It’s no secret that literature for teens is ruled by trends. Twilight begot paranormal romances featuring pixies, angels, gargoyles, werewolves, mermaids, and fairies (the last spelled about four or five different ways), among others. The Hunger Games likewise spawned dystopian romances featuring interchangeably kickass teens facing off against equally interchangeable tyrants. This year has produced a little boomlet in books about schizophrenic teens. But there’s one trend that I hope will die a-borning, and that’s the what-if-Hitler-won genre mashup.
Coming out this fall is a little cluster: The Only Thing to Fear, by Caroline Tung Richmond (Sep. 30), Becoming Darkness, by Lindsay Francis Brambles (Oct. 1), and Wolf by Wolf, by Ryan Graudin (Oct. 20). The first title combines the Axis-wins scenario with dystopian tropes, and the other two with paranormal (vampires and shapeshifters, respectively). Of the three, we found The Only Thing to Fear and Wolf by Wolf barely tolerable adventures; Becoming Darkness, with its vampire Nazis, we adjudged god-awful.
But all of them, tolerable or not, just plain skeeve me out. To use arguably the greatest evil the world has ever known as a plot device around which to spin genre fiction feels breathtakingly…well, tasteless to me. As we conclude of Becoming Darkness, “this overstuffed slog overwhelms the horrifyingly real vileness of Nazism with vampiric banalities.” Maybe, as Hannah Arendt famously said, the Nazis embodied the “banality of evil,” but that seems to me to lay upon us a responsibility to reject that banality in our literature about them.
Let us remember the Holocaust, 70 years after the liberation of the death camps. Let us create literature that treats the Nazis with bone-chilling reality, as Elizabeth Wein did in Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, as Meg Wiviott does in this year’s Paper Hearts. The millions who perished deserve this kind of honesty and this respect.
Vicky Smith is the children’s & teen editor.