I was talking (separately) to both [personal profile] sartorias and [personal profile] faithhopetricks about a peculiar YA and middle-grade genre which proliferated in the 70s, 80s, and to some extent 90s, which I think of as the "friendship is pointless" novel. This may overlap with the dog/horse/falcon/best friend/sibling/ALL the dogs die genre, but death is not essential in this genre, and many dead hamster/etc novels don't belong to it.

In this story, a young person meets a Person with a Problem: they are mentally ill, developmentally disabled, physically disabled, dying, very old, or being abused. The young person befriends them. Catastrophe ensues. The young person, sadder but wiser, learns the valuable lesson that you can't ever help anyone, and people with problems are doomed.

Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly. Perhaps the quintessential title! A kid befriends an alcoholic woman and her developmentally disabled son. She turns out to be abusive and the son is taken away, never to be seen again.

Afternoon of the Elves, Janet Taylor Lisle. A girl's new friend is mentally ill and being abused; when she does the right thing and tells, the friend is taken away, never to be seen her again. Also, elves aren't real.

The Sunflower Forest, by Torey Hayden. (Yes, the nonfiction writer.) A girl tries to help and understand her mom, a Holocaust survivor. But while the daughter is off losing your virginity, the mom has a psychotic flashback, murders the neighbor's child, and is shot by the cops.

The Pigman, by Paul Zindel. Two teenagers befriend a lonely old man who loves a baboon at the zoo. Then the baboon dies before his eyes, and the old man drops dead of sorrow.

The Man Without A Face, by Isabelle Holland. A boy befriends a man whose face is scarred. Then the boy is emotionally scarred when the man makes a pass at him.

I feel like I read a hundred of these books, some of which won awards. To be fair, some of them were quite good. Margaret Mahy's Memory, about a teenage boy who meets a woman with Alzheimers, is excellent and much less reductionist and pat than most.

But the sheer mass of these stories sent out collective messages which, in retrospect, were absolute poison:

- People with disabilities lead lives of utter wretched misery. If you have a physical disability or mental illness, you will neither recover (if it's the sort of thing where recovery is possible) nor lead a regular happy life while taking meds/using a wheelchair/etc. Nope! There is only dooooooooom, death, and the asylum.

- It is impossible to ever help another person, and you shouldn't even try.

- Befriending people whose lives and bodies aren't perfect leads to disaster.

And additional toxic sub-messages: people with disabilities need fixing; it's impossible to ever actually ask anyone what they want or if they want fixing or what they might like help with; compassion leads to disaster; disabled people don't get to tell their own stories; etc.

I can't help feeling that internalizing all that "mental illness is forever (until merciful death)" stuff was the opposite of helpful for me. Now, I don't blame the books per se. The books were an expression of the ideas floating around at the time they were written. But still.

Does anyone else remember this genre? What are your favorite examples? And has the genre died a deserved death, or does an example still occasionally lurch up, zombie-like, to win awards?

(I see there is at least one recent Newbery Honor book which seems to fit this pattern, A Corner of the Universe by Ann M. Martin. Hattie loves her mentally ill uncle. Until he commits suicide.)
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