Books like Lord of the Flies and A Clockwork Orange... but less violent?
February 16, 2015 5:50 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to figure out what book(s) to send a young adult who is currently stuck in a psych facility for 2-3 months. I know they like Lord of the Flies and A Clockwork Orange, but they can't accept books that involve drug use or have too much violence. From what I'm being told, they'll read pretty much anything, but I want to make sure what I send them is not only appropriate but something they'll actually like.

I mean, is Kurt Vonnegut an "acceptable" amount of violence? I don't want to buy them a book and them not receive it because John Doe on page 23 punched someone in the face. Yes, I'm totally over-thinking this. XD

Seriously though. Does anyone have any suggestions?
posted by Sarin Bellum to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Some of the suggestions in this previous thread might help, if you haven't seen it already.
posted by juliplease at 5:57 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Not knowing details of the situation, I'd vet any gifts with this young person's parents or other caregivers first.

I recall Orwell's Animal Farm as quite good and meeting the no-drugs, low-violence criteria. Many of the selections in the thread juliplease linked to are good as well, particularly Lev Grossman's Magicians series, though it may be a bit too violent for your young person. Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale might be another good choice.
posted by Owlcat at 6:19 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Why psychologically disturbing books for someone in a psych facility? Have you thought this through?
Personally I'd send that person happy relaxing books like Cider With Rosie, My Father's Glory & My Mother's Castle (Marcel Pagnol), etc.

That said, if I had to choose great books with a twisted vibe I'd lean heavily towards Iain (M) Banks, e.g. The Player of Games, Complicity, Consider Phlebas, Use of Weapons, The Wasp Factory.
posted by w0mbat at 6:28 PM on February 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky might work. The Wikipedia page explains how it's a relatively optimistic science-fiction counterpart to Lord of the Flies.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:37 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: w0mbat: This is exactly why I came here. Good point!

I wish I could edit my post and ask for books that are more positive and inspiring, something like "I've been through hell but I somehow found the strength to survive." Like Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. But fiction too.
posted by Sarin Bellum at 6:51 PM on February 16, 2015

Into the Wild?
posted by oceanjesse at 7:08 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Mutant Message Down Under.
posted by jbenben at 7:34 PM on February 16, 2015

Best answer: Recommendations from a 17-yr-old who spent time in a sub-acute locked psychiatric facility last year:

He was given and definitely permitted to have and read the Divergent series while there.
Another gift book that he read and re-read was Ms. Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and the sequel.

Other suggestions he has:
Tunnels series
Uglies series
Hunger Games series
Maze Runner series
The Darkest Minds series
The Windup Girl

He also strongly recommends the Fablehaven series, though it's not dystopian.

He's wishing he had a little more idea of what topics he or she enjoys in books... and if there's anything they like/dislike reading. (In other words, he's wondering if it's ok to recommend LGBT books...)

He's also thought of and ruled out a few that he thinks might fall in the "too much" category... but if he comes up with any more that he thinks might pass muster, I'll add them.
posted by stormyteal at 8:16 PM on February 16, 2015 [7 favorites]

If you think it would be appropriate to list what issues they are particularly struggling with, that might help to give examples of fiction with "healthier models"?

Or any other fiction they particularly like? Because the two examples are united by a theme of " people suck".

If you think they would like young adult fantasy, Diane Duane, because she has an essentially life affirming ethos. So you want to be a wizard series for younger readers, The Door into... Series has (mostly healthy & queer) sexual themes.

Note: please not "Mutant Message Down Under", ever. It's culturally exploitative, and the author is a chronic liar/fantasist, and seems to have psychological issues herself.

But she has retracted her apologies, refused to meet the elders, and claimed "bad" aborigines were coming to kill her. Really, really not ok.
posted by Elysum at 9:06 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I don't personally know the person I'm sending the books to. But I'm getting the impression from a mutual contact that they either like or they're trying to read more classic lit books in general. I'm told they're currently reading The Picture of Dorian Gray, if that helps any.

What I know for sure they won't like: Twilight, romance novels, The Secret, anything by Bill O'Reilly, Heaven is for Real, or Chicken Soup for the Soul type books. Other than that, they're leaving it up to me. One of the books I've already added to the list is Packing for Mars by Mary Roach since I know for sure that won't be rejected by the facility.

Oh, and they're trans, so I doubt they would mind a LGBT book as long as being trans isn't the main part of the storyline. :)

Thanks for the help, everyone!
posted by Sarin Bellum at 10:23 PM on February 16, 2015

Best answer: Yeah, god knows I love dystopian and apocalyptic fiction a little extra when I'm not doing well, but I would try and temper that a little. There's plenty of dark(er/ish) fiction that doesn't feel like Pollyanna baby stuff without being quite so scabpicky. Also easy to read if your young person might be having difficulties concentrating at the moment.

The Mortal Engines quartet is young adult featuring children surviving alone on the run in a post-apoc Steampunkish world where cities chase each other down and "eat" each other. They do meet both caring and nefarious adults on their journeys. It's nicely dark, the characters aren't themselves purely sympathetic or simple and it has a bit of epic span.

Almost any Pratchett. Even badly sad emo-teens can annoy a bit of Pratchett because his humor is so sly and sarcastic. At the same time his characters are so loveable and often even the worst of them display true kindness. There's always a little line of steel through them too though, tempering the sweetness well. The Tiffany Aching series is young adult but might be a nice start about a young woman who feels alone and unappreciated finding her way in the world against obstacles with the help of some tiny, drinky, fighty, sweary blue men. Crones for the win yo.
posted by Iteki at 10:32 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm surprised how many books spring to mind but turn out, on reflection, to be full of drugs and violence.

Perhaps stuff from the magical realism / surrealism category would capture the weirdness of your examples without explicit drugs and violence? Kōbō Abe, Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende, etc, all have books that are above board and also intriguingly strange.

If science fiction is an option, Alastair Reynolds is only occasionally violent and relentlessly optimistic, but offers a very Clockwork Orange tone.

Though, if I were confined to a facility, I'd probably long for entertaining and irreverent fluff. Terry Pratchet is always a safe bet. Vonnegut is also good.

(When they're released, feeling centered, & ready for much darker things full of drugs and violence, send them some Ryū Murakami.)
posted by eotvos at 10:35 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If the person likes Dorian Gray, s/he might like some of Wilde's plays as well--The Importance of Being Earnest is as funny now as when it was written, and it's a lighter read than most Serious Literature while still being a classic. If you're not limiting the works to prose, there's also Whitman's Leaves of Grass, mostly for "Song of Myself," which is as warm and earnest and joyful a piece of writing as was ever set down on paper.

If the person is a book lover who reads widely across genres, a recently written (non-YA) book that might pass muster is An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine. There's a bit of violence, since the plot covers twentieth century Lebanese history, but more of the book is a love song to great literature. It's beautifully written without being too dense; a bright high schooler might enjoy it, even without having read all the books that are referenced.

Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is a great (long) coming-of-age novel that's ultimately optimistic about how to move on when fate deals you a bad hand (or several).

And another great, hopeful coming-of-age novel that will absolutely not pass the no-drugs muster, but that could be suitable later, is The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.
posted by Owlcat at 11:02 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If they're trying to read more classics, I'd try some Gogol or Dostoyevsky short stories. There isn't really any violence in them, but they have the same "life is absurd and often unfair, there's no point fighting against it" vibe your teenager seems to be into. The Nose (Gogol) and The Double (Dostoyevsky) are good places to start. My only caveat is that my copy of The Nose is in an anthology alongside Diary of a Madman, which may come across as offensive if you don't know the person.
posted by tinkletown at 12:39 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seeing Wilde's name, Stephen Fry's first autobriography Moab is my washpot comes to mind, as it is amazing to read this background to the public person.

If I remember right, Moab is my washpot (the first one) is the mildest one, and very entertaining reading but not shallow, and I think there are no drug use scenes in it.

The second one The Fry Chronicles: An Autobiography may not be appropriate, i cannot quite remember re drugs.
The third definitely not appropriate, as it describes his cocaine addiction.
posted by 15L06 at 1:58 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For super-readable, classic, life-is-absurd but sometimes wonderful in its absurdity, I have to recommend Cranford by Mary Gaskell. It is funny and lovely and the injustices are tempered by found family rescues. It also has a lot of unexpected playing with gender roles, so that might be interesting for this person's situation as well.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 5:49 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill is a YA dystopian novel which explores misogyny, gender roles and oppressive beauty standards.

It's dark but gripping- I've heard it described as Mean Girls meets The Handmaid's Tale, which is pretty spot on.

On preview this sounds like ad copy, but I just really liked this book!
posted by Dwardles at 6:41 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oscar Wilde wrote a bunch of different things, and books of his collected works are usually relatively inexpensive.

Thinking along classic literature lines, Vanity Fair by Thackery may be interesting if they like Wilde. Middlemarch is a great classic. Both of those are out of copyright protection and therefore can be had very cheaply, so it is not a huge loss if they aren't a hit.

Edith Wharton's books are a good fit for someone who likes Wilde and likes/prefers some darkness HOWEVER there's a lot of suicide in those books so it is probably not a good idea in this context.
posted by jeoc at 10:00 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

*Elizabeth Gaskell, how embarrassing
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:28 AM on February 17, 2015

Best answer: Some books that might appeal to a teenager who appears to like more challenging reads, and won't bother the Psych Authorities:

To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee)
The Hobbit (Tolkien)
Frankenstein (Shelley)
Dracula (Stoker)
War of the Worlds (Wells)
Call of the Wild/White Fang (London)
Siddhartha (Hesse)
My Man Jeeves (Wodehouse)
Gormenghast (Peake)
Confederacy of Dunces
Robinson Crusoe (Defoe
Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
Invisible Man (Ellison)
The Martian Chronicles (Bradbury)
Kon-Tiki (Heyerdahl)
Endurance (Lansing)
The Left Hand of Darkness (LeGuin)
Cat's Cradle (Vonnegut)
Sometimes a Great Notion (Kesey)
The God of Small Things (Roy)
Desert Solitaire (Abbey)
Love Medicine (Erdrich)
The House of the Spirits (Allende)
True History of the Kelly Gang (Carey)
Private Ivan Chonkin (Voinovich)
Sophie's World (Gaarder)
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (Alexie)
Alone (Byrd)
Of Human Bondage (Maugham)
The River Why (Duncan)
posted by RedEmma at 11:38 AM on February 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

The additional (LGBT) recommendation that he thinks would be appropriate enough (might have some sexual content), but if not for now, highly recommends for later - When You Don't See Me by Timothy James Beck.

He's re-read it multiple times, and raves about how good it is. This is the one that would be his SEND THIS ONE IF NOTHING ELSE recommendation.
posted by stormyteal at 10:08 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

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