The Representation of Chronic Illness in Young Adult and Children’s Fiction Open Access

Korn, Samantha (Spring 2019)

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This research focuses on representations of chronic illness and chronic illness experience in

young adult and children’s fiction. The goal of this work is to raise awareness of the

simultaneous near lack of chronic illness experience in these genres as well as the contradictory

and unrepresentative stereotypes of this experience when it is present.

The work highlights two novels that exemplify these depictions: The Fault in Our Stars by John

Green and House of Robots by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein. Chapter 1 addresses how

Green uses chronic illness tropes such as illness as identity, gendered performance of illness, and

the metaphorizing of illness experience. Chapter 2 emphasizes the lack of research of a specific

chronic illness in House of Robots, the gendered suppression of illness experience, and the

psychological impact of illness experience on children in the novel as well as on readers. Chapter

3 explains how the ideas of narrative medicine are applicable to fiction reading. Reading popular

fiction can cultivate empathy and theory of mind just as narrative medicine and other forms of

literary fiction can. Moreover, reading fiction about chronic illness can provide therapeutic

benefits for those with chronic illnesses as well as teach readers without chronic illnesses how to

better understand those with chronic illnesses. Arguments in this thesis are supported by the

work of disability theorists, feminist theorists, and healthcare theorists.

The purpose of this analysis is not to censor writers in the way they represent chronic illness.

Rather, it is to encourage writers to research chronic illness and its consequent experience in

order to raise awareness of the way chronic illness exists in society. The research aims to

promote discussion of the way chronic illness is represented in these genres and increase public

awareness of how chronic illness experience in novels can influence the way healthy people treat

those with chronic illness in society and how those with chronic illnesses view themselves.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction 1

2. The Fault in Our Stars and the depiction of young adult cancer experiences 10

3. House of Robots, illness identity, and a child’s suppression of illness experience 34

4. Bibliotherapy and Fiction’s Social Influence 50

5. Conclusion 68

6. Works Cited 70

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