An interesting micro-trend I’ve noticed in the last few publisher catalogs I’ve read for forthcoming titles is the death business. We’re talking teens who are working in graveyards, at the morgue, or elsewhere within the funeral business. This isn’t a new topic, but it’s one I’ve seen creeping in more regularly. I won’t lie: it fascinates me. I love the idea of stories where teens face death but in a way that’s more on their own terms and in a space within the industry because it gives a different perspective on grief, on loss, and on life more broadly. The teens tend to be less in-the-moment because the losses they’re seeing or thinking about aren’t necessarily personal to them, but yet, they’re impacted by them by virtue of it being part of their work.
These stories are quite realistic, too. In small towns, especially, the death business is often a family business. It isn’t strange to have teens growing up in a home that is attached to the funeral parlor (and that’s something I’d love so much to read about — think about how you make friends or how holidays like Halloween must be or what you do when there’s a memorial going on downstairs and you have a date over — there are a lot of possibilities here). I’m less interested in horror, supernatural, or paranormal tales set in graveyards, though those are good, too. I’m more interested in the teen who is digging the graves.
Here’s a look at YA that explore some aspect of the death business. It’s a small list, but it’s an interesting one. All descriptions are from WorldCat, unless otherwise noted. And please, other titles that fit the theme are welcome, so tell me about them.
Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi: Donna’s discovery, that she wants to be a mortician, helps her come into her own and finally understand that moving forward doesn’t mean forgetting someone you love.
The Morgue and Me by John C. Ford: Eighteen-year-old Christopher, who plans to be a spy, learns of a murder cover-up through his summer job as a morgue assistant and teams up with Tina, a gorgeous newspaper reporter, to investigate, despite great danger.
Going Underground by Susan Vaught: Interest in a new girl and pressure from his parole officer cause seventeen-year-old Del, a gravedigger, to recall and face the “sexting” incident three years earlier that transformed him from a straight-A student-athlete into a social outcast and felon.
Six Feet Over It by Jennifer Longo: When fourteen-year-old Leigh’s father buys a graveyard and insists she work there after school, she learns much about life, death, and the power of friendship.
The Dead I Know by Scot Gardner (March 3, 2015): Aaron Rowe walks in his sleep. He has dreams he can’t explain, and memories he can’t recover. Death doesn’t scare him – his new job with a funeral director may even be his salvation. But if he doesn’t discover the truth about his hidden past soon, he may fall asleep one night and never wake up.
The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds (January 6, 2015): Matt wears a black suit every day. No, not because his mom died—although she did, and it sucks. But he wears the suit for his gig at the local funeral home, which pays way better than the Cluck Bucket, and he needs the income since his dad can’t handle the bills (or anything, really) on his own. So while Dad’s snagging bottles of whiskey, Matt’s snagging fifteen bucks an hour. Not bad. But everything else? Not good. Then Matt meets Lovey. She’s got a crazy name, and she’s been through more crazy than he can imagine. Yet Lovey never cries. She’s tough. Really tough. Tough in the way Matt wishes he could be. Which is maybe why he’s drawn to her, and definitely why he can’t seem to shake her. Because there’s nothing more hopeful than finding a person who understands your loneliness—and who can maybe even help take it away. (Description via Edelweiss)