Before I had any experience of death in my "real" life, I encountered it through fiction. I remember, vividly, bursting into loud, uncontrollable sobs in the middle of silent reading when coming up to "that scene" in The Horse Whisperer. I read Tess of the d'Urbervilles so many times I could have recited it with my eyes closed, but I still felt as though my soul was being ripped out whenever I reached the end. I guess, in some ways, death in fiction prepared me for death in real life, in some small way. I invested so much in these characters their loss felt like the loss of friends.
Lately, I have read some wonderful teen fiction that deals with death. The superlative Looking for Alaska is the one that springs to mind first. The death in this book is of the unexpected variety and, when it happened, I felt like the floor had fallen out beneath me. It was written so exquisitely by the incredibly talented Green, and it was set up with such skill that it was like a sucker punch. The way he dealt with the aftermath was similarly well executed. But that makes it sound clinical. There was nothing clinical about the death in this book. It was real and vivid and visceral and gut-wrenching.
In Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall, the death is expected. In fact, it happens right at the beginning of the book. But then, in a young adult version of Groundhog Day, it happens again and again as the protagonist, Samantha is reborn each morning with another opportunity to live the last day of her life and right the wrongs she committed. It might seem like the concept has been "done" before, but the quality of Oliver's writing lifts this above cliche, and the character of Samantha is just so beautifully drawn, you can't help but become deeply involved in her journey. When the final "fall" occurred, I really did grieve for a character I had started out hating and ended up loving.
Death is heartbreaking no matter how it occurs. Nothing makes it easier. But these beautiful books - and many others - give us comfort in knowing it doesn't only happen to us; that others have gone through it and survived. For the young people, especially, who read them, they provide hope and solace, and a way to work through pain. Their value is immense.
If you've read any books that deal skilfully with this difficult topic, I'd love to hear your recommendations!