What the Heck Is Sick Lit?


That is an unfamiliar term I noticed in passing while reading Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things. The mother of one of the main characters was reading a novel for her book club that she called “sick lit.”

So, of course, I hit Google. Apparently there seems to be a few different definitions. I don’t know how old my readers might be, but the first one I remember who wrote teen “sick lit” was Lurlene McDaniel. I didn’t read all her books, or even most of them, but they were aimed at teenagers and had main characters who were living with some kind of serious illness or mourning a loss in the family or dealing with suicidal feelings. Nowadays we would think of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars or Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Williams.

Another kind of sick lit I discovered is chronic illness or disability memoirs. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominque Bauby is one that I’ve never read, but heard lots about. I’ve got so many of those in my Kindle or on my to-be-read list that I couldn’t even begin to list them all in one post, but I’m considering adding a section to this website listing those books.

I personally would put adult fiction dealing with serious/chronic illness or disabilities in a different category than the teen “sick lit.” There’s usually more realism and less sentimentality. Oddly enough, it doesn’t seem that those kinds of novels fall into the same category as the teenage books.

There’s some controversy that teen sick lit might actually push some kids over the edge into harmful emotions and/or behaviors. I know that when I read those books (and I admit that I did read them past my teenage years–apparently according to Wikipedia Lurleen McDaniel didn’t start writing until 1985 when I was 18), I was looking for a good cry to release negative emotions so that I could cope better, not move into the negative behavior or push myself over the edge into overwhelming despair. That’s the way I read those kinds of novels even now.

I’ve noticed that adult fiction can get away with it. I don’t remember many protests against the novel Me Before You before a movie was made about it. Many people beat their chests in rage when the movie My Sister’s Keeper changed Jodi Picoult’s original ending into a normal one where the sick character died at the end instead of what happened in the book. (If you don’t already know the story, all I will tell you is that the sick character did not die.)

I enjoy memoirs and fiction that depict somewhat realistic struggles with physical and mental problems. That’s part of why I’m interested in disability and creativity and disability in creativity. It would be nice to hear from some of you about this topic.



About lana1967

I'm a Southern girl at heart who wants to build a community of people who believe they can change the world with words like "love" and "freedom" when they become more than words, but actions in our work and our daily lives.
This entry was posted in books, cancer, chronic illness, creativity, depression, disability, movies and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What the Heck Is Sick Lit?

  1. Trinity says:

    I hadn’t actually ever heard of sick lit, so it was interesting to read about it here! I don’t know whether I’d “enjoy” it personally; if the goal of the genre is to depict illness, rather than it being an organic part of a character’s arc, I might tend to think it overdone or depressing. Plus, I’ve got enough friends and family dealing with such issues, so that when I read a book, I want to escape that kind of drama for awhile… such things affect everyone in different ways, which is why there’s a market for just about every genre!


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