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YA Saves: A Word on the Importance of YA Novels

June 5, 2011

In a recent Wall Street Journal article titled “Darkness Too Visible” Meghan Cox Gurdon tackles the question of “Is YA fiction too dark?” She cites real life examples of how parents in various places have walked into book stores or libraries looking to buy or check out a book for their teenagers, only to leave without a pick, or becoming upset by the cover images they find because they think that every YA book is either too paranormal or too violent or too profane for their perfect children to read.

While Gurdon presents her opinion in a well-thought out, well-worded way, she obviously only looked at one YA shelf in her local book store. I know for a fact that the Barnes & Noble in Elmsford, NY, which I visit weekly, has a shelf with a sign over it that reads “Tough Stuff for Teens,” and holds many of the novels Ms. Gurdon references in her article. Right next to the Tough Stuff shelf, is another with a sign that reads “Teen Paranormal.” Then, across an aisle are the REST of the YA novels, from The Hunger Games to The Gallgher Girls to The Mortal Instruments to single titles, some much thematically heavy than others.

While I was reading the article that has offended many YA authors and readers, enough so to start a Twitter hashtag that reads “YAsaves” and features hundreds of stories of those who have turned to YA novels in times of need, or for a boost of self-confidence, or who learned that life is better than they think it is because of a YA book they read, I thought to myself, “If I had kids, would I react in the same way that these parents are reacting to some YA books?”

While I’d love to say that I would be a parent who allows their kids to read anything they want, I think there are some books out there that I absolutely wouldn’t let my younger teen read. Not that I wouldn’t EVER let them read it, I just would want them to wait until they are a little more mature, or have begun to form their own ideas and opinion on certain topics. However. That is a decision that needs to be made by PARENTS on a book-by-book and kid-by-kid basis.

For example, when I was 15, I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I loved it. My 12-year-old sister wanted to read it, so she took it from my bookshelf and started it. Now, even at 15, I discussed what I was reading with my mom. Once she realized my sister was reading it, she FLIPPED OUT, and wanted to take it away from her so she wouldn’t be exposed to some of the themes in the book. However, she didn’t. My mom knew that if she banned my sister from reading that book, she’d only want to read it more.

So she let her finish it, and then sat down with her so they could have a conversation about the more adult themes in the novel. From there, my sister started reading significantly darker and more adult books, like those written by Chuck Palahnuik, and my mom, despite her distaste for them, would do the same thing she did with The Perks of Being a Wallflower. They would discuss the book at hand and how my sister felt about and thought about it. While I realize that not all parents will sit down and do what my mother did, I think that is a BEAUTIFUL way to monitor what your kids are reading.

Anyway. The bottom line is that YA books are important. If they weren’t, Ms. Gurdon wouldn’t have written the article. Teenagers and adults alike flock to YA books because of how they present ideas and situations–they aren’t pretentiously written and they don’t judge their audience. No matter the subject matter or genre of young adult fiction, I’ve found that YA books are the most honest, the most open, and the least biased when it comes to presenting ideas on “tough stuff,” whether it’s homosexuality, suicidal thoughts, dealing with death, or combatting loneliness. I think that it’s wonderful that YA publishers are publishing books that grapple with these types of topics, because they are topics that teenagers a) deal with, and b) are interested in.

In the article, Ms. Gurdon writes,”If books show us the world, teen fiction can be like a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is.” What I want to know is, what would Ms. Gurdon like to see YA writers write about? Because if the answer is fluffy stories of how great the world is, and how happy people can be, then she is living a very sheltered and deluded life.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 5, 2011 12:58 PM

    I only just read the article and I agree I think that she must have been looking at a very limited shelf of YA books. I really, honestly can't believe she couldn't find something suitable for her daughter. The article felt like it was almost written to start a debate and gain publicity. I like your take on it and I agree not all books are suited too all children, but I don't like her sweeping statements about YA in general.

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