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That YA Article Everyone's Freaking Out About

All right, so the Wall Street Journal published an article that has made a lot of people upset. Basically it seems to say that YA lit is too dark nowadays and the Youth of America should be reading something else.

The thing is, in the wake of Twilight, there's been a whole lot of dark, shitty books for teens out there. Personally, I don't read teen books. It's basically either 19th c. lit or books for 10 to 12-year-olds. From what I've seen of it, teen lit seems to focus on immeasurably stupid themes. If I ever have a teenager daughter, books with titles like The Lipstick Laws will be banned from the house. I don't have a problem with banning books if they're banned for being idiotic. "I'm sorry, sir, your book is...too dumb. Way, way too dumb. And we just can't have our children reading that, can we? I want smart children in our country, how about you, sir?"

There are going to be people saying things like "Oh, but if dark things happen in real life, shouldn't they be portrayed in literature?" Yeah. Okay. I get where you're coming from. But let's also not forget that teenagers are for the most part highly impressionable morons who don't have things like full-time jobs or Things That Actually Matter happening to them, and therefore they have a lot more time to focus on things that don't. And to make huge deals out of them. If they read hugely dark books, and that's pretty much what's available at Borders, that's what they're going to focus on. And I, for one, don't want a new crop of emo teenagers running around. If emo kids run. I don't think they actually do.

Coincidentally, I was recently at Borders, saw the teenage lit wall o' books, and was so disgusted by the proliferation of black covers and dumb pictures, I had to photograph it. So here is what's available if you're 14 and feelin' frisky in the reading department:


I had an English teacher in 6th grade who told the class that real life isn't like Disney. Things don't usually end happily. I took this to mean that in all my stories, all the characters had to die, usually in gruesome ways, because this is "realistic." I feel like that's what a huge group of YA authors has decided. "Kids today want things that are real; let's write about cutting and sexual assaults." Should those things be addressed? Of course they should. But they have to be handled really, really well (it looks like the book Shine addressed in the article might do just that). And I'm sorry, but I distrust the likelihood of a ton of YA authors (or really a ton of authors of any genre) to do that well. It seems like most are just coasting on a trend, which I find dangerous in this case.

So, okay, do these books have a purpose? Some of them do, yes. And for teenagers who have been victims of hate crimes, or sexual abuse, or who suffer from anorexia, it's great that YA lit can now talk about these things instead of just being about Nancy Drew speeding along in her little red roadster (although who doesn't love Nancy Drew?). But if my son or daughter was like "Oh, I'm reading this book about a boy who's gay and he gets beaten almost to death," I'd say "Mm! I see. Okay. How about this: don't beat kids ever, and especially not because they're different. Lesson learned, done."

No, I don't completely agree with the article. It smacks somewhat of a terrified mom trying to warn other already-terrified moms. But it is making a valid point in that a lot of these books 1) don't need to be as violent/graphic as they are, and 2) a lot of them kind of suck. Actually, I don't know if she makes that latter point really, but it's true. I'm assuming this article and responses to it will cancel each other out, so really this whole entry has been a waste of space. I just get annoyed when bloggers get all fired up about something that reeeeeally doesn't matter and then act like their response is the Second Coming. So this is my petite defense. I refuse to engage in an argument about this, as I have better things to do. Like look up pictures of Rose Byrne (she's so pretty!). Reading Rambo OUT.


  1. I was a bit cut off from the interwebs this weekend and missed this freak out until today. I don't agree with the idea of censoring reading materials or even that the argument about YA fiction now is different than YA fiction any other time. I wish I remembered where I read it but someone quoted a bit from a 1985 article about YA fiction that could have come directly from this newest piece. If a parent wants to make a choice for their own kid about what can and cannot be read, they should. They're the parent. They just shouldn't get all up in arms about worrying what other people are reading.

    But really, the part that confused me was when she walked into a bookstore, saw the YA options and left with nothing. Really? There are lots of books out there and while the current trend may be crappy YA books, there's plenty of other titles she could have selected from. So she doesn't want to give her book a vampire novel. That's fine. I bet if she bothered to look around the bookstore for 5 more seconds, she could have found literally anything else. That fact alone makes me think this person isn't really stepping back and thinking about the big picture, but instead is reacting completely on a knee-jerk basis.

  2. Wow that comment was super long. Apologies for rambling.

  3. See, I read a lot of YA lit, and I'd argue that in between the shitty vampire books (which, don't get me wrong, I love) there's some really groundbreaking stuff going on. The Hunger Games trilogy is a fascinating commentary on the consequences of our obsession with fame. The Book Thief is absolutely moving and haunting. Speak and Wintergirls may be dark, but unflinching when it comes to truly depicting some of the things teens struggle with. Yeah, I love 19th century lit too, but you're gonna be hard pressed to get a kid who watches MTV all day to read Dickens. You might be able to get them to pick up a shitty vampire book. And then at least they're reading, which is not without it benefits.

  4. I read an article in the New York Times magazine last week about this, and every time I'm in B&N I'm like...hy are all of the books about vampires and werewolves and stuff? YA books were always guilty pleasure reading for me (I think I passed that level of reading when I was six...), and I usually read things like Go Ask Alice and the Lurlene McDaniel books. Which are fairly dark themselves. I also really liked Robin McKinley (grown-up, but not too grown-up, fairytales) and Joan Bauer (my favorite was Squashed, about a slightly overweight fourteen-year-old who grew giant pumpkins).

    I don't know...I was trying to make a point about how our YA offerings were less dark, but I read a lot of books about dying and villains and mental illness that were marketed towards young adults. How about those Lois Duncan books (I Know What You Did Last Summer, Driver's Ed, etc.), Christopher Pike, The Face on the Milk Carton? Hmm.

  5. @solasoletta Some of those books were dark, but definitely not as dark as they are now. At least stuff like Fear Street was specifically marketed to be gross. And yeah, I just admitted I read Fear Street. They had historical ones and they were super-fun.

    @Abigail Dude, I toootally leave room for some of those in the 10 to 12-year-old range. I'd argue that Book Thief fits in there. And things like The Giver and Wrinkle in Time and all sorts of awesomeness. But overall, if you go in a teen section, it all looks terrible.

  6. @Red Ahh genuine points! Um, yeah, I'm definitely not fully in support of the article; I'm more just irritated with how seriously everyone's taking it given that it's the same kind of thing that's been said for a long time about basically everything (tv, movies, video games).

    But I'm still all about censoring dumb stuff.

  7. While I don't agree with the WSJ article at all, I do think that people are flipping out over nothing. Like you said in the comment above, it's something new to put the blame on (tv, movies, music, etc.). What it comes down to is basic parenting.

    I do disagree with one point in your post - teenagers aren't "highly impressionable morons". Misconceptions like that are WHY people try to blame violence and profanity in the media for kids screwing up. The kids that end up cutting, acting out, doing drugs, etc aren't doing it b/c they read about it or saw it. They're doing it b/c they have some serious emotional and mental issues that they haven't learned out to cope with.

  8. @Sarah You're crediting me with far too much sincerity. I just think it's funny to take an entire group and label them morons. But point taken!


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