June 5, 2011

WSJ Article Suggests Darkness in YA Literature: I Say Parents are the Light

I woke up to Twitter buzzing with #YAsaves and commentary on the YA publishing industry. Not only do I have YA readers in my house, I read YA and write the YA voice (I wrote the 13-year-old point of view in Depression Cookies and am working on a YA novel). Intrigued, I clicked on the Wall Street Journal article causing all the stir.

"Darkness Too Visible" had a screaming tagline: "Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?" The article starts by identifying a 46-year-old mom of three looking for a YA book for her 13-year-old at a Barnes & Noble.

The article goes on to detail her horror at the book selections and states, "Profanity that would get a song or movie branded with a parental warning is, in young-adult novels, so commonplace that most reviewers do not even remark upon it." Then find new reviewers. I, for one, review YA books (as does my daughter) on my Mom in Love with Fiction blog and indicate if I think a book does not fit within Amazon's suggested reading ages. But, it's only my opinion. A parent should monitor what their child reads and watches on television by judging the material themselves or finding a reviewer they trust.

My other issue right out of the gate was the fact this mom was in a chain bookstore hoping for YA guidance. This is where readers are feeling the gaping hole left when smaller bookstores closed down. But, at the very least, head to your library and speak with the Librarian about appropriate book recommendations. Don't let the major chains and traditional publishers push anything down your throat, much less your child's. A great site for reviews of lesser known YA novels is my fellow Blogathoner's BooksYALove blog. She also has a great post today about this very topic.

Reading on, ". . . a careless young readeror one who seeks out depravitywill find himself surrounded by images not of joy or beauty but of damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds." Wow! What a generalization. A careless young reader is only as careless as his/her parental guidance. Yes, a child can come across explicit material outside the parents' control, but responsible parents will follow up with a discussion.

I just read Max & Menna, a wonderful YA novel by Shauna Kelley. A great book, but not for young readers (I wouldn't let my 11-year-old read it for a few more years). The problem with the YA classification is its broadness. What category can really encompass 12- to 18-year-olds and consider 9- & 10-year-old advance readers? Movies aren't just PG and R, there's the middle ground of PG-13. Even then, a parent has to use his/her own discretion. Why should books be any different? Assuming no better labeling system is forthcoming, parents need to arm themselves with information. CSI is full of disturbing images and is ranked TV-14. It's a guideline. I've seen episodes I wish I hadn't seen, much less a young teenager.

The article then points out what they consider the flipside of the argument by stating young-adult novels "validate the teen experience, giving voice to tortured adolsescents who would otherwise be voiceless." Amen. Kids suffer inexplicable horrors and some need to know they are not alone. More than that, kids (considering their maturity levels as judged by their parents) should understand we don't live in a utopian world where bad people don't exist. But wait. "Yet it is also possible . . . that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them . . ." Nothing normalizes rape, incest, abuse, etc. Nothing. To suggest that is preposterous.

As a kid, I devoured Judy Blume books. When Forever hit the shelves, I begged my parents for it. The answer was No. They did their research. I snuck a rogue copy anyway, and guess what? My parents were right. I wasn't ready. Hmmmm. I'm sensing a theme about parental involvement.

The article then goes on to respond to an author's quote comparing books to what kids see on the Internet: " . . . one depravity does not justify another. If young people are encountering ghastly things on the Internet, that's a failure of the adults around them, not an excuse for more envelope-pushing." But the material kids read is NOT a responsibility of the adults around them? I'm confused.

Finally, a ray of light. Politics & Prose, an independent Washington, D.C. bookstore, is singled out for provided a special "PG-15" area for books. An independent bookstore with a better system. Interesting. Yet the article criticizes this by saying, " . . . creating a separate section may inadvertently lure the attention of younger children . . ." Come on! Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Again, parents are you listening? Monitor what your children read.

For those who argue we need a system in place for parents who don't take responsibility for their children, I agree. Let me know what you come up with that actually replaces good parenting!

I'd love to know what you think. Please comment below. And if you are on Twitter, share your thoughts at #YASaves.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

You hit the nail square on the head!

Katyroo said...

Right on, Tia! (as I show my age...) And these are the same things that librarians say when folks want to remove a book from library shelves because it isn't right for their child - it's the parents' responsibility to help their own children discover what they should read, not to decide what all children are allowed to read.

Teens need to read outside their comfort zone at times, as they compare what they've learned and believe with the big ol' world out there. And parents need to talk to their teens about what they're reading... and listening to... and watching.

Yes, talk to your librarians - ask for book suggestions, websites with reliable recommendations, other authors in your favorite genres.

p.s. Remember that the bookstores are in the business of *gasp* selling books and may not particularly care whether the right book is in your hands and heart, as long as you pay for it before you leave the store...

**Katy
Recommending YA books beyond the bestsellers at http://BooksYALove.blogspot.com
Follow me on Twitter @BooksYALove

Tia Bach said...

Thanks, Katy. I agree, and I am glad your blog is another resource for me to help my kids pick books. I felt passionately about this article! I'm glad it came across.

Tara said...

Yes! Holy crap, yes. Thank you for saying it so clearly and without resorting to the profanity that I would have used.

Tia Bach said...

Thanks, Tara. I wanted to show the constraint I always preach to my kiddos. But it was hard.