On June 4th, the Wall Street Journal published an article by Meghan Cox Gurdon titled Darkness Too Visible, in which she states, “teen fiction can be like a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is. There are of course exceptions, but a careless young reader—or one who seeks out depravity—will find himself surrounded by images not of joy or beauty but of damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds.”
She declares that the “dark issues” covered in many of today’s young adult novels can put ideas in young people’s minds, causing them to do things they may never have considered. Let me tell you—I haven’t been a teenager for almost 20 years, but I had plenty of warped ideas without the help of literature. It’s absurd to make the assumption that life in general—whether it be from peers, adults, or strangers—isn’t teaching teenagers about the harshness and cruelty that exists in society.
It’s these issues that draw people to teen fiction. Being able to read about someone else enduring the same horrors as you, whether it’s rape, the murder of a loved one, or being dumped three days before prom, helps readers feel less alone. I read Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers a couple months ago and it gave me insight into my teenage self that helped me as an adult. I can only imagine how powerful that could be to a confused sixteen-year old.
Personally, I seek out non-paranormal stories about normal teenagers dealing with normal stuff. I enjoy reading about the sweetness of first love, and I find that in YA. But I’ve read plenty of darker books, and have been surprised by how strongly they resonate with me. I never would have imagined enjoying books about angels and reapers and dystopian fights to the death, but instead of judging the books, I read them and formed my own opinion. Best of all, my writing has improved because of the diversity of my reading.
The WSJ article concludes by saying, “The book business exists to sell books; parents exist to rear children, and oughtn’t be daunted by cries of censorship. No family is obliged to acquiesce when publishers use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children’s lives.” I couldn’t agree more. But Ms.Gurdon seems to have missed the point entirely. My friends with children take an active role with their children’s lives and make a point to know what they’re reading; many actually read the books first. It’s up to parents to know their children and what they’re mature enough to read.
And for those kids who don’t have an adult like that in their lives, the community of young adult authors is here to step in.
Two other rebuttals worth reading:
Teen Fiction Accused of Being ‘Rife’ with Depravity – The Guardian
#YASAVES – Allison Brennan, Murderati