Yesterday, the Twitterverse blew up with the hashtag #YASaves started by Maureen Johnson in protest to the Wall Street Journal Article entitled Darkness Too Visible by Meghan Cox Gurdon. I won’t recap the entire article as I believe everyone should read it for themselves and make their own judgements. Kind of like the books the author judged and did not read.
So here’s one more blog about the power of books, and in this case, YA books. When I was growing up, I was the kid who always had her nose in a book. This has not changed. I read whenever I get the chance. And the power of YA novels means that kids get to start thinking about the broader world that they live in. I grew up in a tiny (and I do mean tiny). When I was in 7th grade, I read my first romance novel, courtesy of my grandmother’s Danielle Steel collection. I read Message From Nam and it made me start thinking about the war that shaped my parent’s generation. I read Anne McCaffrey and tons of science fiction, some that was probably pretty violent and depraved (I don’t remember the book, but I remember a woman being raped repeatedly until her captors voice aroused her). Was that a better choice for a seventh grade me than Jackie Morse Kessler’s Rage? Um, no.
YA authors bear a responsibility and I don’t think you will find a single one who is not cognizant of the fact that other people’s children are reading their books. As someone who has written a YA novel that deals with sexual abuse in a military family, I was extremely worried about the reception this book would get, not from kids, who I hope would see that life in the military home is not all American flags and hero parades but from their parents.
The author in the Wall Street Journal piece longs for the literature section of 40 years ago, at a time when The Outsiders had not been written and all of the dirty little secrets from sexual abuse, rape, drugs, and all the other horrors in today’s society were behind closed doors. She longs for a time when LBG teens remained in the closet and were bullied and harassed and driven to cutting or worse self destructive behaviors because they felt like they were alone in the world. She longs for a time when we didn’t know about the child abuse happening next door.
What the author fails to realize is that these books that are out there serve a purpose. To negate the entire genre as too dark is to pretend that the world we live in is actually a utopia where everyone treats each other with dignity and respect. Where I wouldn’t have to have The Talk about touching and privates with my 4 and 6 year old. I may resent the fact that I have to have that talk but not having it doesn’t mean my kids won’t still be put in that situation. If I talk to them about it, if they read a book that explains the difference between boy parts and girl parts then maybe, when another little kid on the bus says if you want to be my friend, you have to let me touch you down there, they’ll know that its not okay. And maybe, they’ll tell someone. And maybe, the little kid that said it will have an adult watching out for her and someone will stop the adult that first said it to her.
The YA section of the book store is a reflection of the world we live in. Even the Hunger Games, which I did not find too violent at all, is a reflection of the soulless society we live in where we will sell out best friend out for the chance to be on TV. The author can bemoan that fact all day long but it does not negate the truth of our world.
As a former teenager, I’m grateful the young adult section of the bookstore is exploding. Kids are reading. Thank heaven, kids are reading. Maybe they’ll find a book that keeps them from pulling the trigger or swallowing a bottle of pills because the pain is too much. Anyone who had a utopian teenage life, I’m glad for you. But don’t look at the world through the lens of your own experience and think that speaks for everyone’s experience.
As a parent, I believe are some YA novels that are too old for my kids. I wrote a piece just a couple weeks ago about finding a YA novel in the elementary school book fair. I’m not happy about it because its too old for the majority of elementary school kids. But is it good for teens and older middle schoolers? Guess what? That’s their parent’s job to decide, not mine. The book still deserves to be out there. Just because I don’t read it doesn’t mean someone won’t enjoy it.
As a writer, I can only dream of a day when journalists and politicians actually read books before they criticize them. That they will acknowledge that the books speak to others even if they don’t speak to them. Teens live in a world we would not recognize from our own childhood. Arming them with information is not a bad thing but its up to parents to guide and help those kids out.
And for those kids who are lost, looking for a way out of the darkness, without a parent to guide them? I don’t think there is a single author out there who isn’t honored to be that light. Authors know we have a responsibility. Just follow the hashtag #YASaves as evidence of all the people out there who have been positively impacted by books.
The darkness is out there.
Closing our eyes to it only makes us blind.