Growing up, I read everything under the sun and was constantly engrossed by one book series after another. Looking back, so many of them were surprisingly violent or dark, so much so that I’m mildly surprised they were marketed as children’s or young adult books in the first place. This week, I’m taking a look at three books series I loved in elementary school and early middle school that are a lot darker than I remember them being.
“The Warrior Cats” series by Erin Hunter: The story follows Rusty, a pet cat who gets invited to join a wild clan of cats in the forest near his house. It might sound innocent, but then you start examining the actual plot of the now 70-plus-book-long series and you realize how dark it actually is. Rusty is more-or-less invited into a cat gang, where he spends many moons (their unit of time) fighting off the prejudice he faces for being born a “kittypet.”
The politics and violent wars that litter the series were surprisingly intense for a kid’s book. The fight scenes were bloody and often included the deaths of beloved main characters. There were weird politics that wouldn’t let cats mate with cats from other clans, and disabled cats were prevented from being full members of the clan. The first series revolves around one cat trying to murder large groups of cats to become the leader of the clan, and he eventually goes to cat Hell for it. The series is absolutely wild to look back on, especially since it had such a large online community of devoted fans who wrote out their own stories and battle scenes with self-made characters.
The authors are still writing the series and various spin-off books, so while rereading every book might not be entirely possible, it could still be fun to revisit a few for the sake of nostalgia and truly looking at how dark and violent the series was.
The “Shadow Children” series by Margaret Peterson Haddix: This series takes place in a dystopian universe where a totalitarian government makes a law that parents can only have two children in order to save dwindling resources. The “Population Police” are responsible for killing any “shadow children,” which are the illegal, third-born children (or any child born past the two-child mark).
The series follows the lives of various shadow children living through a rebellion where the shadow children start to fight back against the government. The book was full of propaganda examples (it’s actually the book that taught me this word), character deaths and critiques on the government that definitely went over my head at the time. It’s another dark series that I don’t think I fully understood as a kid, which makes me tempted to reread it now.
The “Uglies” Series by Scott Westerfeld: This series follows a girl named Tally, who lives in a world where, on your 16th birthday, you undergo a surgery that makes you look perfect and turns you into a “Pretty.” One of Tally’s friends runs away before her surgery to join a secret community of people who want to overthrow the government. Tally is given a deal where she has to choose to either betray her friends and locate the runaways, or never receive her Pretty operation, thus leaving her “Ugly” forever. Having to choose between friendship and being accepted in society is a huge decision for young kids to deal with to begin with, but the series gets even darker as it goes on.
It’s revealed that the Pretty surgery also affects your mind and makes you shallow, unintelligent and easier to control by the government. The series gets even darker once the main characters decide to become Pretties and then become “Cutters,” a group of people who cut repeated slashes into their arms to cure themselves of the mental effects that come with the Pretty operation. It’s a little too close to self-harm for comfort, and I remember this being mildly traumatic even when I read it in seventh grade.
It’s interesting to look back on the media we absorbed as kids, especially when it comes to novels. We were generally praised for reading, and our parents couldn’t (and often had no reason to) look over every detail of every book we read. Thus, a lot of dark content slipped by unnoticed, because as long as we weren’t reading erotica, no one bothered to censor our books. Interestingly, we grew up reading about an endless amount of corrupt governments and societies, which might just say a lot about all of us today.
Courtney Gavitt is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.