Why funny books are so important for today's YA audience, by C J Skuse
9th June 2014 < Back
Author of Dead Romantic, CJ Skuse, tells us why she thinks its important to make teenagers laugh
“There's nothing like deep breaths after laughing that hard. Nothing in the world like a sore stomach for the right reasons." — Stephen Chbosky The Perks of Being a Wallflower
“Sometimes crying or laughing are the only options left, and laughing feels better right now." — Veronica Roth Divergent
Life can be crap when you’re a teenager. Whatever you call them – the youth of today, young adults, the not-quite-grown-ups, the one-day-will-be-quite-tall-and-able-to-grow-beards – they have a pretty rough time of it. Adults may wax lyrical about the crud they have to deal with (kids, interest rates, mundane jobs, expanding waistlines, having to wait months for the next episode of Game of Thrones etc) but quite frankly, being a teen is harder in many ways, not least because the best part of life (being a child) is over.
Teenagers are still learning, still growing, still finding out what an all-round depressingly disappointing world this can be. They didn’t ask for those heady days of childhood to end - days when the most one had to worry about was what you wanted for your birthday, whether the rain would hold off for just one more round of Off Ground Tig or which Ninja Turtle you got to be at play time (I was Donatello).
Teens didn’t ask to be thrust into this No Man’s Land of peer pressure, zits, periods, hair growing in unusual places, hair not growing in the usual places, exams, hangovers, rebellion, git boyfriends, ghastly girlfriends, being touched up when you don’t want to be, not being touched up when you want to be, boredom, bullies, body dysmorphia and lame-ass rom coms where everything ends oh so happily dappily and not at all like real life. But thrust into it they were, like grenades thrust over the top of No Man’s Land, rolling out onto the soggy field of life, no telling when they would eventually explode.
I think if you can make a teenager laugh, you’re providing a very important service. Because teenagers, disadvantaged adults, hoodies, ruffians, youfs, the not-quite-able-to-drive-yets, the too-old-for-the-monkey-bars, the too-young-to-drinks, whatever you want to call them, NEED to laugh. They NEED something on the horizon showing them that actually, life is a bit of a cabaret and that it’s very much not how rubbish things are, but how you look at them.
No reviews mean quite so much to me as the ones where my books have provided a vestige of light in a dark day. A day when a relative passed away and a young person picked up Rockoholic and it took them from the horrors for an hour or two. A day when a Maths exam went badly and their dad shouted at them and they escaped into their bedroom with Dead Romantic and it made them giggle. A day when their boss docked their wages, a customer was rude and their bus was late, but they got home and read Pretty Bad Things and allowed Paisley to make them smile by shoving a tramp’s head into a plate of pancakes.
That, to me, is gold.
When you can provoke a physical reaction in someone else – a physical happy reaction - that’s a real marvel. And okay, yeah, I am a bit silly in my books. I do go to certain, shall we say, lengths to get my giggle quota. I kidnap rock stars and hide them in garages and make them read the Argos catalogue naked. I knock down giant M&Ms in Vegas, burn down gingerbread mansions and hold people hostage for doughnuts and candy bars. I blow up chemistry labs, put severed heads in the bagging area at supermarkets and make Jack Russell puppies do unspeakable things with poodles and decomposing fingers. And on more than one occasion, I have got a cheap laugh out of the word ‘winky’. And am I proud of myself? Damn straight I am.
If you’re laughing at something, you’re not angry. You’re not sad. You’re not dwelling on how horrible the world can be. You’re not obsessively mulling over events you can neither help nor change. You’re not being reminded of how ugly you think you are, how that spesh boy or girl fancies someone else now, how you failed that test, how your parents just don’t arsing understand you, how trapped you feel. Instead, you’re seeing life for how it sometimes is. Silly. Insane. Ridiculous. Life, when all’s said and done, is a big fat joke. And if you can laugh at it every now and again, you take away its sting. And even if that’s just for a brief moment, isn’t that a good thing?
I cling to funny books like The Madolescents by Chrissie Glazebrook, Lobsters by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison, From What I Remember by Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas, Hellbent and Henry Tumour by Anthony McGowan. I cling to them like a barnacle to a boat in a stormy sea. Yeah we need to get our rocks off to a bit of romance sometimes. Yeah we need to be thought-provoked by facts. And yeah we need a bit of thrill and adventure to get the old adrenalin going. But funny books are vital because they remind me that far from being crap all the time, life can actually be quite awesome and we really should treasure it while we’re here. People are hilariously funny, sometimes without meaning to be.
And laughter of any kind is gorgeous (except if a serial killer’s doing it, I suppose). There’s a poem by the late great Maya Angelou called 'Old Folks Laugh' and it ends "When old folks laugh, they consider the promise of dear painless death, and generously forgive life for happening to them." I think funny books for teens are a way for them to forgive life of robbing them of the magic of their childhoods. I know that’s why I write them.