YA Book News: Defending YA

My thoughts on YA and why I love it.

I’m sure by now you have all read the Wall Street Jour­nal arti­cle ‘Dark­ness Too Vis­i­ble’ that com­plains of con­tem­po­rary teenage fic­tion of being ‘rife with explicit abuse, vio­lence and deprav­ity.’ The YA com­mu­nity was of course, all over it and within hours peo­ple were post­ing up their own sto­ries and expe­ri­ences of how YA has helped them through dif­fi­cult times in their lives (search for #YAsaves on Twit­ter to see the thou­sands of responses this arti­cle has sparked). Many of them tell how YA fic­tion saved their lives. A lot of them brought tears to my eyes.

I’m not going to attempt to stand along­side these mov­ing, coura­geous and inspir­ing posts, but I did have a few thoughts I wanted to share (hope­fully with­out sound­ing too preachy).

I strongly believe that cen­sor­ship, of any book, is wrong and that to pull these types of books — the ones that deal with dark, painful, fright­en­ing, dif­fi­cult and taboo sub­jects — off the shelves, would be doing a huge dis­ser­vice to the younger generation.

If you believe that every­one below the age of 18 lives in a bub­ble where peer pres­sure, sex­u­al­ity, drugs, phys­i­cal and men­tal abuse, dis­or­ders, bul­ly­ing, sex­ual assault, homo­pho­bia, and racism doesn’t exist, then it is you who is liv­ing in a bub­ble. A nice naive pocket of air. Teenagers encounter these issues every day, whether it is first or second-hand; on the news, in our schools, and too often, in their own homes. Life is hard. For some teenagers — it can be unbear­able. Deny­ing those young adults a safe place where they can find sup­port, under­stand­ing, hope and the courage to seek help for them­selves, or a friend in need, is, to put it frankly, shame­ful. Read­ing an hon­est account of a young girl who cuts her­self is not going to make hoards of young girls out there sud­denly start exper­i­ment­ing with cut­ting — but it might well help some of them who are going through a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion to feel less alone.

And the thing is — there is such a diverse range of YA lit­er­a­ture out there. It is a cat­e­gory that encom­passes books for 12 year olds right through to 18, and increas­ingly, beyond that. Not every book is going to be suit­able for every age range and every young reader — nor should it be. So if you’re lost on what to buy your 13-year-old daugh­ter to read, ask. Talk to librar­i­ans, book­sellers, authors, book blog­gers. Find out what’s out there  - because I can promise you, there are many, many well writ­ten, thought-provoking, intel­li­gent and enter­tain­ing books out there on every topic imag­in­able. YA fic­tion is so much more than just the para­nor­mal book­shelf. Talk to your kids. Find out what they thought after read­ing a book that deals with one of these dif­fi­cult issues. Ask them how it made them feel.

I can still remem­ber with clar­ity, the first time I truly grasped the igno­rance, evil­ness and dan­ger of intol­er­ance and hatred, after read­ing Noughts and Crosses by Mal­o­rie Black­man as a very young girl. Books are an impor­tant part of our lives and can help shape us into the peo­ple we are. The best ones instill in us a sense of right and wrong. Many, many peo­ple and expe­ri­ences have con­tributed to who I am today, but I can still trace that ini­tial spark of anger, that sense of injus­tice that peo­ple could treat oth­ers so appallingly sim­ply because they are dif­fer­ent, back to that book.

So who do you want your chil­dren to be?

And no — not every teenager needs a ‘dark’ book to help them cope with the world. But every sin­gle one of them should read them nev­er­the­less. And maybe tomor­row, after read­ing one of these ‘depraved’ books, a kid may stand up to some bul­lies on the play­ground, or hold a friend’s hand as they finally con­fide in some­one about the abuse they are suf­fer­ing at home. Or just feel great about them­selves because they spent an hour or two lost in a won­der­ful, mag­i­cal, fun world.

These are our future teach­ers, par­ents, doc­tors, lawyers, politi­cians, neigh­bours, fam­ily and friends. What kind of peo­ple do we hope they will be? Because what Ms Gur­don has failed to grasp is that these books aren’t writ­ten to dam­age chil­dren, to pro­mote vio­lence for the sake of vio­lence, to entice young read­ers into exper­i­ment­ing with sex and drugs, to scare them with what could be wait­ing out there for them in the big bad world. They are about loos­ing your­self for an hour or two. About reach­ing out to those who need it. They are sto­ries about over­com­ing evil in all it’s forms. Sto­ries of sur­vival and free­dom and equal­ity. Sto­ries that tell us to stand up for oth­ers. Sto­ries of friend­ship, com­pas­sion and love. Sto­ries about hope.

What a truly inspir­ing and won­der­ful mes­sage to send out to young minds.

Read just a few of the reac­tions to the WSJ arti­cle here:

Booka­li­cious

Cheryl Rain­field (whose book Scars was one of the YA nov­els sin­gled out in the article)

Inara Scott

Mad in Woman in the Forest

Per­snick­ety Snark

Roof­beam Reader

Speakeasy

The Read­ing Zone

Word for Teens

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