Monday, June 6, 2011

YA Under Fire

WARNING: This post may make some people angry or frustrated, but that's not my fault. Also, there is some coarse language in some of the quotations contained herein. Deal with it.
Let's start by me reminding you that I am all for free speech and just because I think the article I am speaking about here is absolute bull does NOT mean I think it should never have been printed, but simply that I disagree with pretty much all of the opinions of the author.  So to start, I'm going to take you through a few bits and pieces of the article in question.

"Darkness Too Visible" (Meghan Cox Gurdon, Wall Street Journal)

Mrs Gurdon has taken it upon herself to open up an argument regarding the merits of darkness in YA fiction, but she does so with little fact and a lot of opinion and bias:
How dark is contemporary fiction for teens? Darker than when you were a child, my dear: So dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things in novels directed, broadly speaking, at children from the ages of 12 to 18.
Darker than when you were a child?  Who exactly is she talking to?  Is she really of the opinion that works of fiction were somehow less dark and disturbing way back when?  Perhaps these books were not marketed to teens, but I assure you, books have had questionable, dark content for a long time.

To make things even more fun, Gurdon made a list of books that she feels she can recommend to teens, including Fahrenheit 451... uh, excuse me?  Really?  She wants kids to read about censorship and the detriment of taking away the freedom to read as one wishes, while writing an article decrying the literature that teens are reading?  Yeah, I'm confused too...

"Young Adult Fiction: The Poison is the Antidote" (Rachel Krueger,

I don't have much to add as Krueger makes a lot of wonderful points on her own, so I will let her words speak for themselves:
Gurdon calls teen fiction “a hall of fun-house mirrors” that reflect “hideously distorted portrayals of what life is.” I don’t know what means this “hideously distorted.” Dark And Brooding YA is necessary and valuable and popular because this sort of shit happens in real life. (Okay, maybe not the werewolfy bits. But the sudden upheaval of becoming a werewolf [combined with unexpected growth of hair]? Triumph of analogy.) 
Let’s leave aside for the sake of brevity and of my poor, furious heart that the article discusses YA fiction as though it were a homogenous mass – as though Alyson Noel’s angsty Immortals are equivalent to John Green’s smart-talking, prank-pulling, good-hearted teens. Let’s also leave aside the inherent problems in the sidebar “Books We can Recommend for Young Adult Readers.” (Ship-Breaker is a book about a BOY and is therefore for BOYS and girls will be like, I don’t understand this dystopic business, where are the prom dresses? True Grit is about a girl but she is BADASS so it is ALSO for BOYS because girls should stick to books about “love-struck medieval girl[s] gone mad” [Lisa Klein’s Ophelia]. Who can breathe when they see this in print?) 
I feel like I am stating the obvious, like I am arguing that water is excellent for thirst or that apples and baby wolverines are, in fact, two different things. But here we are, having this conversation, and I am both boggled and saddened by the fact that some people still think YA will keeeel you (metaphorically, emotionally, ethically). Instead, it is those teenage years that will kill you. YA might be the only thing to save your ass.
And then there's Roger Sutton, who sums up my thoughts wonderfully in this beautiful statement from his article.

"Again?" (Roger Sutton, Read Roger)
If you're a teen who is running your reading choices by your parents, grow up. If you're a parent who feels compelled to approve your child's reading, shut up. The books and the kids are all right.
Please, people, for the love of all that is wonderful and literary, leave YA books be!!  Besides, it's easy to write about literature for teens from an adult perspective and make adults think that what you're saying is awesome and great, but have these people read the books from a teenage perspective?  I don't think so, because they're not teens!  Do they not remember their own childhoods where they disagreed with their own parents about what they could or couldn't do, read, or who they could and couldn't hang out with?  For crying out loud.  In the immortal words from The Simpsons, instead of thinking about your biased adult selves, would you "Please, think of the children!!!"

[End Rant]

Feel free to disagree, make comments, etc.  As usual, I welcome your thoughts.


Two brand new responses to the WSJ article have come across my desk today:

1) "Kid Lit World Responds to WSJ Attack on YA Fiction" (Rocco Staino, SLJ)
At 11 p.m. that same evening, author Maureen Johnson (left) suggested on Twitter that the defenders of YA literature express their views on the subject by using the hashtag #yasaves. Within 20 minutes there were thousands of tweets—and just like that, #yasaves became the third highest trending topic on Twitter in the United States that night.
2) "Has young adult fiction become too dark?" (Mary Elizabeth Williams,
It's our job as parents to protect our kids, even as they slowly move out into the world and further away from our dictates. But there's something almost comical about raising them with tales of big bad wolves and poisoned apples, and then deciding at a certain point that literature is too "dark" for them to handle. Kids are smarter than that. And a kid who is lucky enough to give a damn about the value of reading knows the transformative power of books.
3) "Young Adult Fiction is Not All Doom and Gloom" (Josie Leavitt, PW Blog)
Any bookseller or librarian worth his or her salt can recommend a list of books as long as your arm to counter the gloom that can be found in the YA section, that both parent and teen will be happy to read. The author spoke scathingly of Lauren Myracle’s Shine, a tough book to be sure about gay bashing, but hardly fitting for the 13-year-old whose mom wanted to get her a book. Why not get her Myracle’s other YA book, Peace, Love and Baby Ducks, instead? There is balance to everything, and it’s just so unfortunate that Meghan Cox Gurdon’s article had none.

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