Sunday, June 05, 2011

YA Weekend - WSJ article

The Wall Street Journal is taking shots at YA as a genre, dismissing it as too dark and violent. On Twitter, the response has been the #YAsaves hashtag, in which members post their stories of YA literature's positive influence in their lives. YA author Laurie Halse Anderson wrote an excellent rebuttal, but there are irate, yet well-written, responses all over the Internet.
Edited to add Jackie Morse Kessler's excellent response.

I grew up before the YA explosion. Once I'd read all the kids' books in the library, I started in on Stephen King and Dean Koontz, as well as assorted classics. That was in sixth grade. Not to knock adult horror, but it would have been nice to have had books reflecting my experiences, fears, and struggles. Because not talking about problems does not make them go away. I have a four-year-old daughter, and I'm not looking forward to the tough conversations we'll have to have, but I am glad there is literature available for her to gain perspective. No one wants to talk about rape, abuse, suicide, cutting, teen sex, etc. But they exist. Being a teenager is horrible and confusing and dark, and for many teens, complicated by very real trauma beyond the usual growing pains. Bringing these issues into the light, showing troubled teens they are not alone: how are these bad things?

I find it difficult to take seriously a journalist who separates her reading recommendations for teens into "Books For Young Women" and "Books For Young Men," but I especially find statements such as this utterly absurd: "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." Really? Has this "journalist" talked to readers of YA? Or documented incidents of a teen reading, say, a book about cutting and deciding to give it a try? I'm trying to get through this commentary without using the word "idiot," but it's becoming a challenge.

What are your thoughts? I do believe that parents should read what their children read for perspective into the teen experience as well as to find points of discussion that need to happen. I do not believe in censorship. Teens, like all other readers will read books they find of interest and find relevant to their lives. Would we prefer they not read? Or see reading as an activity devoid of personal meaning? Or not know that others have experienced the trauma they have? I find it absolutely hilarious that the "journalist" lists FAHRENHEIT 451 for young people. Or, at least for young men. I'm not sure what about it is unsuitable for the delicate minds of the young women.


Charlotte's Web of Books said...

I read the WSJ article & the problem could have been averted if "Mom" would have asked a bookseller for help.

But as for content, I grew up before YA was "in". I read everything from Sweet Valley High to SE Hinton to Christopher Pike, with a WHOLE LOT of Danielle Steele thrown in for "shock value". My parents neither censored nor discussed my reading with anything other than a "Oh that Charlotte is such a bookworm."

I think if a parent wants to preview what their children reads, that is their prerogative, but to dismiss the rest as "hideously distorted" is doing the authors AND the readers a HUGE disservice.

As for a "boy/girl" reading list, I have to be honest that while working at the book store we took great measures to make sure that store generated displays included "boy books" and "girl books" just because how many teen boys do you know would be interested in Sarah Dessen or Maureen Johnson. Not saying that some boys wouldn't like them, just saying that not all teen boys get out of that "ewww girls are gross" stage at the same time. If that makes sense. As boys are generally the more reluctant readers, sometimes having some "boy" options ready for them to choose from is a good thing.

The list given in the article though are handpicked titles by someone who obviously doesn't know teen literature.

Whew. Sorry for rambling. Just a passionate topic.

allisonmariecat said...

Honestly, the "boys and girls" reading lists are the least of my issues with her, and I certainly see the value in booksellers and librarians targeting books to specific audiences. I was more perplexed by her suggestions specifically - not against suggestions for boys and girls on principle.

Censorship and ignorance are hot-button topics for me, too. The WSJ article made me so angry I could hardly see straight.

Emily Lavin Leverett said...

I sometimes wonder if some ya is too dark. Not having read the article, but some ya ive read is really violent. Im all for ta that discusses tought, real things. I do wonder where yhe line is. There is also a lot for girls that forwards the "stalking=love!!" crap I find not only offensive but actually dangerous. I mean off the top of my head I can think of two women i was in hs with who wrre in abusive relationships. Stalking or similar was present in both. Or at least controlling behavior. It depends on how a book deals with issues if course.

Holly said...

Wow! Okay, I just had time to sit down and read both the WSJ article and the article you linked to.

First thought that came to me: aren't these kids seeing this same stuff on television and in movies? So what's the difference in reading about it?

Allison, I also read a lot of Stephen King when I was a teen. I remember being enthralled in Misery and reading it all weekend long. That's about torture and craziness, and gore. I didn't turn into a psychopath because of it.

I agree that many YA books nowadays do have quite a level of intensity to them, but I think that's the world that kids are growing up in these days. Publishers wouldn't put it on the shelves if someone wasn't buying it. And it's not like there aren't many, many options out there.

A person doesn't HAVE to read about blood-sucking vampires if they don't want to. They don't have to read about rape, or other horrible experiences if they don't want to. There's always the light fluffy "mean girls/clique-y" novels out there. :-)

I found it interesting that Hunger Games was being objected to. What's so bad about that? You know, besides sending kids to an arena to fight to the death? It was a great book. I would have no problem with my kids reading that.

Anyway, I'm completely rambling now.....