Monday, June 06, 2011

Darkness in YA Literature

I was at the New Jersey SCBWI conference over the weekend (with Grace!)--it was a wonderful time with great speakers, workshops, keynotes (Grace!), food, and more. I'd say it's one of the top regional SCBWI conferences, in part because of its close proximity to NYC--they probably get more agents and editors on the faculty each year than any other region (aside from the annual conferences in NY and LA). Check out the lineup here.

But in short, because I was away all weekend, I didn't have time to continue blogging about my Auckland and Australia trip (at this rate, I'll finish blogging about it by Fall!).

Instead, I thought I'd direct you all to a few links. Over the weekend, the Twitterverse was once again alive with controversy. If you haven't yet read the article in the Wall Street Journal "Darkness too Visible", about how depraved YA literature has become, I would recommend reading it now, although I'll warn you that it may make you angry. It made me angry.

I'm not saying that there isn't extreme darkness in YA literature. Of course there is. But I absolutely LOVED dark books as a teen. I read all of Stephen King's books when I was 12. I loved V.C. Andrews. I loved Lois Duncan, Robert Cormier, The Outsiders, A Separate Peace, books about suicide, anorexia, addiction, sex, murder, incest, death, etc. None of these books made me anorexic, suicidal, incestuous, or homicidal.

I loved books that made me cry, and I loved books that made me think. I also liked books that made me laugh, that simply entertained me. I loved the classics. I also loved the fluff.

Personally, I think that pretty much "anything goes" in YA lit, because before YA lit existed, teens were reading adult books. They still are. There is a need and a market for all kinds of books.

But at any rate, authors Laurie Halse Anderson, Barry Lyga, Libba Bray, Cecil Castellucci, and many many more say it much better than me. They are, after all, artists.

From Cecil:

I think that we underestimate teenagers and young people in general. Because it’s not that they become desensitized to violence or anything bad when they read these things in books. It’s that they are growing their world. And oftentimes they only understand what they are ready for. And no one, not me, not you, not anyone, can ever dictate what someone is or isn’t ready for. Or what they might need to find their way. Sometimes darkness leads to light. That is what is so great about all young adult fiction.

And for the record, not all contemporary YA fiction is dark. The WSJ article would lead you to believe that all of it deals with dark subjects. But it doesn’t. But it is fantastic news for all of us that some of it is. I like to look at some of the hard things that are being written about as opportunities for conversation. What one child is ready for is not necessarily what another child is ready for. Teenagers, like adults, come in all different shapes and forms. They also have different tastes. I don’t argue with that.

But that doesn’t mean that you deny a book that some kid might need. Some kid might need Shine. Or Scars. Or Marbury Lens. Or Hunger Games. Or Rage. Or any other book that might seem at the outset to be too dark. Why not talk to them? Why not figure out why they are attracted to whatever it is they are reading?

For Ms. Gurdon to say that the YA publishing industry “pulls up its petticoats and shrieks 'censorship!'” is ridiculous. If you are saying that books should be cleared off shelves because they are not to your tastes, then we cry censorship because it is censorship. Children and YA books are banned because adults try to decide what is appropriate or not for a child. But the thing is, you don’t know what is appropriate for every child. You don’t know what book a kid’s life might well depend on.

Check out the hashtag #YASaves on Twitter for some inspiration.


Matthew MacNish said...


This is what I do: read the books my children read, so that we can discuss any questions they might have, or whether something bothered them. It's called parenting.

Naomi Canale said...

Wonderful post Alvina. And Cecil summed it up perfectly. My favorite line was, "Sometimes darkness leads to light. That is what is so great about all young adult fiction."

Maria @ Bicultural Mama said...

I agree, people have preconceived notions of what teens can and can't handle...I read "dark" books as a teen, and I think I turned out fine. Great post. Thanks.