June 7, 2011

Dark YA According to WSJ

On June 4th WSJ posted an article called Darkness Too Visible about dark Young Adult fiction in the market today. The author, Meghan Cox Gurdon, wrote not a review on YA literature, but her opinion on Young Adult fiction. Where she thinks it should be, and how book publishers should be handling it all. She was not writing an article with facts. She is expressing how she felt literature was effecting teens today. I believe that we should not censor material to anyone but ourselves or our own children. You can not censor what other people want to read or experience. You can not speak for other people. Everyone has different ideas as to what is appropriate for their children. It is not up to one person, or even a group of people, to dictate what is good and right for everyone else when it comes to something as personal what a person reads. Many children say they don't like to read, and this is simply not true. Those children have simply not found something to read that interests them enough to want to read it. This is why there are so many different kinds of books out there available in the YA market today.

Yes, not all books on the YA market are about vampires, cutting, drugs or any of those other things that the author of this opinion piece is saying. Even in the comments that same uninformed judgement is being taken in. If all that was being published was about vampires and drugs there would be no room for books of other genres; such as biographies, poetry, non-fiction, romance, slice-of-life, mysteries and comedies. The introduction to the article is simply placed to make the reader believe, if they are not already aware of, the YA shelves in a chain bookstore are all about vampires and dark issue books.  This is a simple improbability, and is really just a statement made to highlight and strengthen one writer's opinion of said YA market.

Now let's go back to the purpose of issue, fantasy, and dystopian fiction on the market today. Issue books that deal with the main premise of teens drinking, dealing with rape, cutting, suicide, loss, and anorexia are things that perhaps adults want to believe aren't happening to teens and children today. Rapes are happening. Teens are dealing eating disorders. Teens are dealing with alcoholism either in their family or in themselves. Teens are dealing with death and mental disorders and they are not being shielded from it simply because they are not reading it in a book. Or if they are not dealing with it themselves teens are seeing others deal these kinds of issues. To keep issues such as these out of books with the idea that it will keep teens from experiencing or dealing with these issues themselves is in itself censorship. To state that these books do not belong in a teenagers hands is to in effect underestimate what teens are experiencing today.

To also state that ALL teens will want to read or relate to these books is also underestimating  teens. There is room for all other types of books out there. There is no absolute. Teens read all kinds of books because what appeals to them and what is being published are making it possible for them to experience life outside of themselves. More often then not books provide an escape from their life. If they are experiencing something similar to what is going on in the book teens can see how someone else, someone much like themselves, is handling it. How they learn or grow or are shaped by what they have experienced. A good YA book will provoke thought and movement in a reader to analyze the characters, the motives, and situations and can in turn push teens to learn how to see outside themselves and understand themselves and others more. Even a villainous person in a novel, if well written, can be seen as more then just a villain, but a character with more facets and motives behind their actions then can been seen on the surface.

In short YA is one of the most diverse genre of books available in publishing today. It is constantly growing, changing, and moving. It is more then what some can see on the surface, and more often then not YA has saved a reader when they needed most to be understood. Even if the person that needed to understand them most was themselves. To state, as Meghan Cox Gurdon did, that teens don't need these kinds of books is not understand that teens need good, well-written, thought provoking literature that relates to them. Teens don't want to read about a 30 year old protag. They want to read about someone their own age. They want to know how someone their age would handle the problem. Teens need YA in order to become life-long readers. Just as children need picture books and babies need board books. In each stage of life books need to relate to that person. Sometimes that person relates to the darker scope of humanity.

For more well thought out responses to the Wall Street Journal article click on these links. They are but the tip of the iceberg:

Twitter feed: #YASaves

The Strangest Situation

Laurie Halse Anderson's Response

Meg Cabot's Huffington Post Article

Edit to Add:

Making the Darkness Visible

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