Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Stuff it

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal about YA books has generated a firestorm of response on Twitter.  Here's the article.

And here's my reply:

Stuff it.

I'm not apologizing for reading, representing and selling YA books. Not the ones with violence. Not the ones with sex. Not the ones you scoff at that have "images not of joy or beauty but of damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds."

Yea, stuff it.

Cause in the world I live in, kids are people too, and reading this kind of "crap" is how they learn to be people in the real world.

Cause YA is about kids learning that bad stuff can happen to good people. If something bad happens to you, it's not cause you ARE bad.

Cause YA is about kids learning to be brave.

Cause YA is about kids learning to affect their own lives, not just be affected.

Cause YA is about kids failing, and not giving up.

Cause YA is about being able to read about fearsome frightening things, and come out on the other side unscathed.

So yea, stuff it.

And while we're here, let me point out that anyone who can't find a "suitable" book among 78 on a general trade booksellers shelf (let alone a staffer who hasn't read a single one!) is probably in the wrong section.

There's nothing wrong with Charlotte's Web or Stuart Little, books I love with all my heart, but they are shelved most likely someplace else. (And let's all remember that Charlotte's Web that great American classic starts with Fern's dad heading out to the pig shed with an ax.)

News articles like this aren't news. They're opinion pieces. Verily, the world of publishing is going to hell in a handbag. 

Well, here's my opinion, in case you missed it: Stuff it.


Jen said...

Agreed! My response on my blog was not as succinct as yours though. Mine was: It's a pile of crap.

Kids aren't stupid. Kids are smart enough to have their world view challenged. They need to have their world view challenged. Because kids will rise to the challenge, if we let them.

Great post, Janet, and totally agree!

Misha said...

Couldn't agree more. I hate that people can be smug and opinionated about a specific genre/section just because they don't like it.

Stephanie Barr said...

Perhaps the author never read Gulliver's Travels when younger? Or the Chronicles of Narnia? What about the Bible (still a frontrunner charts with violence and sexual misconduct)?

Some of my daughter's required reading surprised me with the violence and whatnot, and her tastes tend to be darker than my own. But, I trust her to be able to think and function, to know what works for her.

Perhaps the author should stick with shoujo manga. That's pretty benign. Although, now that I think about it, teenagers (at least mine) read that, too.

Elanor Lawrence said...

I personally agree that teens aren't stupid, after all, I am a teen. However, I'm certainly not a fan of reading books with excessive swearing or sex and I do sometimes have trouble finding books that aren't like that. It's not that I don't think it's realistic or that kids shouldn't read stories with content like that, it's just that I, and other people I know who don't like gritty stories, find it hard to find 'clean' books. I don't want people to stop writing gritty books, but I'd love it if more people would start writing books with no sex or swearing, like Veronica Roth's popular DIVERGENT.

Rick Daley said...

Bravo. The author of the article seems to fall into the "pretend it doesn't exist and it will go away" camp. Almost like the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Trall, a creature so stupid it believes that if you can't see it, it can't see you. (Thanks to Douglas Adams for alerting the world to the presence of this creature!)

I have two sons, ages 6 and 9. My older son learned the F-bomb in first grade at school, and they go to a good school. My kids don't use the F-word, though. They know better.

I could shelter them. Not let them watch super-hero movies that have violence and some strong language. But then the news will come on and they'd see a report of some whack job that raped and murdered a family, dismembered them and stuffed them in a tree. Or a woman who drove a van into a river, deliberately killing herself and all of her children except the 10-year-old who escaped and swam to safety.

As a parent, I make it my duty to educate my kids about the world. I try to stay in step with the things they have already seen and heard - I'm not trying to pucsh them into the deep end prematurely - but rearing them in a cocoon is more damaging in the long run. At some point they will be exposed to the darker sides of reality, and I prefer they know how to deal with it intellectually and emotionally when that time finally comes.

Jamie Freveletti said...

I found the one comment here by the teen interesting. She said she has a hard time finding stories without the gore. I'm not a teen (but I have two at home) and they are experiencing the same problem. Could it be that these stories are like the gruesome fairy tales? They have a place in literature, but shouldn't be all that we have? I don't think this article is completely wrong.

Maureen Wanket said...

I teach high school English, and I will tell you this news from the front: Life is a war zone for many kids. They want literature that addresses Truth and have very little patience for authors who paint turds pink. You are right on. The Wall Street Journal has an agenda anyway.

Bane of Anubis said...

While I love the #yasaves posts, a part of me wonders if it's counterproductive in the Frankenstein's mob sort of way. The WSJ is a conservative outlet. Very few teens read it; adult parents who do, either have their children under thumb or have kids giving them the big finger anyway.

So now there's a giant call to attention to a horrible article (not as atrocious as many make it out to be, though... good enough intentions aimed at her target audience, but when she called out examples, that's when she crossed into monster land) that would have otherwise gone under the radar. Not sure the firestorm against the WSJ will make any difference (it'd be nice), but the volcanoes shooting angry lava at them don't live on their island.

And, side point, Elanor, how is DIVERGENT (which I enjoyed) a 'clean' book? How is stabbing someone in the eye more acceptable than 'fuck' or sexual encounters? Is it because it's less of an ordinary occurrence? Just wondering, b/c I write dark, gritty YA fantasy and I've never understood why sensational violence is more acceptable than reality.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Yes ... well ... in my world assorted innocent looking (mostly naked) pixies sometimes carry a dagger to kill wicked fairies.

Stuff it indeed!

E.Maree said...

I had a good childhood, and I read widely. Then my teenage years happened, and a lot of dark and dangerous events crept into my life.

If I hadn't read about the darker things that can happen to teens, I wouldn't have been as quick to figure out the danger of everything that was happening.

We all hope the events in stories don't happen to us, or our kids - but sexual violence, suicide, self-harm, mental illness and other horrors are more common than most people realise. For teens, the knowledge of how to get through it can be vital.

Andrew said...

Hansel & Gretel were left to die in the woods at the behest of by their stepmother; The Little Match Girl led an idyllic life... right up 'til she froze to death on the sidewalk. WHEN WAS YA SO CUTE?

CPatLarge said...

“Darkness Too Visible” re-ignited a debate I’ve struggled with for some time (here and here). I don’t read or write scenes of graphic violence, depravity, or abuse (self or otherwise) and I’m at a loss as to the flood of media offerings, not only books, that offer such material as standard fare. I don’t advocate sheltering children from reality, or censoring their exploration of the world, but neither do I support allowing or even encouraging them to wallow in darkness. As I noted in my earlier referenced blog post, Buddha said, “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.” I would extend that to the words we write and share as well.

Bane of Anubis said...

CPat, I don't know of any book ever written that encourages anybody to wallow in darkness. Cope with it, yes.

Love the Buddha quote, but sometimes people need to know that they're not alone in their misery, that it's okay (note: okay does not always read as healthy) to experience what they're going through before they can find the self-esteem to pick up the pieces and start putting the puzzle back together.

Books aren't about normalization; they're about survival.

CPatLarge said...

@Bane of Anubis: One book on its own may not encourage ‘wallowing,’ but the tide of media that focuses on that darkness does in fact lead to ‘normalization.’ I’ve done plenty of reading of my own, seeking reassurance that I’m not alone in my suffering, and I’ve experienced first-hand how easy it is to get lost in the downward spiral, wallowed a bit too much myself at times when I don’t pay attention to balance. Children and teens need guidance to learn that balance. While parents should be the mainstay of that direction, it’s not always possible, and while I cringe at the clich√©, it takes a village. As a human being and as a writer, I care for the world as a whole and everyone in it. I won’t add to the negativity and suffering that is so glorified, if I can possibly avoid it.

Anne-Marie said...

As someone who teaches a grade 5/6 class, I can tell you that most students are offended by the overprotectiveness of adults and resent being told that they have to only read 'respectable', happy-ending books. I have read The Giver to them, and told them that it is banned in certain school districts. They can't understand why, and neither can I. While I understand the need to protect children at certain ages from certain things, we are raising them to be adults, not perpetual children, and they need exposure to situations both good and bad so that they can be prepared for the things life throws at them even more so these days, since they are largely hovered over by their helicopter parents.

So yeah, stuff it indeed.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Wait a second, Janet.

Charlotte's Web caused a LOT of tears in this house. Way more than some other books did, some that are on these "bad YA" lists -- which my son read this year as part of his advanced Communication Arts program.

There's no HEA in Charlotte's Web. The spider dies.

My son may never forgive me for that part.

Shannon Heather said...

I write YA. I have a 6th grader and 8th grader. My 13 yo son just finished "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian" and "Animal Farm" this year in school, in Lang Arts. Nice, fel-good books (Not). He read Lord of the Rings" in 6th grade for LA.

I asked him what he thought about cussing and sex in books. His words "It's no worse than the news or our history books." He also said that when cuss words are used in books it's because that is the best word to explain whatever is going on - any other word would be fake.

I write YA, my kids have read my MS many times. It's Dystopian - no holds barred because my son and daughter hate reading stuff that makes them feel stupid. My son said it's obvious when an author tries not to cuss to write about sex in a book because that's where the book becomes awkward and stupid.

Ms. Snip said...

As a young teenager, I read Edgar Allen Poe, Anne Rice, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Lord of the Flies, and Alice in Wonderland. Themes included death, despair, vampirism, human predators, bird pecking out stepsister's eyes and the Evil Queen from Snow White dancing in red-hot iron slippers.
If you think teens don't experience death, pain, despair, loss, brutality, drug abuse, dark sexual content, deep poverty or the savages of war, then the teens you know must be locked in very tall towers growing their hair out with dreams of escape.
Speaking of escape - you know what usually helps? Reading about all of those themes as experienced by a teen protaganist who doesn't give up, who keeps trying, who still holds certain truths valuable and certain values sacred. A teen who every now and then doesn't just get the happy ending, but fights to the end for it themselves, usually with little help from their adult counterparts. Gives one hope as one escapes into literature.
If you want your child to only have happy endings, I would like in on your plan for a world without darkness. How do I sign up? And do I need a permission from my mom? Because she's currently occupied buying my 13 year old niece stories she can sink her sharp little teeth and precocious brain into.
Yeah. Stuff it indeed.

Josin L. McQuein said...

I refuse to believe that a clerk at B&N was unable to show that woman a single "non-dark" book. There are many, and they fall into both Contemporary and Paranormal.

I also wonder how she'll respond when that 13 yr. old comes home with Catcher in the Rye on her assigned, required reading list for class.

cbrett60 said...

I am young myslef. Dark YA book are needed. Especially in some places in the world. Look at the United States. With poverty, rape, prostitution and violence (Iraq war and 9/11) everywhere. We the people need the darker YA books because we can go to world that may be worse than our own and that we can make it with time and love. On the other side we need the lighter YA books to take us to a world were things get better but not quite perfect so that we can feel hope that we will reach that place.

Julie R. Mann said...

As I kid, I definitely agree with what you're saying. After reading the article, I was shocked. I had no idea that my mind was so corrupted.


Anyway, thank you for understanding and actually getting it. (I can't say many adults I know would agree with your opinion.) But, it is appreciated.


We Heart YA said...

Simple but well-said.

Robin Ruinsky said...

The concept that books corrupt young minds is misguided.
It's a mindset that's a prelude to banning books.

Sarah Laurenson said...

There are writers on the lighter side of YA - Patricia Wrede, Kiersten White, Esther Friesner off the top of my head. I know there are more. They might be a bit harder to find as bookstores limit what they carry to what they think will fly off the shelf.

That being said, there does seem to be a push for darker YA in the publishing world. I've heard editors say they want the violence and sex as that's what's selling.

I have not read the article as it sounds like a waste of my time, but I agree very much with not publishing an op-ed piece as "news". Truth is very elusive sometimes and news tends to be biased one way or another. There's a line in there - somewhere.

Delia Moran said...

I do believe my first comment was eaten, but apologies if this shows up twice.

It seems to me the article's author has some confusion regarding the difference between parental guidance and banning books. Because only one of them actually involves removing books from libraries due to their contents.

CPatLarge said...

@Delia Moran: I agree, and that is a large part of what I inadequately addressed earlier.

Shakespeare said...

I had a dark childhood, and a darker teenagerhood. It would have been nice if I'd had some books that taught me I wasn't alone, and ones that gave me some hope that I'd get out of it (as I did).

I keep close watch on what my 10-year-old daughter reads right now, but soon I will expect her to make her own decisions on these things, and I would not be surprised if she finds some literature appealing that I do not. That is her choice, though. The main thing I want her to do is READ. And if that means she's reading something I don't love, then that's what it means. But I'd rather be reading it with her, so that we can have our own personal book club, and so that we don't sever what will soon be adult ties as she grows up.

Very thought-provoking discussion.

Gabriela Pereira said...

Well said, Mme Shark. As always you hit it right on the mark.

Julie Weathers said...

Well, I'm glad I read this before I sent the comments back to a friend who asked me to read 30 pages of her YA and give her some feedback. It's a fantasy, but it opens with what I assume is an 8-year-old from the way his mother is chousing him out of bed. As soon as she leaves the room a creature turns into a fairy and they get it on.

Then we go to two very young female creatures being gang raped (one to death), another very young girl being abducted to be raped.

The world building is stellar, the writing needs work, but the pedophilia and rape themes just depress me. Maybe YA has changed a lot since I read Harry Potter and this is now the in thing.

I think I should just point out the things that need to be worked on with the writing and wish her luck.

Christine Rains said...

Here, here! I fully agree. I, too, had an abusive past. Reading books helped get me through, helped show me I wasn't alone, and inspired me to change things. Books can be powerful things. They can be positive things for those who don't know where else to turn.

alwayscoffee said...

Completely agreed. I caught up to the WSJ this morning via Holly Black's tweet. Totally appalled. I wrote a blog entry about it (and the recent string of offensive articles -- the review of Game of Thrones and the one that spawned the #romancekills hashtag). It's completely infuriating, insulting, and wrong to suggest that all YA books should be less dark. What's real isn't always what's easy to read or see. *shakes head*

Great post. Jackie Kessler's was wonderful, too.

ryan field said...

"Amy Freeman, a 46-year-old mother of three, stood recently in the young-adult section of her local Barnes & Noble, in Bethesda, Md., feeling thwarted and disheartened."

Instead of feeling "thwarted and disheartened," (OY!) good old Amy Freeman should catch up with other parents and get her kid an e-reader so she'll have more choices.

And good old Meghan Cox Gurdon should catch up and do her research before making broad generalizations like that in print. There are more choices now than ever before for YA readers, and not all is " this dark, dark stuff."

Anita Saxena said...

I can't agree with you more. I remember when I was a teen I struggled to find books that I could relate to. The young stuff was too young and the adult stuff was too adult. How great is it that teens have so much to choose from that is real or dark or fantasy, or whatever. I don't understand that article at all.

thehappylogophile said...

There is a BIG difference between books that are appropriate for an "average" 12 year old, and books that are appropriate for an "average" 18 year old. I think that a lot of the backlash against YA being "dark" is that many parents, and probably also booksellers, don't take that into account. An 18yo is living in the adult world, and is certainly going to be offended by anything that is clearly a child's book. However, I understand why parents of a 12yo would still want to shelter him/her from some of the depravities of the human condition.

Rather than saying "all YA should have a HEA ending" or "all YA should include sex & swearing, because that's what kids experience", I think it's important to have a mix of both.

What I think would help, though, is for YA books to have some kind of information on their jackets as to their target age. Some kids will be ready for them earlier and some kids later, but at least it would help parents and non-reading booksellers(?) choose age-appropriate books.

BP said...

As a YA, myself, I agree with @Elanor Lawrence; while the world may not be all roses and daisies, it's not all horror and violence, either. It's becoming a heck of a lot harder for teens to find books that have ORIGINAL, INTERESTING plots that don't exclusively highlight dark or crude themes. I'm pretty upset that 90% of what's targeted to my age is JUNK (yes, junk) that I'd be embarrassed to have a little sister find.

WSJ is probably not saying all hellish YA can go to hell in a handbasket. They are probably saying that the market is generally overstuffed with material that is so dark that it's not only OVERDONE, but it's also inappropriate, which is very true. There are still some of us teen readers out there who like their fiction served spicy but not with guts and gore as the Main Course. Wars and current events and real-life at LARGE are so different from these fictional books that these books miss the mark entirely and give teens a reason to dream of darker, more serious worlds before they've even got a driver's licence. Reading, dreaming, and discovering saves, my friends. Not all YA, and certainly not all YA that has dark themes. As I exit my teen years, I eluded the entire dark market for my age group for years after reading several amazing titles in that genre; the writing, impeccable. But real life? I digress. Somehow I made it through teenhood without trashy YA on my shelves. Maybe I'm weird. Maybe I'm picky. But as a late teen, I speak from a very relevant standpoint from which not many authors can speak from in the 21st century.

Kay Theodoratus said...

Right on.

I'd bet YA fiction has saved more people than the Wall Street Journal has made people money.

CPatLarge said...

@BP: 'There are still some of us teen readers out there who like their fiction served spicy but not with guts and gore as the Main Course.'

Well put, BP, and many adults share that preference, which seems to have been overlooked in many of the comments. Nice to hear a reasoned YA voice in the discussion.

christwriter said...

At the risk of TMI...when I was eighteen I developed a problem with self harm.

I developed a problem with S/H, rather than with anorexia, drug addiction or drinking because I KNEW about anorexia, drug addiction and drinking. Either my parents, a foster kid my parents were taking care of, or a close relative had a problem with (insert issue here) and had, in the process of dealing with their issue, educated me about whatever the hell it was. I knew about chemical receptors and emotional baselines when I was thirteen. I knew about twelve step programs and suicide hotlines and how to tell the difference between someone acting out and someone actively trying to hurt themselves.

However, because my parents guarded my reading and television habits very closely, and were careful never to accept a kid with that specific problem (being "too crazy") I never learned about self harm. I never learned why it's a bad idea. I never knew about the circumstances and warning signs. And when I got into a bad place, I had no defenses. I did not understand what was happening. I had nothing to point to.

Everything else, I could (and sometimes did) go to my parents and say, "I feel like doing this from (insert story here)". I had a language. I had a way to talk about it.

The thing that finally got me, I had no words for. I had to invent them, and that took a lot of time.

You can't ask for help if you have no point of reference.

Dark stories, be they real or fiction, are a point of reference.

Sheltering children from darkness in fiction leaves them wide open to darkness from real life.

Or to quote the late, great G.K. Chesterton, Fairy tales don't teach children that Dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales teach children that dragons can be killed.

Dark YA fiction isn't making dark children. It's making dragon slayers.

christwriter said...

PS: Oh, and as someone who slogged through S/I and came out the other end in one piece: "Normalizing" Alcoholism didn't make it okay. "Normalizing" drug addiction didn't make it okay. "Normalizing" any abberant self-abuse has never made it okay. But it made it safe for those suffering with it to go get help without being insulted for admitting what they needed help for.

I am not crazy. I am not my problem. And if "Normalizing" S/I means I can go to a support group without feeling like I have Hester's A sewn on my chest, bring it the fuck on.

It's already normal for me.

Jillybean said...


I read tons of YA when I was younger -- of all kinds -- but the ones that moved me the most were the ones where, you know, bad stuff actually happened and kids actually had to deal with it.

Hatchet? GOBBLED it up. The entire series.
Animorphs was the crown jewel of my childhood. It's dark, it's violent, it forces kids to think in terms other than black and white. It's also amazing.
My favorite YA novel was 'The Only Alien On The Planet,' a book about a boy who'd been very, very badly mistreated -- and his journey back into something resembling normalcy. I *cried.* I *still* cry reading that book. It was one of the first books I looked up when I got my Kindle.

How can kids possibly learn how to handle the darkness in themselves, in others, in the world, in *anything* unless they *see* it? Hiding it from them is like sending a swordsman into a fight with earplugs and a blindfold. It's intrinsically unfair.

This kind of dark YA novel nurtured me into a thoughtful adult. I wouldn't take that chance away from a kid, ever. (Not all kids will bite that particular piece of bait; but why stop the ones who might?)

julienilson said...

I came to quote GK Chesterton, but I see that christwriter above has beaten me to it! It's one of my favorite quotes, because it covers one of the things I love about many sci-fi/fantasy/YA stories: It's not about the evil, it's about people fighting (and usually vanquishing) evil. Often these people aren't considered "special" in any way--they're called to the the job in some way, and they step up to do what's right, even if what's right is also difficult. I think the messages in many of these "dark" stories are wonderful.

david said...

Love the comments. I'm sure the WSJ article was for parents that can't be bothered talk to their kids. Or abuse their kids, whatever. I'm sure the author doesn't want their kids to learn about the Holocaust, cultural revolution or listen to "Strange Fruit."
And not being able for find books w/o gore? Perhaps they should go to a book store. Meg Cabot takes, what one or two feet on the shelf? Or all of the gore in Sarah Dessen, Ally Carter?
I say give them a copy of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," and lock them into their roooms.

Melissa said...

I can’t attest to what’s going on in the publishing work with respect to YA, but I still find that I’m able to purchase my godkids age-appropriate YA books that aren’t too dark. Would I ever buy my 13-year-old niece a YA book about murder, rape, incest, drug use or cutting? Never, in good conscience. She’s had a hard enough time with her parents’ divorce. I would, however, buy her “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret.” When she comes to stay with me, we watch age-appropriate movies and television shows, and I monitor what Internet sites she goes to. So maybe I’m a square. But she’s still a child. A sensitive child who needs a little more Disney in her life, given what she’s been through.

Part of being a mentor and a role model is leading by example. It’s the adult’s job to make sure that kids don’t get their hands on inappropriate material, and unfortunately, that does take time. When I buy YA, I always vet it first – all of it. YA can tackle difficult subjects without crossing the line. One thing that I really do appreciate about my parents is that they did exercise authority over what I read and watched. And yes, I was one of the many girls of my age who were forbidden to read “Forever” until I was 17 -- the same age as the character in the book.

debbi said...

As a pre-teen I didn't read about the horrors the article mentions. I read sweet animal books. Books like Black Beauty, told from the POV of a horse who is sold down the line to a series of progressively more abusive masters. He's separated from all he loves, and sees an old friend die in the streets. Or Beautiful Joe, the story of a dog who, as a puppy, is subjected to a hatchet chopping off his ears and tail.
Did reading these things as a youngster affect me? Possibly. I have dedicated most of my life to caring for and making the world a more bearable place for animals. Reading gave me a set of values and a direction, showed me what was out there and gave me ideas on how to change it. Look how reading has ruined me!

Matthew MacNish said...


Anne said...

I sympathise with the teen posters who say they want something just a little less dark some of the time, because I feel the same way about adult fiction. I've just signed with a self-proclaimed "post-YA" publisher who are keen to publish my gritty-but-basically-upbeat fantasy noir that they hope will speak to a different audience than their more macho titles.

I do think, though, that the fault lies in the bookshops. Here in the UK, central ordering systems severely restrict what chain bookstores can order - no wonder the high street chains are in disarray!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

*standing ovation*

There's nothing more to say. You and the commenters have said it all. Brilliantly, too, I might add. said...

Cheers! Well put!

Rowenna said...

OK--mixed feelings here. I agree with both points, honestly, as strange as that may sound. Because as much as the dark stuff is real, and true, and a given of the world our kids are growing up in, so is the joyful and beautiful stuff. Who is teaching kids to seek the beautiful in their lives if every media outlet is jumping on the dark and lurid bandwagon? Some of my favorite books as a teen did this--showed me beauty and joy. It seems that, perhaps, it's easier to make a sale on something dark than something light, and on something scary than something beautiful. But it's my opinion that we're losing the balance.

earth said...

I did have doubts when I read Ms. Reid's post, till I read christwriter's comment. I agree a 100%. Love the last line -Dark YA fiction isn't making dark children. It's making dragon slayers. I have to admire your courage to stand up for yourself and tell it as it is.
Telling kids that when bad things happen to them, it's not their fault. They're the victims here. Letting them know they're not alone.

Taymalin said...

I'm a child of the 80's, and I don't remember ever reading a book that coddled my delicate teen sensibilities. One of my favorite books, because I could relate to it, dealt with a teen dealing with meeting her biological mother, dealing with alcoholism, drug addiction and prostitution. There was a lot of swearing and sex in that book. I was 11 and in grade 6 when I read it, so that would have been in 1993, and since my school had a limited budget, it probably came out in the early 80s. I can't remember what it was called or I would look it up. As for normalizing things like cutting, again I call bullshit. Books like that can let kids who are dealing with such issues feel less alone, and can give kids who aren't dealing with the issues a deeper understanding. It isn't going to plant the idea of cutting into their heads. Cutting is symptomatic of certain illnesses, it's not something that will go away because no one writes about it. Reading about a character who overcomes an issue that one is facing can give hope, not take it away.

As for the books directing the mentality of the youths who read it, that is total bullshit. This writer obviously never took a psychology course in her life. Teens have already developed their sense of morality, and read according to taste. And, funny, their morality generally reflects that of their parents, not of their entertainment. Bandura did a great study on modeling that this writer would do well to look into.

Books act as a catharsis. For me they've always been a safe place to experience bad things, and learn about life by being entertained.

I work with teens, mostly troubled teens, but not always. The reality most youth face is difficult, and showing them only sunshine and roses in entertainment does them no favors. It can set up a false standard of normal that no life meets.

I have tons more to say on the issue, but I'll stop now. In summation of my point, from a Child and Youth Care Worker and psychological perspective, this writer is a fucking idiot.

Patrick DiOrio said...

Actually, I think the writer made some cogent remarks and the article was thoughtful and balanced (and not in a Fox News way). Having raised a son and daughters, now adults, and with a teen still at home, and having experienced one of the dark themes discussed in the article on a personal level, frankly, I believe Ms. Cox-Gurden was right on. I'm no fan of censorship and believe in artistic freedom and all that jazz. However, I believe that freedom of expression does come with some responsibilities to its audience. There should be limits and that in itself isn't a bad thing. For YA I can see where some of these themes ought to be reconsidered for the YA audience.

Melinda said...

I agree AND disagree with this article. But it made me think of my little girl who loves princesses. Anyone seen SNOW WHITE lately? Pretty creepy. And my daughter is 3! And that is just one of many examples. BTW that movie came out A LONG TIME AGO so I don't think all these issues are completely a new problem. Hey, at least they're reading. I'm a little more worried about MTV. ;)

Dana Strange said...

It seemed to me the WSJ article was not calling for censorship, but trying to address an undercurrent of discontent among readers. My teenage daughter (usually attracted to all things bad) has "zero interest in the depressing sh*# out there now." So she refuses to read it. She is currently reading THE LONGEST WAR by Peter Bergen for happier reading material. I read YA and she is right about the depressing element. Other parents make the same comments, so I can relate to Jamie Freveletti's earlier remark.

Real life, no matter how horrible it may be has humorous and happy moments, but those lighter moments are nonexistent in many of the dark YA books. Balance is needed on the shelves. It isn't there and that is the fault of publishers. A spoonful of sugar is what's needed here. Just sayin.

Rebecca Kiel said...

In the world we all live, bad stuff can have already happened by the time they are old enough for YA. Having it in books gives a voice to nameless unspoken experiences. In the world we live, teaching youth about resilience is invaluable.

Ken Hoss said...

Bravo! Encore! Way to tell those stuffed shirts to "stuff it"!

Melinda said...

I thought the article was ridiculously long and wound up being a rant as opposed to simply stating an opinion. I also think that, if it were really bothering people as much as it bothers the author, then the marketplace would respond. In other words, if people don't like it, then stop buying it...when that happens, then authors and publishers will respond with something people DO want to read.

I don't ever agree with the notion that we should censor ourselves before we even put the ideas out there. The free exchange of ideas, even the dark ones, is how we grow. The fact that so much of what they considered "dark" is out there points directly to what the people are buying. Like it or not.

I remember reading Go Ask Alice when I was a teen. I found it fascinating, and I was obsessed with it for months. I wondered what it would be like to be in her world, and discovered, through reading, that it was a world I didn't want to be a part of. All that without taking a drug of any kind. Just because the topic is dark doesn't make it bad.

Loved the comment that way back in the good old days kids read 'literature." Because in those days, what you call literature now was their dark disgusting trash that children shouldn't read. Just kinda funny. Hello pot...

So yeah, count me in the "stuff it" camp :-)

Marsha Sigman said...

Oh, hell yes. Usually I have a lot more words but the only thing I can think of is 'Ditto' everything you said.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Agreed! Maybe there is some stuff out there that I wouldn't want my hypothetical children to read until I was sure they were old and mature enough to handle it, but you know? That's called being a parent and making a judgment call. But I know there's also a lot of wonderful YA literature out there, and that most teenagers probably don't even want to read the unicorns-and-rainbows books I imagine this person was searching for.

Jan Cline said...

I agree! Such snobbery. What would we do without the great writers who have a vision for this genre? I applaud them and you for sticking up!
Jan Cline

Rob. said...

Janet, I think you have missed the point of the article.

The article doesn't argue that YA shouldn't be brave, real, honest, powerful.

It just says YA doesn't need to be full of such explicit abuse, violence and depravity.

The latter is not necessary for the former. I don't think that's snobbery or wanting to put children in a bubble.

Incidentally, whether we like it or not, we all censor as parents. It's our job.

That, and cleaning up endlessly.

Jo-Ann said...

I'm not going to add anything more about whats-her-name's rant on the Wall Street Journal, because everything that I want ot say has been said.

My comment is about the side-bar. It lists a number of "books for boys" and "books for girls". Hello? Am I the only one to raise my eyebrows? Why is "farenheit 451" for "boys" Why is "Z is for Zachariah" for girls? Just seems to underscore the point that the wirters are out of touch with contemporary tastes.

stacy said...

Jo-Ann, you weren't the only one to raise your eyebrows. I did it, too.

lora96 said...

I'm a teacher.

Allow me to drag my soapbox out for a second:

I'm thrilled to get some of my reluctant readers to read the descriptions in the Toys R Us holiday gift catalog or the back of a cereal box. Reading=Good. That is my opinion as someone who teaches the subject for 130 minutes every weekday.

FYI I freaking LOVE the hunger games books so if those are under attack (and they are, in point of fact, ardently ANTI violence), they can stuff it. Just for me.

Jo-Ann said...

Just BTW - I seem to recall from my youth the "Flowers in the Attic" series.

They were YA best sellers from the 80's that featured incest by two generations of the family, child neglect and abuse, and a mother murdering her own son and attempting to make a clean sweep and killing all four kids.

The main difference between this and contemporary YA fiction was that it was about as gritty as an episode of "Dynasty". All the characters were rich and gorgeous and the protags, despite being in-bred and locked away in an attic for years, were amazingly talented and gifted as well. The writing was quite cheesy, too.

So is it ok to write about such topics on the proviso that you serve it up with such a huge dose of fluff that nobody would believe that incest and abuse actually happens in the real world? I only ask for clarification here.

Feaky Snucker said...

It's ridiculous to say a whole genre sucks, unless you've read every single book - no, how about even 50 books in one genre before deciding it sucks as a whole? I mean Gsus, read anything at all by Charles de Lint... Young adult or not, it's ignorant, and I consider it almost a type of bigotry towards a genre if you read a handful of books and judge it based on that...

Whitehawk said...

@ Feaky Snucker: Yes, but isn't it just as ridiculous to say a whole genre is ok or appropriate? Discretion is key. I think it is also inappropriate to assume that every kid's life is predominated by "dark experiences" that need to be validated in the books they read.

Books contain ideas. Ideas by nature influence or pursuade. We should never forget this.

I would say never let your YA read something that contains material like this without reading it yourself also, then agree to talk about it when you're both done. I think allowing unsupervised influence on topics like the ones mentioned is dangerous to a young, impressionable mind. They don't have years of life experience to draw on for balance.

Stay invloved. That alone tells your YA you care and that is what they need to know most.

Theresa Milstein said...

Excellent post!

Did you read this response?

I talked to a 7th-grade class about the original article and this above response. The students really hated being talked down to and being treated like they weren't aware of the darkness of life. They use books to teach them about the world. I agreed with them.