"Too Dark" For Young Adults?

I don’t read young adult literature, and don’t have any young adults around at the moment who do. So, I’m not in a position to say whether all the books out there for teens are full of horrific violent profanity ridden dreck or not. But apparently a writer for the Wall Street Journal has read everything available in the YA genre, because she is so appalled by what she believes is on the shelves, she posted a scathing article condemning the publishing industry and booksellers for pushing these depraved works.

Let’s put one pertinent fact out there right away. Meghan Cox Gurdon wrote this article in a publication owned by the king of conservatism and media control, Rupert Murdock, the self same individual who owns and controls Fox “News”, a little network full of taste and high moral standards, if only in their own minds. 

So, who can be surprised that a point of view regarding YA reading would be so negative? 

She begins the article explaining how one mother couldn’t find a single book that wasn’t full of vampires, profanity, self mutilation, sexual abuse–not one book! I find this statement hard to believe, having spent so much time selling books, that every piece of  literature published lately falls into those categories. But even if true, what is the problem with the content of books reflecting teens’reality around them?  Apparently, a great deal, according to Ms. Gurdon. Teens will think that the dark circles of hell the books contain is a good place to be, and want to emulate someone who self mutilates and embrace these dismal scenerios as normal life. Or as Ms. Gurdon writes: “Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—

that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures. Self-destructive adolescent behaviors are observably infectious and have periods of vogue. That is not to discount the real suffering that some young people endure; it is an argument for taking care.”

What I gather from reading her article is that she feels publishers push this dark trash upon an unwilling public who must then be vigilant in protecting their tweens and teens from the harmful effects the stories project–sort of like each book is full of  radiation of the soul, the more  of it a YA reads, the more likely the teen will be deeply troubled, damaged. 

“If books show us the world, teen fiction can be like a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is. There are of course exceptions, but a careless young reader—or one who seeks out depravity—

will find himself surrounded by images not of joy or beauty but of damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds.

Now, whether you care if adolescents spend their time immersed in ugliness probably depends on your philosophical outlook. Reading about homicide doesn’t turn a man into a murderer; reading about cheating on exams won’t make a kid break the honor code. But the calculus that many parents make is less crude than that: It has to do with a child’s happiness, moral development and tenderness of heart. Entertainment does not merely gratify taste, after all, but creates it.”

I seriously doubt that YA lit has created incest, homophobia, etc., the topics some of the books she rails against speaks about, but rather exposes it to an audience that either has experienced these traumas, or know enough about them to be engaged, touched, moved by the circumstances a character is experiencing, without believing the entire YA population has entered the 6th  level of hell.

One of the faults of this article is to assume YAs are too naive or impressionable to be safely left to their own devices in choosing their reading fare. The description, as one teen pointed out, is “young ADULT” the adult part being of particular note.  

Publishers aren’t the only group she targets as pushing the horrors known as YA lit. Librarians, booksellers are included in the conspiracy to turn our youth into blood seeking vampires. (my exaggeration. we all know YA lit can only turn teens into werewolves.)

She writes:

” In the book trade, this is known as “banning.” In the parenting trade, however, we call this “judgment” or “taste.” It is a dereliction of duty not to make distinctions in every other aspect of a young person’s life between more and less desirable options. Yet let a gatekeeper object to a book and the industry pulls up its petticoats and shrieks “censorship!” And she goes on with:

Every year the American Library Association delights in releasing a list of the most frequently challenged books. A number of young-adult books made the Top 10 in 2010, including Suzanne Collins’s hyper-violent, best-selling “Hunger Games” trilogy and Sherman Alexie’s prize-winning novel, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”

And sites a Washington DC bookseller’s way of dealing with the offending material:

In an effort to keep the most grueling material out of the hands of younger readers, Ms. Stoddard and her colleagues at Politics & Prose, an independent Washington, D.C., bookstore, created a special “PG-15” nook for older teens. With some unease, she admits that creating a separate section may inadvertently lure the attention of younger children keen to seem older than they are.

Apparently Ms. Gurdon not only believes teens shouldn’t be allowed to chose books for themselves, but that the general public made up of parents shouldn’t have those dark choices to begin with, the publishers shouldn’t print the books she finds so offensive, and if printed, librarians shouldn’t stock them, and booksellers shouldn’t sell them, thereby eliminating the problem altogether in her eyes.

Oh, what a familiar refrain! Whatever a parent or YA thinks about the current reading fare doesn’t matter. If they don’t want their kids reading the stuff, don’t let them read the stuff. If a YA doesn’t like that type of book, don’t read them. But let the rest of society make up their own minds about what is light or dark in YA lit.

For the entire article go here:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303657404576357622592697038.html

For a great response go here:

http://www.salon.com/life/teenagers/index.html?story=%2Fbooks%2Ffeature%2F2011%2F06%2F06%2FWSJ_young_adult_literature_too_dark

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Discussion

  1. Shelley Kimball

    Maureen Johnson (YA author of 13 Little Envelopes and other books) has taken quite a dislike to this article. You can follow her thoughts on her twitter feed as well as searching #YAsaves for other people’s thoughts on the issue.

    As an adult who has been reading YA books since before she was actually a young adult, I can tell you that there are books out there that aren’t all horror and death. There are even some that don’t have vampires. I think any adult that walks into the YA section of a bookstore and can’t find something good isn’t trying hard enough. It’s called a “cop out”. The WSJ article was also a “cop out” and shouldn’t be taken as absolute fact although some people will do just that because it’s in such an “esteemed” newspaper. That’s a pity, really.

  2. Dani Alexis

    I blogged about this nonsense column here. Mrs. Gurdon and I clearly differ on who should be parenting her kids. I think it’s her job as their parent; she, apparently, thinks it’s my job as a reviewer and/or bookseller.

    In teenage Internets parlance: Not so much, akshully.

  3. Nick

    What nonsense. When I was about ten I had finished reading every one of the Hardy Boys Novels. I finished all of the Boxcar Children Novels. I finished the Chronicles of Narnia. Eventually I ran out of the wholesome childhood standards (although there are of course some who take issue with even those books) and had to turn my voracious appetite for books loose on my parents’ bookshelves. I went from Franklin W. Dixon to W.E.B. Griffin, Carl Hiaasen, Eric Van Lustbader, Tom Clancy, and Michael Crichton. Terrorist explosions, rogue spies, marauding dinosaurs, and yes…even s-e-x filled my young mind but I read them all and have somehow managed to avoid becoming a deranged lunatic. If my tastes were corrupted by my early foray into the darker side of literature (at least darker than the Boxcar Children) I would have to say they were only corrupted to my betterment.

    Kids are no more likely to become a junior serial killer from reading Lord of the Flies than they are to become a flying wizard from reading Harry Potter. I have no doubt that there are things unsuitable for young children to read, but the vast majority of what some consider to be dangerous literature is nothing of the sort.

  4. Diane Plumley

    Ms. Alexis–what a brilliant article! So articulate even Ms. Gurdon would understand it.
    Thanks for stopping by here and leaving a comment and link to your super post.

  5. Nancy Ellis

    Oh, for heaven’s sake! That article Ms. Gurdon wrote is just so much posturing rubbish. And that’s all my fingers can type on this subject, fingers that are weakened by disgust.

    And the post by Ms. Alexis? Excellent! I’m printing it to share at the library.

  6. Diane Plumley

    Until people commented here, I had forgotten that Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton were considered ‘YA’ lit back in the day–mysteries and bad people and sleuthing–these themes actually do upset some people now–I hate to tell the story, but I gave a copy in dust jacket of the first Judy Bolton book–the jacket was from the 50s edition–had a hand clamped around Judy’s face–to a 10 or 11 year old member of my husband’s family, and the mother took one look and I knew it would never be read or seen again.

    But then, I also gave a copy of Stellaluna when it first came out to the then very little child, and it also never saw the light of day–neither did a A Wrinkle in Time.
    On the other hand, my other niece reads voraciously, and is excited about my lending her my older Nancy Drews and Judy Boltons, my clamped and all!

    I have come to realize since working for this blog, that some parents and ‘adults’ need to be in control of everything they believe can affect their offspring, and if they can’t they throw hissy fits. I thank goodness every day that not only did my mother love to read, she managed to find me copies of all the Nancy Drews and Judy Bolton’s as well as many other super books from her youth, that if read today by the idiots of the world, would be considered too much for the tender sensibilities of their darling children.

    Thanks to all for your responses and thoughts! Well said!

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