Sunday, June 5, 2011

Re: Darkness Too Visible

The Wall Street Journal published an article on June 4th about violence, swearing and other things that were considered not suitable for young adults, in YA books. I've been thinking about what Ms. Gurdon wrote about a mother who couldn't even find a YA book in a bookstore that she found suitable for her 13 year-old daughter, and telling us about the dark themes that are going around in the YA book industry.

Now, I'm not saying that I'm an expert or that everything that I say about this article is the absolute truth, but this is my interpretation of this article. I had to blow off some steam after reading that text, and so here I am.

First, let me address the matter of the mother who was unable to find a book for her 13 year-old daughter, because all the YA books were either suicide, self mutilation or vampires and that was all dark stuff. Don't get me wrong, I do think that there are tons of books out there that have those themes, but to say that she couldn't find a single book in the bookstore tells me that mom didn't look well enough. The implication that contemperary (and YA books as a whole) only tells us about dark stuff, is complete and utter rubbish. What about great authors like Sarah Dessen and John Green, to name a few? They write great books, tell us (and the young adults their books are marketed for) important lessons about what to value in life.

Having said that, let's get to the 'dark stuff'-trend in YA. It's true that there are more and more books coming out that handle with exessive violence, deaths, eating disorders, rapes and self mutilation. Those books are there for a reason, besides the fact that they sell, which is probably the main reason that the book is published in the first place. It is because it's important to tell young adults about these kind of things. The author of the article in the WSJ picks Rage by Jackie Morse Kessler to illustrate things. In this book, Missy cuts herself, aka uses self mutilation to express her emotions because she doesn't have another way to express herself. While this book is dark and confronting, it also informs us about the way people who cut themselves react to certain things and what triggers the impulse to take a knife. It's not to ask for attention, like many people out there seem to think. It's so much deeper than that. If Ms. Gurdon had read the book, she would have known that Morse Kessler is trying to create awareness for problems among young adults. Because while it may be harsh, graphic, confronting and painful to think of, she gives us a little insight in what it is to deal with the situation.

What I really wanted to say after reading this article, is that the text implies that all that exessive violence that young adults read about, are not filtered by their parents (ie they shouldn't have let their child read that book) and suggests that young adults should read books that do not deal with the darker, heavier things that are out there nowadays. Can I just say that this really pisses me off? In my experience, and I was a reluctant reader in my teens, teens should not be kept away from everything that contains issues like Ms. Gurdon indicates. Teens should be made aware of the things around them and they should not be sheltered from what is going on in the world. Because when you give your child books that you have approved off, that don't contain things like death, disease, violence, how is a child to deal with that in real life if you don't educate them about it? The world isn't made of butterflies and fuzzies! It's not all love and it's certainly not easy.

The reason that books have the themes that they do now, in comparison to the titles that came out say 40 years ago, is that the world is a different place. Children and especially young adults are really difficult to get to reading, and when they read, they want to be entertained. They want to see the characters talk the way that they do, instead of the polite talk that some parents may want to see from their children. They want it to feel real. While violence is a darker theme in the novels out there right now, the reason there is more violence in books is because the world is getting more aggressive.

So here's another problem that I deal with. They want young adults to read more. But they also seem to want to lower the levels of violence and 'dark stuff' in young adult novels, making the books more plain and bringing us back so many years in terms of literature. What is wrong with the progress young adult literature is making? Because some parents have problems with the openmindedness of the authors that write books today?

I agree that some books are quite harsh and not suitable for some agegroups. But while, for example, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is packed with violence upon violence, it also teaches us lessons about how to deal with suppression, what love is and the importance of freedom.

Books that deal with the 'dark stuff' that was mentioned in the WSJ article, teach us valuable lessons. Why do you want to take those lessons away from young adults?

1 comment:

  1. I am thinking that WSJ is kicking themselves right now as this article has turned around and bit them on the backside.

    I found the thread on twitter this morning and when I finally found out what is was about I was more annoyed than anything else. Like you said 'mom didn't look well enough'!!! In the article they have basically said that ALL YA lit is filled with the 'dark' material that was listed. That is a misleading lie!

    Grumble grumble.

    Thanks for the post, I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the article.

    My thought are here


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