Saturday, December 4, 2010
Talking Health to Teens: Narrative Medicine and YA Literature
Stories are good medicine.
Stories are fundamentally the way we human beings make sense of the world. They are the way we interact with one another, and the way we make sense of ourselves for ourselves. Who am I? What happens next? How do I understand what happened before? These are all questions fundamentally rooted in stories.
Stories are also about power. Whose story counts? Who owns the story? What voices or stories go unheard? As someone also committed to issues of social justice, health, and embodiment, these are questions that often drive much of my thinking. Because, as 'nice' as we think stories are, as good that word makes us feel, ultimately, stories can also silence other stories - less 'neat', socially acceptable stories, stories from marginalized communities, stories that challenge the social power structures as they stand - the status quo.
For those of us who are teachers, clinicians, parents... stories are a critical way to engage young people around issues that may be difficult to otherwise bring into the light of day. Stories about difference, about violence, about suffering. In this way, stories are the first step in not just a shared consciousness, but in activism. We only have to remember that social movements from the Civil Rights movement to the 1970's feminist movement were rooted in the personal to political connection that enacted stories can make.
Recently, I wrote about how the 'it gets better' project began by Dan Savage and now taken up by many - from the ACLU to the youth pride chorus - has enacted change by trying to change the narrative of what it means to be an LGBTQ youth in this country. But, this is another case of how stories - no matter how well intentioned, no matter how powerful as agents of change - can still silence other stories. As important as this project has been, equally important are critiques of the 'it gets better' project as privileging a white, upper middle class narrative of social success while silencing other narratives, stories of teens of color, stories that don't involve economic success, etc.
I'm going to talk about the 'it gets better' project and its many complications this week in a class about narrative medicine at a teacher's college. I'm also going to use Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak as a text that shows how important speaking may be - but how a young person's silence is sometimes the most powerful story of all.
What are other texts I should go to? Stories about health, embodiment, medicine in the most broadest senses? Here are some YA novels I thought about:
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (about eating disorders)
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (about biotechnology and the question of what is human)
The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night Time by Mark Haddon (written from the POV of someone possibly with Asperger's)
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine (national book award winner this year, about a narrator with Asperger's)
Accidents of Nature by Harriet McBride Johnson (disability based narrative)
Anyone have some other suggestions?