A Reading List on "Troubled" Children
Selected by Colin Winnette, the author of several books, including Haints Stay (Two Dollar Radio) and The Job of the Wasp (out now from Soft Skull Press). His novels have been translated into French and Italian, and his prizes include Les Figues Press’s NOS Book Contest for Coyote, and Gulf Coast magazine’s Donald Barthelme Prize for Short Prose. His writing has appeared in Playboy, McSweeney’s, Lucky Peach, and numerous other publications. He lives just over the bridge.
When I think of “troubled” children, I think of those living with some sense of the burdens of the adult world—that is, the world. We expect adults to live with a healthy amount of fear and anxiety; but for a child, while it’s normal to get scared, to live with fear is to be troubled. I see troubled children as those who live with the sadness, anger, fear, desperation that greedy adults would rather keep for themselves.
I don’t enjoy the suffering of children, but I do hold dear the fiction that takes it seriously. I don’t get much out of stories about blissfully happy children, or ludicrously gifted or powerful children. Give me a story that respects a child enough to force them to confront an impossibly cruel world. Give me a story that doesn’t deny its children the inalienable right to be broken in some way. To struggle, even to lose.
I’m moved by stories that ask, what if a child has good reason to be afraid? To be anxious, desperate? What if something is wrong that can’t be soothed? What happens then?
These aren’t easy stories to tell, but each of these books details the lives of troubled children in unique and remarkable ways. Sometimes they’re in peril, or dealing with the aftermath of having been in peril. Sometimes they are hell-bent on burning it all down. Other times they are simply sad and alone. Each book presents a world with consequences, with real human stakes. And these children struggle under the weight of it all, as we all do. Some of these children are funny, or heartbreaking, or strange, or terrifying. Some are alienating. Some are ingeniously resourceful, while others fail miserably. I love these books for the risks they take, for the difficult stories they try to tell, and for the respect they show their children by allowing them to suffer with the rest of us.
The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches • Gaéton Soucy
Maniac Magee • Jerry Spinelli
Pet Sematary • Stephen King
Ice Haven • Daniel Clowes
Daddy’s • Lindsay Hunter
The Troop • Nick Cutter
Down the Rabbit Hole • Juan Pablo Villalobos
Blood Brothers • Ernst Haffner
Dear Cyborgs • Eugene Lim