Saturday, June 4, 2011

Young Adult Books: Too Dark?

I'm steaming through the ears right now, because I've just read the Wall Street Journal article in which Meghan Cox Gurdon claims that current young adult literature is too dark for most parents and kids.

I won't disagree that there's a lot of dark and paranormal "literature" out there right now. In fact, I think some of it's trash, too.

I won't disagree that books with sex, violence, or difficult subjects like rape and incest may not be appropriate for all children. I don't let my 11-year-old read these books. They're generally not intended for 11-year-olds. I don't let her read many of Lauren Myracle's books (mentioned in the article) because I don't think she's ready for them yet.

But there are several things I do disagree with in this piece.

First, the idea that one might leave a bookstore EMPTY-HANDED because there is nothing, nothing appropriate out there (which is what the mother in the beginning of the piece did). Please. There is such a rich variety of literature available for children and teenagers right now that you'd have to be in a pretty sad bookstore for that to happen. Surely you could at least come away with a selection from the classics of youth literature?

And then this:

As it happens, 40 years ago, no one had to contend with young-adult literature because there was no such thing.

Are you kidding me? 40, 50, 60 years ago, maybe the term Young Adult Literature didn't exist, but the books were definitely there. Look up Rosamond Du Jardin, Maud Hart Lovelace, and Betty Cavanna, among MANY others. Were they different from young adult books today? Yes. The world has changed, and so have the books.

But here's the meat of what made me angry:

By f—ing gatekeepers (the letter-writing editor spelled it out), she meant those who think it's appropriate to guide what young people read. 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!"

Absolutely you should use your judgment and taste in deciding what YOUR children should read. I do! But please, for the love of all that is holy, why should anyone get to decide what other people's children should read?

You're right, Ms. Gurdon. There are a lot of books out there that I don't want my children to read. But I'm perfectly capable of drawing those boundaries for myself, even if my boundaries are different from yours.

By the way, your lists of books for young men and young women? I certainly hope my daughters will be reading from BOTH categories. Just saying.


We Heart YA said...

Well said. There were just so many frustrating parts of her piece that it was nearly impossible to take any of her VALID points seriously.

Anonymous said...

Do parents actually let their kids, or themselves for that matter, just go willy nilly picking books, especially YA. This industry has boomed since I was a young adult and Judy Blume was the heightened controversial subject that my mother wouldn't let me read it. I read it later when I was a teenager and my daughter has read it at 12 and it's really tame to what's out there now. Don't get me wrong there are so many things way over the top-I choose not to read them. Isn't that like every other form of entertainment today? Choose what you watch and make a judgment - this goes for our kids as well.

I want to tell Ms. Gurdon that parents have a responsibility to check out what their kids read - however, when did it become okay to not do your own homework? There are so many resources available now, just find some and make a conscious decision. I still read many books before my daughter does - I didnt' especially like "The Hunger Games" - at least not "Mockingjay" as the ending is just too gruesome for pre-teens, etc. to deal with. We have had some great discussions about many things and she'll read that and we'll have a discussion about it too, just like - all Harry Potter, Twilight (I held back on this one as well until she got a little older-but this really depends on the level of maturity of the child) and other scary things in life that are part of stories today. I don't think it's okay to give them carte blanche to pick whatever they want off the shelves, but at some point she will choose her own books and decide whether she wants to read these things or not, but you can't censor them....that would put us back to the dark ages like many other things we've fought so hard to change.

Why is it so hard today to get people to realize this responsibility? I think those of you in the book review/blogging industry should make a concerted effort to tell Ms. Gurdon where she went wrong and give her list of choices that don't have all these dark avenues to them....I can think of quite a few: "Out of My Mind", 'No Cream Puffs", "The Wednesday Wars" , "Shug", "George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom", "The Mysterious Benedict Society", "The Girls", "Everything on a Waffle", "Freak the Mighty", "Star Girl", "Elsewhere", "13 Little Blue Envelopes", "The Red Headed Princess", .....hello not all have swearing, darkness, paranormal, etc., etc. I'm know I'm preaching to the choir, but I can't help it, people like these need to be slapped with a wet noodle.

I really don't like people who stand out there and say there is "nothing to read" or in many cases nothing to do....yet haven't even scratched the surface or perhaps they are only looking at the surface. Perhaps Ms. Gurdon is judging many of the books just by their cover and hasn't even looked under the surface to find there are truly good books with good lessons in them and great discussions. If parents don't want to do that it's fine, but don't throw the rest of us into that category.

Thanks, concerned mother and bibliophile from Michigan.