Oh Please

The Wall Street Journal weighed in on darkness in YA novels over the weekend.  You can read the piece here.

There’s a lot of tacts I could take about this.  And already most blogs and tweeters have already explored most of them.  Check out Holly Black’s Salon response here for one take on the article.  Has YA become too dark?  Is there too much sex and violence in YA?  Should we be worried about our children’s inner lives if these are the books they read?  Does darkness in literature serve a purpose?

All decent questions, I suppose.  Except the article just points fingers and puts some complete absurdities out there.  It begins by telling us about a mother at a local megabookstore who literally could not find a non-dark title for her 13 year old daughter.

Really?  What bookstore was she in that didn’t have light chicklit titles like Louise Renison’s Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging (the only “sex” in the book is some mild kissing).  Or slightly more grown-up, but still run of the mill teenage romances like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist or Dairy Queen?  Was she really somewhere without any Sarah Dessen books?  Did they actually not have Libba Bray’s award-winning Going Bovine?  Was this some bizarre bookstore that didn’t stock any of Tamora Pierce’s light fantasy works or Scott Westerfeld’s popular but totally light alternate history Leviathan?  She couldn’t find a copy of Ally Carter’s cute, not violent at all, spy series?

I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it.  Sure, there are more dark titles out there now, but to act like there’s nothing on the shelves at your local megabookstore that isn’t rape, vampires, and psychopaths is patently absurd.

Then, when the article literally called Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian not all right, it completely lost me.  Do you really want to say that an award-winning, partly biographical novel that captures the problem of bullying and may actually be the best work by one of the best Native American writers out there isn’t “all right”?  Really?  Maybe there’s a discussion to be had about these issues and about the need for more balance at the bookstore.  Maybe there do need to be more gentle, happy ending books for teens.  More “it gets better” and less darkness.  But to act as if some of the books she names don’t have literary merit strikes me as encouraging censorship of the worst sort.

6 thoughts on “Oh Please

  1. My thoughts were the same… “Really?!?!?” I admit that sometimes at the library I feel myself rolling my eyes at the seemingly endless covers of vampire love stories… but there are many other choices and I’ve never felt as if “this is it.” I recently read Ally Carter’s Heist Society as a preview to see if I thought my rising 6th-grader could handle it for the middle school book discussion group she just barely makes the cut for joining, and I can’t imagine anyone finding it objectionable other than thinking maybe there are other, more ‘literary’ options out there; but as a fun read, it’s harmless. Thanks for posting your response to the article!

  2. I think the WSJ specializes in editorials just like these — it reminds me of the one about boys and reading, which trashed the Goosebumps books and “grossology” parties (and the librarians who are open to that sort of thing): http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704271804575405511702112290.html

    This essay didn’t leave me quite as fuming as that story, but it was close, and there are all sorts of factual inaccuracies in there. Like, of COURSE people had to “contend with” YA books 40 years ago, pre-Outsiders. What about Anne of Green Gables, and Black Beauty, and the Little House books, and Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey Twins, etc. etc. etc.? They just weren’t called YA.

    Also, when I was 13, I was reading fluffy junk that was supposedly written for adults. Danielle Steele, Judith Krantz… I’m sure that I’d be reading all the vampire nonsense now. Reading is the important thing. Books help kids — all of us — understand the world through other people’s stories, and stuff about cutting or suicide or inappropriate love should not only be permissible for a kid who’s ready for it, but should be actively important.

    And what’s with the “Books for Young Men” vs. “Books for Young Women” on the side of that article? Women don’t like Mark Haddon? (And that book, which I loved, by the way, deals with the murder of animals and mental illness and has a fair amount of violence in it, and how is that not dark? Or is it just more socially acceptably, “masuclinely” dark than a book about cutting?)

    Also, thanks for the snarky shout-out, but librarians would “delight” more in NOT having to publish a list of banned books every year, because that would mean that parents aren’t imposing their morals on other people’s kids. Choose what your own kids read, fine, but don’t force libraries to adopt your personal choices.

    OK, now I AM fuming.

    1. Oh yeah. After I wrote this, I went and fumed some more myself. Then the husband, who reads the news for a living, said that he’d never understood how Megan Cox Gurdon had a column in the first place because everything she writes is apparently like this. And that made me feel a little better.

      The more I thought about it, the more I realized that she does basically condone censorship in the article. It’s just… beyond the pale.

      I guess I don’t mind someone raising these issues – YA books *have* gotten kind of dark. But to raise them in such a way, with misleading statements, encouraging censorship, without any consideration of literary merit or the need for these stories at all, doesn’t start a conversation, it just starts a well-deserved furor.

  3. Actually…the pickings in our non-independent book stores are pretty thin, if you don’t want ‘dark’ and you have a child who doesn’t like fantasy and is looking for high literary value. A lot of the lighter novels are also light on quality, imo. In ‘our’ book shop, it’s better – more historical fiction, more light but with merit. So I don’t disagree there are some good YA books out there; there is also a lot of complete crap. And the shelves at a mainstream shop, here at least, are full of vampire crap, mother is dead crap, I’m on drugs crap etc. The big bookstore business in general shows a great deal of disrespect for teens in the way they choose their titles. If you are a parent who doesn’t know to seek out an independent, you are not going to have a lot to choose from for your child.

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