Meghan Cox Gurdon, writer for WSJ.com, just pissed off a lot of librarians, English teachers, and proponents of teen readers everywhere. Her June 4th article titled Darkness Too Visible takes on the issue of the seriousness/darkness/violence of young adult literature. (Seriously, do these non-YA-readers never learn?)
My issues with this article:
“But whether it’s language that parents want their children reading is another question.” and “It is of course understood to be an act of literary heroism to stand against any constraints, no matter the age of one’s readers.” No and no. It is not a badge of honor amongst book-pushers to sell kids on the most curse-word riddled texts. It is not my mission to give teens the most graphic, bloody, sexual novels on the market. It is my job – nay, my duty – to find the best book for each teen that comes to me for a book suggestion. If that means Diary of a Wimpy Kid instead of Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, then so be it. If that means choosing a fun rom-com like Sarah Dessen over a gut-wrenching Laurie Halse Anderson, then fine! I have learned to analyze the reader’s likes, dislikes, past reads, and overall demeanor, and then make a suggestion.
So, Ms. Gurdon, you are wrong. While there are numerous dystopian/sexual deviant/drugged-up books, there are plenty of perfectly pleasant novels that are just plain nice. See The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman.
“No family is obliged to acquiesce when publishers use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children’s lives.” <- Is a horrible sentence, you pretentious non-reader.
Gurdon points out that the historical equivalent to today’s YA novels is Judy Blume. Quick poll here, readers…were you between the ages of 12-18 when you read Judy Blume? No, no you were not. You were probably no more than 10. I hate when non-readers push Judy Blume as the quintessential YA novelist. No she isn’t! She is a fine author, but her stories do not resonate with today’s teenagers who are used to the “aesthetic coarseness” they get from video games, music, and movies. The very games, music, and movies that their parents supply them with (or they play on the gaming system/iPod/TV that their parents supplied them with). So Ms. Gurdon, if you want to take on this horrid literature, why don’t you turn it around on the parents?
Which brings me to my next point…I read Sidney Sheldon when I was 14. Sex, mystery, intrigue. That is nothing like Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, a great true-story about a young Native American boy who was relentlessly picked on, both on the res as well as at the public school he was privileged to attend after the teacher on the res got him accepted to the public institution. Bullying, family problems, soul-searching, a love story…an incredible, award-winning book. Not smut. No acceptable drug use. Get off YA lit, woman! Leave the analyzing and suggesting and book-talking to those of us who KNOW the literature and who don’t have some hidden mommy-censorship agenda.
Luckily, there are librarians who turn something negative into something great. Take Alethea, for example, who made this Goodreads list titled YA Saves. Yes, it is full of the graphic books Gurdon was talking about, but that’s okay…because they are good books! Despite anyone’s opinion as to whether they are appropriate for teens or not, they are well-written books that deserve to be read.