When You’ve Gotta Go . . .

I’ve hesitated to write this post because it’s weird. And because I kept debating the appropriate subject line for it because it’s so weird.

There’s an odd trend I’ve noticed recently in my reading. I mean odd in that, over the course of the last two months, I’ve read this particular incident six separate times, and it’s something that, prior to this series of incidents, I don’t know I remember reading in the past. Or if I did it was so isolated it never made me pay attention. It’s something I don’t know I want to be paying attention to, but now that I’ve noticed it, I can’t stop noticing it. 

I guess you can call it the new vomit.

What is this trend, you ask? Well….it’s when a character pees him or herself. 

In all of the situations I’ve read this scene in — and let me note that two of the books below have this happen twice to their characters in the course of the story — none of the incidents have been related to laughing so hard that holding one’s bladder becomes impossible. No. In every instance, it has been either trauma-related or, in the case of one instance, it was related to a health issue. 

Since I’ve been asked about this and asked to name names about what books have done this, I’ve decided it was time to showcase this bizarre little trend. I’m going to post the covers of the books, the descriptions from WorldCat, and yes, I will highlight when said instances occur in the book to give it some context. It’s possible there could be a little spoiling that happens. I’ve included links to reviews, where relevant, and I think the ones I haven’t yet reviewed are likely sitting in the queue for future review. 

But I’ll be leaving the incontinence out of those reviews since I’m covering it well enough here.

Empty by KM Walton: Deeply depressed after her father cheated on and divorced her mother, seventeen-year-old Adele has gained over seventy pounds and is being bullied and abused at school–to the point of being raped and accused of being the aggressor. Reviewed here

When it happens: Del takes Vicodin before a talent show. It loosens her up but it really screws with her brain chemistry. When she’s walking back to her apartment after the disaster of a show, she loses her bladder. Lucky for her, her pants have enough fabric to them to soak up the mess (since they’re pants for a big girl). 

All You Never Wanted by Adele Griffin: Wealthy teen Thea Parott’s jealousy of her older, prettier, more popular sister Alex prompts a series of self-destructive acts that threaten their seemingly-idyllic lives. Reviewed here

When it happens: This is actually a significant plot point in the story. When Alex is at her internship — the one she got through her step-father’s connections — she’s so nervous and worried that she pees herself. It’s horrific and embarrassing and a real sign of shame for Alex. 

The Whole Stupid Way We Are by N. Griffin: During a cold winter in Maine, fifteen-year-old Dinah sets off a heart-wrenching chain of events when she tries to help best friend and fellow misfit Skint deal with problems at home, including a father who is suffering from early onset dementia.

When it happens: This might be cheating a little bit, but because my radar has been up on this one, I’m including it. Skint’s father has early onset dementia, and in one of the scenes, his mother cannot handle being his father’s caretaker any longer. She makes a scene, and during it, she shouts about how she can no longer handle him peeing himself. 

Scowler by Daniel Kraus: In the midst of a 1981 meteor shower in Iowa, a homicidal maniac escapes from prison and returns to the farm where his nineteen-year-old son, Ry, must summon three childhood toys–Mr. Furrington, Jesus Christ, and Scowler–to protect himself, his eleven-year-old sister, Sarah, and their mother. This book comes out next month.

When it happens: This book gives readers two horrifying scenes of self-urination. Since both are huge plot spoilers, I’m going to talk around them as much as possible. The first happens in one of the grisliest scenes I’ve ever read before, and it involves someone being forced to pee themselves because they’ve been restrained in such a way they have no choice. This particular scene involves two characters, and it’s the second character who remarks upon the first’s incident. In the second instance of this, it’s that second character who finds himself being the victim of his own incontinence. That instance is out of fear and trauma and horror. And I give Kraus some props for making that almost equally as horrifying to read about as the first instance. 

Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn (description via Goodreads): Andrew Winston Winters is at war with himself. He’s part Win, the lonely teenager exiled to a remote Vermont boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy. The guy who shuts all his classmates out, no matter the cost. But he’s also part Drew, the angry young boy with violent impulses that control him. The boy who spent a fateful summer with his brother and teenage cousins, only to endure a family secret so painful it led three children to do the unthinkable. Over the course of one night, while stuck at a party deep in the New England woods, Andrew battles the pain of his past and the isolation of his present. Before the sun rises, he’ll either surrender his sanity to the wild thoughts inside his mind or learn that surviving can mean more than not dying. This book comes out in June.

When it happens: It’s very near the beginning of the story. Win is the victim of bullying at school, and it involved him accidentally peeing all over himself. It doesn’t come in the present, but the story opens in the immediate after — and then he’s reminded of the incident by someone he runs into. 

Bruised by Sarah Skilton: When she freezes during a hold-up at the local diner, sixteen-year-old Imogen, a black belt in Tae Kwan Do, has to rebuild her life, including her relationship with her family and with the boy who was with her during the shoot-out. This book comes out next month. 

When it happens: This is another two-for-one deal. In both instances, the main character pees herself out of fear and trauma. The story focuses on a girl dealing with PTSD, and her incidents come when the traumatic event first unfolds, and then it happens again much later in the story when she’s reliving/experiencing memories of it. 

This is my small list of books where a character — usually a big player in the story — pees him or herself. None of these are happy incidents. I mean. Not that they would be, but they aren’t out of laughter. 

Can you think of other recent titles where this has happened? All of the books above have published in the last few months or will be publishing soon. I think it’s such a bizarre and odd little trend. It really does remind me a bit of the stress/fear vomit that seems to make its way into many YA titles. 

(Also, it was very hard to write a post and not make jokes. I mean, rather than piss on others, YA characters are just pissing on themselves instead.)

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  1. says

    I wonder whether pooping will be next. It's certainly a strange trend because so few characters in YA, especially girls, seem to pee at all, never mind poo. Boys pee a bit more in YA books. But it's odd that this normal bodily function is mostly seen in a traumatic context for girls. There's never a "Halfway through the party I went for a pee and when I came back River was making out with Forrest etc." More evidence of the alienation between YA girls and their bodies I guess.

    Scowler sounds like the kind of book I would rather poke my eyes out than read. Just sayin'.

    • says

      Well, in Scowler, one of the instances is a male main character. Same with Charm and Strange and the reference in The Whole Stupid Way We Are was in reference to an adult male character. So half were not female.

      Scowler was a pretty phenomenal book, if you're into true horror.

  2. says

    As promised, I've got contributions!!!

    I just read The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson, in which the main character pees herself out of fear when captured by an enemy.

    Another instance, though it's quite a bit older (but also came onto my radar recently), is Simply Alice, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, in which Alice wets her pants in the course of a fall down the stairs at school.

    • says

      I have to say, I like the scene in GIRL because it comes after she's been trapped in a cave with no facilities — so its also about addressing the very-real questions of, where do you go to the bathroom when you're trapped in a cave?

  3. says

    The description of what happens in Scowler reminds me of the movie Last House on the Left, where a girl is being held captive and is forced to pee herself. It's one of the most horrific moments in the entire movie (and it's a pretty gory movie.)

  4. says

    Ha! I'm glad you did this one. I can relate to someone feeling that sudden URGE in stressful situations much more than the whole nausea/vomit thing. And if the worst really does happen… now I know that in YA lit, I won't be alone.

  5. Tibby says

    Now that you mention "it", it jumped out at me while reading in Libba Bray's The Diviners. Fairly early on when girl named Ruta is about to be ushered into a room by Naughty John where she is presumably going to be rather brutally murdered and her bladder lets go. Your post also stuck out for me because I recently began watching the show Girls and noticed several scenes with the main character sitting on the toilet talking with a friend and then wiping. I found those scenes odd for so many reasons, not the least of which was it showed girls peeing. I have to say, though, when I was a kid I always found it odd that people in books and movies never seemed to go to the bathroom.

    • says

      I think in terms of Girls (which I also am watching at the moment), it's about the intimacy/personal nature of the setting and the enclosed/encroached space heightens the tension and seriousness of the situation. Which is interesting to think about in terms of the peeing in YA books device, too, actually.

      Last month, Liz Burns had a really interesting discussion about that time of the month and how it's addressed, especially in non-contemporary YA. It's well worth reading if you haven't: http://blogs.slj.com/teacozy/2013/01/13/its-that-time-of-the-month/

    • Tibby says

      I think you're right about Girls, but I still find it really strange. Maybe I'm a prude, but my friends and I never sat around on the toilet talking to each other. My 18 month old daughter on the other hand… :)
      I did read Liz's post about periods, but they just never puzzled me the way going to the bathroom did. Possibly because your period only comes once a month, but peeing happens every day several times. Still doesn't explain the odd trend of characters wetting themselves.

  6. says

    Gus wets the bed at the end of The Fault in Our Stars. It creates a moment between Gus and Hazel. Gus has a good line in response to the bedweetting about finally understanding the feeling of "mortification" now that he's…. SPOILER ALERT… dying.

  7. Kate says

    I'm reading Jessica Martinez's The Vow tonight, and it has earned a spot on this list in chapter four. This is truly the weirdest trend yet.

  8. says

    There is a moment in Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets where a character pees himself. It's a flashback to 3rd grade, but I'm including it since it was a Moment for the main character.

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