Sunday, June 5, 2011

YA Saves

By Meghan B

Imagine you pick up a book. It's dark, full of war and poverty and rioting. Full of people who lose their homes or people who can't find a job. People are murdered or raped. People also overcome these thing. They find the strength to push against what has happened to them and regain their footing in this dark world.

That book is not fiction. It's the tumultuous world we currently live in. Our world right now is awash in wars, in suffering and sickness, it revolutions that take over entire countries and personal struggles like rape that take over an entire life.

The Wall Street Journal thinks this is a bad thing. They published an article last night called "Darkness Too Visible" about how violent and dark YA fiction has become. It reads as if they don't believe fiction should mirror our real lives. In an insulting and absolutely sickeningly ignorant article, they have called out young adult fiction as somehow "evil." It's too dark, the writer claims. God forbid we show our children the truth of the world. Let us continue to lie to them. Instead of provoking discussion about these dark things, let us instead silence them.

In a series of strawman arguments, the writer demonstrates a complete lack of understand about young adult fiction as well as actual young adults. Teenagers are much smarter than we given them credit for. The writer seems to have no idea what actual YA fiction is beyond an anecdote and some pearl-clutching. The writer is living in a fantasy land if they think dark teen fiction is anything new. Who among us read Go Ask Alice as children? Who didn't cry over The Diary of Anne Frank? This is nothing new.

Maureen Johnson, patron saint of YA
Maureen Johnson, generally awesome person and friend to everyone, highlighted this hypocrisy on Twitter. She blasted the article for it's small mindedness and frank inaccuracy. In doing so, she has started a revolution. All day and night, people have been using the #YAsaves hashtage and @wsj to let them know how wrong they are and how important YA fiction has been to them. Within two hours, it became the second highest trending topic in the United States.

Darkness is not the only things YA offers. Without darkness, there can not be hope. In this crazy world we live in right now, we need to see these dark things so we can learn from them and become stronger. Teens are humans and they suffer just as many complicated problems as adults do. We should not try to force feed them idyllic cheerful lies about the world. The article asks "contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?" It's considered a good idea because life itself is also rife with these things. We can not pretend they do not exist.

Books like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter show people overcoming incredible adversity. Heartbreaking books like Thirteen Reasons Why or Speak deal with issues of rape and suicide that teens may not feel comfortable about discussing with adults. Books give us hope. Books say to us that "yes, you too will one day be okay." They tell us it's okay to be frightened and they also tell us we can be brave.

It is utterly irresponsible of the Wall Street Journal to have even given sever space to such a thoughtless and insulting article. Young adult fiction still struggles with trying to be taken seriously (and it is VERY serious) and this only demeans it further. Even more puzzling is the idea that their "acceptable" choices for YA novels was split by gender. Girls and boys can read the same books and learn from them just as well, though this is apparently something the Wall Street Journal also does not believe. Dividing the books by gender is just another wrongheaded move in a series of wrongheaded moves and adds to how dated and alarmist the article sounds.

If you believe in the importance of YA fiction and its power, use the #YAsaves hashtag on Twitter and make sure you add @wsj. Tell them Maureen Johnson sent you. Tell them YA novels are just as important as any other fiction and that they give us hope.

I am proud to read YA novels.
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  1. We do believe in the importance of YA fiction and its power. Thank you for this very well written post.

  2. I moved to DC to work on Capitol Hill for a congresswoman in August 2001 when I was just 22. I didn't know anyone when September 11 happened, when we ran for our lives thinking we were next. Going to work everyday after was terrifying, more so because I was all alone.

    Then I met a group of smart and funny young women. We bonded over our love of Harry Potter. I wasn't alone anymore.

  3. Oh and as for other books for children that have been around for decades that highlight the horrors of humanity, let's not forget Piggy's murder in "Lord of the Flies" or Julie being raped in "Julie of the Wolves" or when Gene engineers an "accident" that his frienemy ultimately dies from in "A Separate Peace." All have been considered classics for at least forty years and I read them all as school assignments by the time I was 13.

  4. Another excellent and timely article from Meghan B.!

    The Wall Street Journal was acquired by Rupert Murdoch (who also owns Fox news) in 2007 and has become yet another branch of right-wing journalism. The article mentioned above is, in my opinion, just another in their continuing culture war. It's a morality issue for many of their followers.

    Re: "As it happens, 40 years ago, no one had to contend with young-adult literature because there was no such thing. There was simply literature, some of it accessible to young readers and some not."

    For the most part, that's true. What the author does not mention is that most of us that loved reading jumped from children's books to adult novels. One of my first was the infamous, "Peyton Place" which every young teen read for the sex scenes and for which we had all memorized the pertinent page numbers.

    The first book I read that meant something to me personally as a teenager was "Catcher In The Rye." I could not believe it! A character that was not all cookies and milk, and one that I could relate to. Many want to ban that one now, too.

    Re: "The real Judy Blume won millions of readers (and the disapprobation of many adults) with then-daring novels such as 1970's 'Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret,' which deals with female puberty, 1971's 'Then Again, Maybe I Won't,' which addresses puberty from a boy's perspective, and 1975's 'Forever,' in which teenagers lose their virginity in scenes of earnest practicality. Objectionable the material may be for some parents, but it's not grotesque."

    Objectionable? Here's the truth... I happened to be volunteering in my daughter's elementary school library at the time and got in on what was really going on across the country about the Judy Blume books. Groups of parents wanted them purged from libraries our children had access to. They were the same type of moralists that came out of the woodwork to damn the Harry Potter books, and they are the same type that will lap up the Wall St. Journal article reported on by Meghan B.

    Be aware of this type of book burners, and keep an eye on what they're going after. They cross generations and will always be there to tell the rest of us what we should and should not be reading.


  5. Since I am a woman and expect to have children in the future, I simply will not rely on schools to educate my children. The books that made a difference in my YA years will always be put in their hands.

    They can pry "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" from my cold, dead hands.