In ignorant and judgmental news, a recent Wall Street Journal article informs the unsuspecting populace of several terrifying (non)facts! Did you know:
- There are no YA books out there that aren’t full of “vampires and suicide and self-mutilation” – seriously, you can go to Barnes & Noble and you won’t find a one!
- This is totally new! YA books didn’t exist at all forty years ago, and back then books had the decency not to mention a lot of problems real people have, because obviously that is the healthy way to approach such topics!
- Reading this kind of book will not only change your child’s developing taste, but will affect her/his “happiness, moral development and tenderness of heart”! These books will “bulldoze coarseness or misery into [your] children’s lives”!
- Nasty authors and publishers don’t want books to tone down foul language in books, “provided that it emerges organically from the characters and the setting rather than being tacked on for sensation.” Bad, bad authors and publishers, with their realism and authenticity! And bad librarians for encouraging them!
- Most teens don’t read YA anyway, because this kind of ugliness isn’t what they want!
This article ranges from eye-rolling to disturbing. It scoffs at the condemnation of censorship and even book-banning, implying that this is a parent’s duty. Either the author doesn’t realize that censorship goes beyond helping your own kids make choices to removing choices for other people, or she is actively promoting this behavior.
Also, she makes passing jabs at The Hunger Games and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I KNOW YOU DIDN’T.
There are some great responses to this out in the blogosphere – I especially like the one at YA Librarian pointing out the meaning of these books to some kids and teens, the one at Read Now Sleep Later telling of what “dark” realistic fiction has done for the blogger personally, and the one at the School Library Journal blog A Chair, A Fireplace, & A Tea Cozy, which dissects many of the problems (down to basic math) in the WSJ article.
Personally, I see great value to these books despite never having been drawn to them myself. (I’m a sucker for cheesy happy endings.) But here’s the thing: readers choose what they want to read. To a certain extent, parents may choose what their children read. But there is a definite supply-and-demand aspect that the author of the WSJ article seems not to grasp. These books aren’t being written and published because people feel like shoving unwanted topics down the throats of readers who’d rather be enjoying a nice (but tame, I’m sure! No more than holding hands!) romantic comedy. That would be a great way to never get published or to tank a publishing company. No, these books are out there because they speak to realities and to things that many people want – and sometimes need – to read. That’s why authors write them, that’s why bookstores stock them, and that’s why teens and non-teens read them.
(Although, as the SLJ blogger pointed out, seriously? This person was at Barnes & Noble and couldn’t find any Ally Carter or Meg Cabot or, you know, Diana Wynne Jones, or ANYTHING?)
Anyway: These books don’t exist for the people who don’t want them. No one will force any kid to read one of these books. If a teacher assigns one that a kid objects to or that a kid’s parents don’t want her/him to read, the parents can talk to the teacher about alternatives for their kids. But to look at all the stuff that’s out there and say, “Well, I don’t like that! I can’t imagine anyone liking that!”, and then to make the leap to, “Therefore, it shouldn’t exist!” . . . Well, if I operated that way, and industries had the bizarre idea that they should listen to me, beer wouldn’t exist, or shirts that you have to layer because they’re too thin to wear on their own, or uncomfortable shoes, or chalk.
So . . . yeah. Probably I am preaching to the choir here. But seriously, look at this article if you want to feel especially open-minded and well-informed by comparison.