussion Paul! Death is one of society’s biggest fears, so it makes sense that it’s so common in literature. But I do see where you’re coming from – the amount of deaths in YA is a little overboard. I think that characters should die if it’s realistic and if it feels right to the author. Too many characters killed and it just feels like emotional manipulation, and if a character survives everything it ends up feeling unrealistic. It’s definitely a balance. Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous discussion!

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    1. I think the problem is that death in YA sometimes feels really, really unnatural and forced, and that’s where I think people need to realise that no, it’s not necessary for death to happen in YA books for the reader to feel sad. Of course, it’s all about finding that fine line between reality and fiction 🙂 Thank you!! (^_^)~

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  9. I have conflicted feelings for this, because when I read fantasy/fictional books a character’s death doesn’t really bother me (well, it does in a emotional level especially when the character is super close to my heart, real tears are shed).

    But when it comes to contemporaries, I have read plenty of books that deals with a death of one parent, grandparent, sibling, or even bestfriend. Though the take on the stories may be different but it really has become a pretty common trope.

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  10. Carlin

    I’m usually in favour of death in YA novels because we need our stories to be somewhat real! (Obviously not the George R.R. Martin kind, nope) But your post does make sense. I was reading a manga today (which is so asdfghjkl, btw) and one of my favourite characters killed himself and I was staring in shock, wondering what just happened. He didn’t have to die buuuuuuuuut he did. I’m so depressed 😦 Death is fine as long as it makes sense and there’s a reason for that person to die.
    About that manga, I’m guessing Fairy Tail? One Piece? I originally thought of Puella Magi Madoka Magica for some weird reason. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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    1. YES. Thanks for posting your thoughts. Death is great – and can be really effective when done well – but when it’s just: oh and then he died, it gets kind of boring and seems a little unnecessary – which can put me off reading the rest of the book. Getting people to sacrifice things other than their life is like a sneaky way of catching the reader off guard and getting them to feel super sad 😄 AND YES – FAIRY TAIL 😄 😄

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  11. As a parent buying books for a YA reader I DESPAIR! All I want is a book that is focused on relationships (as opposed to mysteries, vampires, dystopian) where no parent or friend died. Challenging!

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    1. There are a few books like that! I would recommend a few of the book in the sideline to your right there, especially books such as:

      Laurinda
      Made You Up
      Eleanor and Park
      Life In Outer Space
      The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl

      Good luck! Particularly look about for books labelled as under the genre of “Contemporary”. 😀

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  12. I totally agree! Some deaths work really well and add to the story in a way that other losses wouldn’t, but nowadays it seems like death is thrown in just so that people can throw around words like FEELS. Not that feels aren’t good, but way too many people die in YA today I feel. Great post!

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    1. I think it’s all about how the writer implements death. Getting a character to sacrifice something other than their life is always a really sneaky way of catching the reader off guard and getting them to feel sad, without the need for: “and then he was shot. The end”. 😄 Thank you, Jocelyn!

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  13. I tend to agree, death seems to happen so much in stories that it’s hard to feel it properly. And other forms of tension and loss can be more poignant. BTW, what’s the manga? Really. I want to read it. Sounds fantastic. 🙂

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  14. I think about this a lot, and I also find myself frustrated with how often death shows up in YA. Yes, death is part of reality. But the reality of books and the reality of life are different; everything in books is more ordered and more purposeful. Real life is basically chaos.

    And often I feel like death is YA isn’t properly handled. Often it shows up either just for shock value or just for manipulation value– that is, just because the author wants to make the reader feel a lot of emotions and they don’t know how else to go about it besides killing a character. But, for me, that manipulation usually backfires. If I think a character is going to die, I hold myself back from forming an attachment to them. If I think an author is going to kill a lot of characters, I don’t allow myself to form any attachment to the story (because I want to be spared from the pain), which prevents me from connecting to the book in any significant way.

    I also think the resurrection plotline is overdone. I can think of more than a few third books in trilogies where the love interest “dies” only to be brought back to life a few chapters later. That feels very manipulative to me, and I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where that didn’t fall completely flat and take me out of the story. Either follow through with it and deal with the consequences or lower the stakes to something you can follow through on!

    Great topic!

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    1. Thanks for your comment! I definitely agree with you! It’s hard to say that death is a normal part of life and you’re trying to be realistic when you’re writing about a battle between trolls, right? I think it’s actually better for an author to make a character sacrifice some sort of thing OTHER than their life, because it catches the reader off guard.

      AND YES. I will actively stop myself from getting too attached to a character if I suspect that they’re going to die – which is basically in every single action book I read.

      Thanks for dropping by! Glad you enjoyed the post! 😀

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  15. The addition of death is not necessarily bad. I mean, it’s part of life and that’s what fiction is trying to emulate. But some stories add it as some sort of cheap shock factor. Or adding self-styled complexity to otherwise mediocre stories. Some even felt manufactured as if death of characters will add emotional depth but in the end the opposite often happens.

    I’m not sure what manga you’re talking about but Eiichiro Oda (One Piece) didn’t like killing his villains. He said that dying is an easy way out. It’s much more miserable to live a life with their goal unattainable or completely hindered. Knowing that your dreams can never happen.

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    1. For me, the death of a character often backfires, because it feels so forced and incorrect. If the author can pull it off, then I’m all for it – but it’s when the author tries to add it as a cheap “omg so sad” factor that I get annoyed.

      I do think that non-life sacrifices are actually much more effective, because it’s just so rare – it catches me off guard, much more extremely that if it were to just be death.

      And the manga/anime is Fairy Tail 😄 (=^・^=)

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  16. If done well, character deaths can be very powerful and affecting. Sometimes deaths are necessary and realistic, and if death were taken out of the picture entirely for all books, we would be ushered into an eerie utopia-like era for YA fiction. Not sure I want that.
    But after all the death we’ve seen in YA Lit over the last decade, perhaps it’s time for a break? Well, I don’t know about everyone else, but I like character deaths as long as they make sense and aren’t gratuitous or happen for no reason.

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    1. Yes! Death is definitely necessary – it would be super boring if we didn’t have it – but it’s when it’s the stiff killing of one character followed by the forced killing of another that it starts to get overdone and forced. Thanks for dropping by! 😀

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  17. I’ve read one YA where a side character dies and it made me really sad, because I liked him. So obviously I’m not fed up with death in YA because I rarely encounter it.
    I like it if it fits the story. Well, not like… but you know.
    Death simply for a shock moment? Then nope.

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    1. Reallly?????? What kind of books are you reading and why are you not being bombarded with death left, right and centre?????? 😄 😄 For me, almost every single action book I read nowadays is just “AND THEN HE DIED” and “AND THEN, SHE DIED” and “AND THEN, THE DOG DIED AS A HUGE TSUNAMI CAME DOWN AND YOU KNOW WHAT – STUFF IT – EVERY SINGLE PERSON ON THE EARTH WAS WIPED OUT. THE END”

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  18. Interesting. I wonder if it’s a specific genre thing. I haven’t found a lot of the YA I’ve been reading ending in death. I saw a definition of YA the other day that said the ending must be hopeful to be considered YA. What do you think about that?

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