Sunday, June 5, 2011
YA: My Experience with Wall Street
So by now you've all heard about the WALL STREET JOURNAL ARTICLE that was released a couple days ago. To say I am disappointed is putting it mildly but I'm going to be kind and civil for once in my entire life and argue my points intelligently.
Various things about the article stand out:
1. That in an entire section of young adult fiction, Amy Freeman was unable to find one book for her 13-year-old daughter. I find that really hard to believe since large chain bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Indigo.Chapters pride themselves on being diverse and carrying a multitude of genres.
YA isn't just books about supernatural creatures like vampires or werewolves. Nor is it all about self-mutilation and suicide. There are a lot of happy books out there like Meg Cabot's All American Girl, Louise Rennison's Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series, or more recently Stephenie Perkins' Anna and the French Kiss. Just to name a few really good books that are happy and fun.
Dark themes? Yes, they exist in YA fiction. Is that a bad thing? No, I don't believe it is. You can't always promote the idea of constant happiness and sweetness because the real world is not like that and YA is just trying to reflect the hardships of teens and help them through their troubles. I think that's important.
Laurie Halse Anderson's novel Speak is a tough novel with a sad subject matter but it's also the book that taught me what rape was when I was 13 and in my first year of high school. This book is important to me because it taught me something that my mother was too afraid to even discuss with me.
2. "Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures. Self-destructive adolescent behaviors are observably infectious and have periods of vogue."
No, no, no, no, no. Girls may dye their hair purple and blue because their favorite singer does it but they're not stupid enough to cut themselves because a book about a girl dealing with depression does it. They're not giving teenagers enough credit here. I get the feeling that they think teenagers aren't capable of independent thought and that they need to be directed at every turn.
Normalize self-destructive adolescent behaviors? Again, no. While self-destructive behavior is common, it doesn't only exist with teens. Adults do it too. Look at Mel Gibson.
3. "By contrast, the latest novel by "this generation's Judy Blume," otherwise known as Lauren Myracle, takes place in a small Southern town in the aftermath of an assault on a gay teenager. The boy has been savagely beaten and left tied up with a gas pump nozzle shoved down his throat, and he may not live."
"If books show us the world, teen fiction can be like a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is. There are of course exceptions, but a careless young reader—or one who seeks out depravity—will find himself surrounded by images not of joy or beauty but of damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds."
Distorted portrayals of what life is? It's more like a reality check. That book by Lauren Myracle sounds similar to the real life case of Matthew Shepard who was beaten, tortured and left to die tied to a fence in 1998. He was targeted for being gay.
Cruelty, sadness, death and violence are all terrible and horrible things but they are a part of life just as much as joy and beauty and tenderness are. You cannot have one without the other and to expect young adult literature to perpetuate something so false is harmful.
LAST WORDS: And honestly, if you buy your children video games with an M rating (meaning violence, blood, intense gore, sexual situations, and drugs) or fail to talk about important issues or take them to see violent films then you have no right to harp on about how there are only dark themes in YA fiction.
It upsets me that instead of people discussing and trying to learn things together, they instead reject things they do not understand properly.
Why would I ever write YA? Because the teen voice is all about self-discovery and overcoming your struggles during one of the most important and difficult times of your life.