Welcome to my blog. I often think I was born with a book in my hand. I have always enjoyed reading, but more importantly, talking about books. This blog is partially about reviews, but is really a forum to talk about what I'm reading, and express all of the thoughts and feelings that there simply isn't room for in a professional review. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on your favourite books as you follow my reading journey.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Value of YA & Touching the Lives of Readers

On June 4, 2011, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial essentially stating that "reality" has no place in YA literature. The author seems to be of the view that teens should be kept in darkness (pardon the pun) about the harsh realities that surround them. She even goes so far as to comment that the shelves are filled with "lurid and dramatic covers" and that there are no appropriate books out there for teens to read. Full article can be found here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303657404576357622592697038.html
Thanks to the power of Social Media, within minutes, Twitter was buzzing with rebuttal, all aimed at the Wall Street Journal, and a special Hashtag #YAsaves quickly became the third highest trending topic of the evening.

Where to even begin on this.... Firstly, addressing Gurdon's anecdote about the mother of the thirteen-year-old, I have one question- why not ask a bookseller for assistance? Seriously. There are lots of other YA fiction choices that are not dark, issue-based books, and a knowledgeable bookseller could have helped her to find something lighter and more fun, like, for example, the newly released Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. It's both clever, and laugh-out-loud funny, and no real beauty queens were harmed in the writing of this book. I'm quite certain that even Ms. Gurdon would have to admit that reading this is not going to turn girls into murderous beauty queens.

Now onto the heart of the matter- the purported unsuitability of gritty, and realistic fiction for teens. There is darkness in the world, and it is naive to try and pretend that there isn't. It is also naive to try and convince ourselves that teens are neither aware of this, and that their lives aren't affected by it, or to claim that our own teen years were all sunshine and rainbows.

Several years ago, Philomel Books published a collection of letters entitled Dear Author: Letters of Hope.  The book is a collection of letters, written by tweens and teens to their favourite authors, sharing stories of how he/she was affected by reading the author's books. In a heartbreaking letter to Laurie Halse Anderson, a teenage girl details how she, like the protaganist in Speak had been date raped, and how reading the book gave her the courage to speak up and tell somebody what had happened to her. There are letters to Ellen Wittlinger, Christopher Paul Curtis, Chris Crutcher, and many others, and the teens in these letters have all had these difficult situations thrown at them.

These books aren't published to be deliberately inflamatory, or with the intention of normalizing these behaviours. They are published because they reflect realities that many of us don't understand and need to. Their purpose is to get readers thinking and to send a message that no matter how bleak things might seem, there is someone out there who understands.

These books are not for everybody, but what right does one individual have to decide that they are inappropriate for the masses? The more aware teens are that these issues exist, the more we empower them to put a stop to the hate and ignorance that fuels world wars, and to make the world a better place. And in the end, isn't that what's really important?


cleemckenzie said...

100% Agree. I wrote Sliding on the Edge after reading an article in the newspaper that said 1 in 5 Ivy League students admitted to some form of self abuse. Since then I've learned so much about this "addiction"--another part of this problem-- and have had teens tell me how much my book meant to them. It may not have stopped the cutting, but it made them feel less alone. That's why Scars and Speak and Hope in Patience need to be out there. Wish I'd had books with characters that felt like I did and I could identify with when I was a teen.

Thanks for this post.

Rachel Seigel said...

Thank you for doing what you do! Whether it meets with mass approval or not, it's important to make sure that they exist for those who want and need them. :-)

Ellen said...

The sense I got from the WSJ editorial (though don't they classify it as an article? clearly it's not one) is that the writer doesn't believe teens have the ability to educate themselves on these topics, that their intellects are so slightly developed that they can't be trusted not to, lemming style, become depressed after reading about a depressed character, or begin cutting themselves because a character in a novel does. But as you say, this is the real world - and trying to keep that from the eyes of readers of YA is simply foolish. I just read Anderson's "Speak" for the first time and was struck by how she dealt with these issues of depression and rape - the novel was mature and well-done and besides not being able to imagine how any harm could come to a teen by reading this, I think parents & educators should embrace this book for addressing complex and difficult issues so well.

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