Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Teen Scene Tuesday -- YA Saves

There's no doubt most of you have heard about the Wall Street Journal's article on YA fiction.  It set Twitter ablaze with reactions over the weekend with the #YASaves hashtag.  If you haven't read it, head HERE.

I'll say my first reaction to this was a gut-wrenching sadness.  I think it's really sad that someone would judge an entire group of literary works in this way, even though I realize it happens all the time. 

One thing Ms. Gurdon said in the article that really made me shake my head was:

"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."

Thing is, life is not perfect.  Bad things happen to good people every single day.  Horrible things!  Have you seen the news lately?  I realize not every teen goes through dark experiences like some (note: not all) YA books are based on.  But there are plenty of teens that do.  Plenty of them need to be able to find these issue-based books to help them.  Teens are also going to have a different view of the world than a grown woman.  Everything is more vivid, more dramatic, more full of emotion.  It's how teens work.  I can understand a parent protecting a sensitive reader, and I absolutely support that, but I do not support the thought that YA fiction is inappropriate just because it's dark.

I know for me, as a teen, YA fiction helped me understand myself.  It helped me work through grief.  These books helped me cope with losing not one, but two siblings.  Because of these books, I was able to work through depression and my parent's divorce.  I can honestly say that YA books saved me.

Anyway, enough ranting about things you've no doubt thought yourself already.  I asked the Paper Hangover crew to share their feelings on the matter.  Here's what they have to say:

Pam says, "As a school counselor, I've definitely seen first-hand how YA books save many of my students. For example, a few years ago, one of my students shared with both his parents and me that he was quite suicidal. We discussed Thirteen Reasons Why so much that he decided to read it for himself. He said that book basically changed his life, and now he's flourishing at his new school. :)"

Michael says, "Real life is so much worse than books will ever be, mostly because life is real. You can't close the book on your life and set it on the shelf, or return it to the store where you purchased it. It's yours forever. No refunds. In real life, Tinkerbell doesn't wake up no matter how hard you clap. Some people go through life never experiencing its harsh realities first-hand, while others are bludgeoned with bad occurrences every single day. There's an author and a reader for all those stories. They should be told."  See his full blog on the matter here.

Adrienne says, "I read Flowers in the Attic at 12, and for some strange reason I didn't go on to 'sleep' with my brother or plot to kill my mother.  I read Carrie at 13, and low and behold didn't go ballistic at my Prom or whatever it was I had.  I read Sidney Sheldon for years and I am not secret undercover agent or a diamond thief.  And as for Jackie Collins before 15....I am quite the normal person.

I wish there were books for girls who were overly tall, skinny and a sports jock, someone who had a single mother who was never home due to 'survival of fittest.'  If I had those books I would never have felt alone or 'different.' I would have grown up more confident knowing it wasn't just me, 'cause that's how teens feel.  Shedding light on the miserable or the depraved in a book helps teens to:

A. Cope with their lives
B. Know that the world outside their front door is not as it seems
and C. Know they are not alone.

I think we need to give teens more credit, society has changed so much, why haven't these people who are complaining about certain books. Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll, it happens, whether you read a book or not, get over it!"

Hannah says, "99.999% of the YA books out there are also hopeful. That hope is there even if only as a sliver. The darkness is "too visible", okay. But that's not just in books; look around you, turn on the news--the things teenagers are reading about? They're happening—to other teenagers, to their friends, to their families. Where else are they going to hear that they're not alone? There are kids who choose life everyday because they feel less alone, because reading about it made them feel stronger. Are they not worth it?"  Read the rest of Hannah's post here.

How about the rest of you?  We'd love for you to share your reactions, or your own story of how YA has saved you.


Marquita Hockaday said...

This is a beautiful post! YA absolutely saved me. Holly, I am sad to hear about your siblings and your parents' hard times, but it is nice to know that what we are trying to do (this whole writing thing :) ) has helped you get through those tough times. I hope I can reach a teen reader (or adult for that matter) in that same exact way.

When I was younger, I needed that escape. As Michael put it, you can close a book--you can't close real life. As Holly pointed out, just watching the news the other day made me realize that real life is so, so much worse than the worlds and scenarios painted in our favorite YA books. Like Pam, I have several students who read for escape--whether they are looking for a release from a bad home life or a way to get over that last boyfriend/girlfriend, YA books have saved them at one point or another.

Simple solution--parents moderate what you want your child to read. If there is a subject in YA that you don't particularly like, then tell your child not to read it. However, just keep in mind they are hearing far worse things in the halls and cafeteria of their schools than they would read in a book...

Tere Kirkland said...

I think the author of the article really condemned herself when she condemned so-called "dark" books on premise alone. Did she actually read them? It's unfair to take any book out of context, without reading every word and judging for yourself.

As for books being darker, I don't think that's the case. The central message at the bottom of these darker books is usually hope. For survival. For life to get better. For life to simply go on. And hope is a message I think a lot of teens need.

khashway said...

There should be books for everyone. Just because something is too dark for one person doesn't mean it's too dark for everyone. Books are subjective. When did people forget that? If you don't like something, don't read it. But don't stop someone else from reading it. It just may be exactly what they need to get them through a tough time in their life.

Dawn Brazil said...

Thanks for this post and for sticking up for YA. I love YA and it is not just blood, gore and death but it's also life, love and fairy's - they all have their place. You can't tell only the happy stories and ignore the rest. So that article is wrong to single out one aspect of such a large genre but our history is rife with this kind of inconsistencies. It means little...she (the journalist) had to find something to write about...I guess.

Carrie said...

Great post. I really love hearing all these stories about how YA books made a difference in a teen's life. I think it is so great how much support there is in the YA community.

Pam Harris said...

Have I mentioned yet how much I heart the YA community? We're uber supportive--great post! :)

Catherine Stine said...

Good post. Dark is the other half of light. If we shove all of the "darkness" under the bed there will be no real light. Ursula Le Guin understood this, in her landmark essay on why we need villains and tragedy in children's lit.