This weekend a WSJ journalist wrote an opinion piece about young adult books that, well, most writers and fans of young adult fiction really took exception to. The basic assertion was that the content in YA books was too dark, or too graphic, or too real. That if teens read this stuff, they'd think, "Wow, if the girl in this book is a cutter, I guess that's cool and I should be a cutter, too," or "Wow, the kid in this book was raped. I should find someone to rape me, so I can have that experience, too!" or "Wow, if these kids are fighting to the death on a reality TV show in the future, maybe I should kill my friend at school tomorrow."
Now, I'm definitely taking license with the woman's article, but it annoyed me, as it did many others. And she used words like "depravity" and "grueling" to describe the content of great books, so I don't feel too bad about a little exaggeration.
Tons of people have responded to the WSJ article way earlier and way better than I could, but I thought I'd summarize a few thoughts here and recap the excitement for those of you who missed it.
What went down:
I'm honestly not certain when writers first took notice of the article, probably when some of the authors mentioned, like Jackie Keesler and Judy Blume and Cheryl Rainfield got google alerts, or who first started the hashtag, (hashtags are basically a way to label tweets so they can be viewed all together) but I first became aware when Cheryl (who's a local author and a friend) sent me an e-mail asking me to help spread the word. In a nutshell, using the #YASAVES hashtag, the twitterverse was challenged to speak up if reading YA books helped them cope with their adolescence.
Then over the next days, many, many authors and readers and editors responded, pointing out the weak logic in this woman's argument. Here are some of the "top tweets" using this hashtag.
And the hashtag is still active. Very active. Clearly this article/issue
has people worked up. And look at the list of people weighing in: Beth
Revis, Neil Gaiman and Judy Freaking Blume!
Following this hashtag for a while, I discovered this fabulous poem/reading by Laurie Halse Anderson that she wrote to summarize all the letters she's received from teens talking about how her book Speak helped them cope with their own traumatic experiences.
Linda Holmes at NPR wrote an excellent response, as have many others... The reaction clearly demonstrated the power of social networking tools to rally people behind a cause...
There were many, many good points made, but I think the one tweet I read that made me laugh and nod my head all at once was something to the effect of:
So, it's the kids who are reading we're worrying about?
I think that sums it up for me. Reading fiction builds empathy, helps us see things from someone else's perspective and/or think about issues in ways we wouldn't have otherwise. (There have been studies; this isn't just my opinion.) How can helping kids see the world in a broader way and/or gain empathy for other kids in difficult (sometimes horrendous) situations be bad? How can reading and using their imaginations and expanding their minds be bad?
I do get that parents might wish that their teens were still reading the tame sweet books of their childhoods, but kids grow up, and regardless of the content and nature of YA fiction, teens who love reading will be sampling darker fare. Why? Because if the only available teen fiction is too sweet and passes all the "suitable for young teens" censors, then kids won't read those books. They'll move straight to adult fiction.
And let me tell you, I read some pretty inappropriate books for my age as a teen, books with elements I couldn't relate to and/or didn't understand. But there weren't any books aimed at teens worth reading when I was one. Or at least not enough of them to keep a voracious reader occupied. (And yet, I still grew up to be a (fairly) productive member of society and didn't try to emulate any of the characters in the books by Sidney Sheldon, or Judith Krantz or Jacqueline Susann or Mario Puzo or Erica Jong or VC Andrews -- all authors I read in my teens. And that's just off the top of my head.)
And adult books have only become more, um, adult in the past few decades. Isn't it better that teens now have a great selection of books that speak to them directly and that they actually want to read???
All over the world, kids are shouting, "Finally! Books with characters I can relate to in stories that don't treat me like a baby."
I hear them. Don't you?