The Portrayal of PTSD in Young Adult Literature

A critical thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree of Masters of Fine Arts for Children & Adolescent Literature

Hamline University
Saint Paul, Minnesota
January 2015

Faculty Advisor
Professor Mary Logue


These books, both good and bad, use the narrators as representations of heroes within their own stories. It is an important part of their character that they can overcome both external and internal obstacles. Characters like Katniss, Beatrice, and Mark are commercially portrayed as strong characters who deal with their obstacles well. They are not. The portrayal of PTSD in their characters are examples of the stereotypical understanding of this mental illness. Characters like Peeta, Caleb, and Deedee have more depth of internal struggle that they overcome, but they are not portrayed as heroes. They are victims of circumstance that need rescuing. I believe that they rescue the narrators from themselves.

These weak narrators not only influence how PTSD is understood but also how “strong” can be understood. Side characters in these novels have more depth of character, and portray a stronger role in ‘what will happen next’.  When the role of the narrator is described as “a strong leading female,” but the characters in the story treat the narrator as weak, small and unstable, it creates a contradicting image of what a strong female is. Authors can use a stronger character to help the narrator in their times of weakness. But in many ways, the narrators are not being helped but carried.

A good portrayal of PTSD in the narrators leaves me as a reader less likely to want to read from the other perspective of a side character. Chobsky, Anderson and Frank, all write very well-rounded narrators who observe and participate in their novels so well that I do not want to know what other characters have to say in their story. None of these narrators are lessened by their symptoms of PTSD. Their symptoms add to their humanity. Each character in these YA novels, represent what it is like to be a person suffering from PTSD. They also represent what it is like to be a teenager. That is the result all writers, including myself, strive towards. Depicting a character that does not only suffer as a human does but also lives and overcomes the obstacles we authors place in their way. That is exactly what many people who suffer from PTSD can achieve, once they are better understood by those who read accurate portrayals of PTSD symptoms in YA fiction.

 Work Cited

Alexander. Caroline. “Behind the Mask: Revealing the Trauma of War.” Healing Soldiers. National Geographic, 15 Jan. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <http://www.nationalgeographic.com/healing-soldiers./&gt;

Burroway, Janet. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. New York: Longman, 2000. 5th Ed. Print

Borroway, Janet. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. New York: Longman, 2015. 9th Ed. Print.

Anderson, Laurie Halse. The Impossible Knife of Memory. New York: Viking, 2014. Print

Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Gallery Books, 1999. Print.

Collins, Suzanne. Mockingjay. New York: Scholastic, 2010. Print.

Dasher, James. Kill Order. New York: Delacorte Press, 2012. Print.

Frank, E.R. Wrecked. New York: Simon Pulse. 2005. Print.

Roth, Veronica. Insurgent. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2014. Print.

“Mental Health Conditions.” Mental Illness: What is Mental Illness. NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 21 Feb. 2015. <http://www2.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=By_Illness&templ&gt;

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