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Literature / Chicken Soup for the Soul

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First Edition cover, circa 1993.

A long time ago, in 1993, Chicken Soup for the Soul, an anthology of stories compiled by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, was published. They chose the included tales based on their inspirational and motivational value, and they chose the book's title for the reputation of chicken soup as a rejuvenating home remedy for various ills and for the desire to market the book as comfort food for the human spirit. Chicken Soup for the Soul was a great success to the point where it became the #1 New York Times bestseller. Its popularity then inspired multiple spin-off anthologies, all listed on an entire page, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The franchise was wildly popular in The '90s (appearing on the bestseller list continuously from 1994 to 1998), and remains reliable sellers to the present day. It's successful enough that the parent company has branched out into entertainment media production, owning a controlling interest in Crackle and Redbox, among others. There's even a tie-in line of pet food, of all things, and of course a self-branded line of prepared foods... that's right, actual chicken soup.

This series contains examples of:

  • Always with You: A heartbreaking story told has a woman talking about her teenage son Michael, who had committed suicide after his girlfriend left him to marry someone else. After she, his father and his older brother arrived only minutes after he took his life, they found his suicide note that said how much he loved them, to not blame themselves and that he'll always be with them.
  • Beautiful All Along: A lot of contributors write about this.
  • Broken Ace:
    • One story from one of the Teenage Soul editions had a girl whose best friend was a beautiful, talented, intelligent and popular girl who had so much going for her and had many people look up to her. It eventually comes out that the girl was suffering from loneliness, depression, was experimenting with drugs and became more promiscuous, none of which the best friend knew about until reading the girl's journal after committing suicide. She also learned that she was being molested by her father for several years (and why she was a frequent visitor at the girlfriend's home) and feeling she had nowhere to go and could not escape it, she did what she did.
    • Another story had two high school best friends share a Friendly Rivalry about who had the best life, grades, girlfriends, etc. After they graduated, they gradually drifted apart with the one friend growing despondent over his lackluster life of not living up to his previous potential and his premature hair loss and starts smoking weed to cope. He's terrified to be back in contact with his friend, believing that he's living his dreams, only to learn from another friend that his life had gotten much worse; he had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and had spent the past several years routinely hospitalized over it.
  • Darker and Edgier: Several books focus on harsher topics, such as Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul on Tough Stuff.
  • Determinator: The young man, Mike, from "Hero of the 'Hood" was born to an abusive father and a drug-addicted and neglectful mother. After the father died when he and his younger siblings were children, they became impoverished, the mother brought home a string of abusive boyfriends from who she kept having babies with and he had to resort to dealing drugs to earn money. To make a long story short, he was eventually able to get a respectable job, go back to school, became a youth counselor to help children avoid his mistakes and his maternal grandparents (who he more or less shielded many of the horrors of their lives from them due to their advancing ages and ill health) were able to help to raise him and his siblings.
  • Downer Ending: Possibly one of the saddest features in the books, the poem "Help Me, Mama", had a young girl who was beaten so badly by her father, that she was both hospitalized and left unable to speak to tell the doctors and nurses what happened. Even worse, it's implied that her mother, who she repeatedly is crying out for, has been killed by the father herself.
  • Driven to Suicide: A great many of the contributors, but given that they survived to write about it, they are usually...
    • Happily Failed Suicide
    • Interrupted Suicide: The most heartbreaking has to be of a teenage girl that was going to overdose herself with pills following a "friend" cyberbullying her online, but her mother called and asked what kind of sandals she wanted.
  • Drives Like Crazy: One story features a teenage boy who was speeding after being able to drive the family car. Unfortunately, it ends with him crashing and killing himself and he being able to see the aftereffects that his death caused.
  • Drugs Are Bad: A number of stories talk about the struggles of overcoming drug addiction.
  • Empty Bedroom Grieving: One Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul story had a teenage girl who was abandoned by her mother due to her catering business being more important to her than her husband and two children. After she left, the girl went into her parents' room and specifically her mother's closet, and wrapped herself up in some of her left-behind clothing.
  • Fell Asleep Driving: In one edition of Teenage Soul, a girl talks about her Uncle by marriage, Bryce, who in addition to being a Cool Uncle, was also like a big brother and a friend to her. He sadly died this way when leaving his job one night.
  • For Want Of A Nail: One story, "Always Return Your Phone Calls", had a teenage girl have a best friend who suffered from depression. At one point, the girl called the friend back after she had missed her call, which the friend then confessed that at that moment she called her back, she was ready to kill herself only for her voice to stop her.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: A girl once told a story about her sister and the sister's best friend. While her parents didn't like the girl and thought she was a bad influence, she showed her true colors by standing by her after a near-fatal and disfiguring car accident the sister had, standing up to the many people who bullied the sister over her scars and having to wear a wig and then shaving her own head and buying a matching wig and letting her bullies know that if they wanted to mess with her friend, they'd have to deal with her. The bullying then stopped, the sister regained her health and her hair and the two women still remain best friends as adults with families of their own.
  • Hospital Visit Hesitation: In one edition of The Teenage Soul, the story "Role Reversal" had a college-aged woman visit her mother, who was in a devastating car accident. After being briefed by the doctor of her injuries and her grandmother requesting her not to cry in her presence, she tries to visit with her mother, but the state of her and valid realization that she could die soon overwhelms her, and she runs out the room to cry.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: This happens to one boy in a story after his friend recklessly plays with his dad's gun, not realizing it was loaded.
  • In Mysterious Ways: While not always saying it outright, many of the problems are resolved by seeming coincidences that are well-timed enough to suggest Divine Intervention.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: A lot of the stories are inspirational memoirs written by disabled people, or by people without disabilities who were taught a Very Special Lesson by a disabled person.
  • Jerkass: Several people in the stories were either this or in contact with these. One story had a teenage girl like a student who subsequently humiliated her at a party for refusing to drink alcohol and then laughing at her with the rest of the party when she did drink to fit in and quickly got sick from it.
  • Karma Houdini: The Forgiveness edition has more than one instance of someone getting away with their crimes. Then they would have to learn how to forgive the assaulted in question:
    • One couple lost their son to an assailant that stabbed him multiple times. He was acquitted on charges of self-defense. They were having trouble dealing with the emotional aftermath.
    • In another case, a boy named Ben barely survived the assault on him, with infections. Police never brought charges against the assailants because his attackers had good connections and city hall didn't want to ruin the "boys who had good families".
    • Another man, Russell Weller, who was recklessly driving plowed into a crowd of people, including the OP who suffered permanent injuries. He would have been sentenced to jail, but the government deemed that if he was ill and in his nineties, with the burden of his healthcare falling on the taxpayers. His family ended up caring for him in his last days, ensuring he passed on comfortably.
    • Another story has the OP and her husband trying to forgive the caregiver who violently shook their infant son, leaving him with severe and permanent damage as well as their relatively light sentence.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Quite a few stories involve children being bullied by their fellow students:
    • One story from The Teenage Soul: Tough Stuff featured a woman recounting how she and her classmates bullied a new Black student in her childhood over her poetry. This included leaving rude and mocking messages in her food, continuing to bully her even through her increasingly repeated absences from school and when the girl invited the author over to her house, it was just a joke with her going over not out of friendship, but so she can get dirt on her to take back to her friends. Upon the mother of the girl realizing what she was doing and she calling the girl out on this, she removes the girl fron the school and the classmates later learn shortly after that she suffered a nervous breakdown.
    • Another story from the same edition had some middle-schoolers bully a new girl named Terri over being poor and unkempt and would actively verbally and physically mistreat her, even nicknaming her "Scary Terri". At one point, the author gets to know her better and learns that not only has her family suffered from poverty, but that she was an accomplished violinist, even playing it for the girl. The two girls did not become friends afterwards, but she did no longer participate in the bullying and began to learn empathy from then on.
  • "Just Joking" Justification: A "friend" that cyberbullied one teenage girl nearly to suicide tried to claim they were joking the next day, not realizing that they had nearly gotten the girl killed.
  • Life-Saving Encouragement: One teenage girl was ostracized and ignored at school and in her church youth group and decided to end her life right before Christmas. Before going to the bridge that she planned on jumping from, she checked the family's mail and in the midst of Christmas cards from relatives, she also received one from one of the girl's in the youth group and in the card, the girl hoped that they would become friends. This ended up saving her life and she gained the friendship she always wanted.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: Quite a few Chicken Soup stories involve one of these.
  • Manly Tears: One story, "Don't Cry, Dad", had a angsty 13-year-old daughter of a married couple barely speak to either parent until one day she had a sit down talk with her father. He went on to tell her how much he loved her and how much it hurt that she shuts him out of her life, which by then he was crying in the conversation. This shocked the little girl so much that she began to console him and soon rebuilt her relationship with both her parents.
  • My Greatest Failure: Many stories express regret at a tragic and often life-altering decision. One story had a young man kill his best friend in a drunk driving accident and was left with so much guilt over this that he eventually dropped out of high school.
  • Parental Incest: One story has a girl's friend committing suicide to escape her (the friend's) father repeatedly sexually abusing her, as detailed in her suicide note. Months after he's arrested, he finally confesses.
  • Parting-Words Regret: One story, titled "Good Night, Dad", has a teenage boy struggle to say "I love you" to his father and ultimately, the title of the story were his last words to his father, who was killed in a construction accident the following day.
  • Religious Edutainment: Zig-Zagged. The title's reference to the "soul" and the wholesome moral overtones give the series a distinct spiritual feel, but the publishers deny trying to promote any one specific religion. That said, some volumes are specifically tailored to particular denominations, such as Chicken Soup for the Latter-day Saint Soul, Chicken Soup for the Christian Soulnote , and Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soulnote .
  • Sickbed Smuggling: One Teenage Soul story had a high school girl sneak a box of cherry cordials to her best male friend, who was terminally ill in the cardiac ward and forced to eat "mushy-looking food".
  • Skewed Priorities: One story from a woman who had contributed several stories throughout the series had her admit to being a shallow exercise nut in her teen years until one day she stepped on a bee that stung her as it died. Unfortunately, it started to cause several health problems for her which ultimately led to her leg being immobilized in traction which annoyed her due to how this was making her put on weight...until the doctors started talking about amputation due to it not receiving proper circulation.
  • Teen Pregnancy: One story was written by a woman who got pregnant at 15 and gave the baby up for adoption. Another involves a teenage boy deciding to participate in True Love Waits to avoid this fate, which his parents unfortunately suffered.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Plenty of stories feature teenagers who are vicious bullies or just overall jerks.
    • "You Kiss Like a Horse" had a girl bullied because she dared to be liked by a popular senior. After months of harassment, when she finally confronted the guy, he dismissed her and pretended it wasn't his problem.
    • "For A Good Time, Call..." had an innocent freshman girl have lewd and slanderous graffiti written on a boy's room stall about her and endure years of sexual harassment, bullying, and even the school principal refusing to believe her since he believed she "caused" it. It didn't get resolved until she finally told her parents, who confronted said principal and then contacted a lawyer, threatening to sue him and the school personally.
  • Unstoppable Rage: One story has a section where, when the girl tells her abusive boyfriend that their relationship is over, he's described as having "went psycho" and pushing her to the ground and kicking her several times. Nobody comes to help her. The next day, she discovers an eight-inch bruise on her leg.
  • Wham Line: In "I Never Knew", after the author is called into the principal's office:
    And then my world froze in time with the words, "...and Cindy took her own life last night using her father's gun."
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Sadly, plenty of stories involve someone whose life seemed to be going well, only for tragic circumstance to intervene. One story had a woman named Karen whose husband abandoned her and their two children end up with a promising life as a gospel singer and a youth pastor and the children thriving in school only for the son to be killed by a drunk driver.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: In Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul a college student was ordered to stop writing by her professor, being told her work was terrible and that she'd only pass the class if she stopped writing. Time skip to a couple of years, and she tells a passing writer about this. The writer then encourages her to send a story, which ends up being published almost immediately.