counterpoint

so by now you may have already heard about the article at the Wall Street Journal that is less than favorable towards the entirety of Young Adult literature as a genre. 


i've been having some difficulty processing my emotions and thoughts behind this article, so i'm going to do an exercise i frequently used when i was in school. take each point that challenges me, and respond. i will only choose the statements from the article that are most unsettling for me, as doing it with the entire article would result somewhere between a novella and epic read. 


okay things start off on the wrong foot for me with the title. more specifically, the sub-title is what gets under my skin. "Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?"
 - i challenge Mrs. Gurdon to find a single teen in this country who has not had a friend, family member, or themselves have experienced abuse, violence, or depravity. to say that contemporary fiction is rife with these things is something i consider to be an overstatement, but regardless - the books that contain these element do so because it is part of the teenage existence. does that mean every teenager is abused? no. does it mean that every teenager should know about abuse? yes. because knowledge raises awareness and awareness leads to action. action that teens will take should they deal with abuse in their future. 


"Hundreds of lurid and dramatic covers stood on the racks before her"
 - i'd like to see photographic evidence of this please. i sincerely doubt that there were a) hundreds of covers on racks in the first place and b) that they all meet the description of lurid which is: Presented in vividly shocking or sensational terms, esp. giving explicit details of crimes or sexual matters.


"kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things in novels directed"
- of the last 32 novels i've read, 4 have dealt with the issues mentioned above. that is 1/8th of my reading. the beating was part of a historical fiction novel regarding slavery, the pederasty was a a background element to the backstory of a sympathetic male character, beating in another book was related to a girl in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend (which she ultimately escapes) and the kidnapping was on the part of students taking a teacher and regretting their choices terribly. all of these elements enhanced the plot of the story and made the characters real, authentic, and crafted a voice that needed to be heard. 


"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. As elsewhere in American life, the 1960s changed everything. In 1967, S.E. Hinton published "The Outsiders," a raw and striking novel that dealt directly with class tensions, family dysfunction and violent, disaffected youth. It launched an industry."
- apparently The Outsiders use of abuse, violence, and drugs are just fine but current novels that discuss these issues are too dark. 
- i celebrate the fact that young adults have their own genre of literature and can still access 'simply literature' at the same time. age appropriate struggles are of extreme value to readers whose brain development is shifting from sense of self to sense of other. also, the adolescent brain starts to gain the ability to see themselves in the lives of others during upper adolescence, making reading about challenging topics that much more valuable to their overall development as a person in a complex society.


"The argument in favor of such novels is that they validate the teen experience, giving voice to tortured adolescents who would otherwise be voiceless. If a teen has been abused, the logic follows, reading about another teen in the same straits will be comforting. If a girl cuts her flesh with a razor to relieve surging feelings of self-loathing, she will find succor in reading about another girl who cuts, mops up the blood with towels and eventually learns to manage her emotional turbulence without a knife."
- i'd like to add to that argument, which i agree with, that the value in reading about other people's experience - particularly people of our same age - fosters an understanding and challenge to compassion.


"Self-destructive adolescent behaviors are observably infectious and have periods of vogue."
- i'd like to see evidence of this claim, please. 


"In the book business, none of this is controversial, and, to be fair, Ms. Myracle's work is not unusually profane. Foul language is widely regarded among librarians, reviewers and booksellers as perfectly OK, provided that it emerges organically from the characters and the setting rather than being tacked on for sensation. In Ms. Myracle's case, with her depiction of redneck bigots with meth-addled sensibilities, the language is probably apt."
- i could write an entire article on this paragraph alone. yikes. but in short, in the book business these topics are consistently controversial. there is a banned book list, groups that challenge subject matter and authors, and having accessibility to certain titles in libraries is something that is constantly revisited in libraries everywhere. 
- in the same breath, Mrs. Gurdon slams the Lauren Myracle for her dramatic represenation of sexual abuse and then throws in her own personal bias against redneck drug users. 


"By f—ing gatekeepers (the letter-writing editor spelled it out), she meant those who think it's appropriate to guide what young people read. In the book trade, this is known as "banning." In the parenting trade, however, we call this "judgment" or "taste.""
- i seriously doubt she meant gatekeepers as those who think it's appropriate to guide what young people read. she most likely meant people who take it upon themselves to slam a genre as a whole and rule out the value of certain books entirely based on language alone. the only way to be sure is to ask her.
- "judgment' and "taste" are akin to personal preference. when you go into a restaurant, you will most likely see red meat on the menu. do you have to order red meat? no. but is red meat banned from the menu from those who might like to order it? no. if you have a taste for red meat, by all means, order up.


"Oh, well, that's all right then. Except that it isn't."
- being snarky does not help you look professional or solidify your case.


"At the same time, she notes that many teenagers do not read young-adult books at all. Near the end of the school year, when she and a colleague entertained students from a nearby private school, only three of the visiting 18 juniors said that they read YA books."
- i'd like to see this compared on a national average.


"So it may be that the book industry's ever-more-appalling offerings for adolescent readers spring from a desperate desire to keep books relevant for the young. Still, everyone does not share the same objectives. The book business exists to sell books; parents exist to rear children, and oughtn't be daunted by cries of censorship. No family is obliged to acquiesce when publishers use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children's lives."
- i, for one, am glad that the book industry is concerned about keeping books relevant for the young. thank you.
- the book business may exist to sell books, but the author exists to share a story that is meaningful in the life of a reader. that is why young adult books exist.
- i agree that parents have every right to challenge books they feel aren't suitable for their children. when that challenge is to the genre as a whole however, i think the issue isn't being selective, but naive. 


okay so as i read this it did occur to me that i'm angry. having expressed my thoughts, i'm angry that the author would say these things. however i understand it's totally her right to share her thoughts. 


on a side note, i wonder if this article was a tool to incite a heated discussion, as she recently reviewed Between Shades of Gray and doesn't seem to have any issues with the challenges and dark situations that book discusses. 


[all quotes are directly from the article Darkness Too Visible by Megan Cox Gurdon published June 4, 2011 by Wall Street Journal.]

Lisa is a gamer, crafter, fangirl, mother, wife and unabashed nerd who is pretty ridiculous and it's best you know that up front. When she's not binge watching Netflix or crafting into the wee hours of the night, you can find her spending a lot of her time on Pinterest and Twitter.

7 comments:

  1. I also think it's interesting that 3 out of 18 juniors suddenly represents the whole of the teen population. And if they're not reading YA are we to assume they are reading "simply literature"? Or perhaps not at all?! I shudder to think that the alternative to reading "dark themed" YA novels is to not read at all!

    Thanks for a well organized and thoughtful response to this article! I'm hoping to compose my own response later today at http://thebookelement.blogspot.com. #YAsaves!!!

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  2. As a teenager, I think ignoring hard and 'dark' subjects is completely ignorant. This article was like a slap in the face to us who is genre is made for. News flash: teenagers use profanity and have problems. If we can't have literature that deals with that, then why write for us at all?

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  3. I popped over hoping you had written about this article and looking forward to your articulate response - thank you!

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  4. I love your comparison to red meat. Do you ban red meat? No, but you don't have to order it. Ahahaha.

    Great counterpoints!

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  5. thanks, ladies! there are a ton of interesting reflections on this out there and i'm loving checking them out too. :)

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  6. I was really disappointed in the article. I thought that the article raised a semi-valid point; much YA lit does feature "tortured souls" and teens who are super-angsty, or have dramatic, abusive relationships in their lives. Growing up i had to search long and hard for good YA books about girls with a normal existence, who cried over like not being asked to prom, or like getting cramps or whatever, because i wanted characters to relate to, not sympathize with.

    I'm beating around the bush here, but it was hard to find a book that told me it was ok to live a pretty charmed teen life, but still think life sucks sometimes (except the sloppy firsts series which does just that!).

    Anyway, that was not what the article got at, the pressure that the dark themes can put on teens to have angst or drama in their life, it really veered in a weird direction and made it a censorship thing, like these books are gross and swear--so no! which is not what the article claims to be about!

    sry for rambling here, but the article left e a little confused

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  7. Laura - i agree with you that certain subgenres can dominate at times. looking at you Paranormal Love Triangles. which is a valid argument and one that actually could create some interesting dialog.

    alas.

    i too am confused at the ultimate point of the article. is it that she is annoyed all there was is 'lurid' covers and that it's a waste of a genre? is it too edgy? not realistic? it's throwing a lot out there to incite the masses.

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