The only thing we have to fear is fear itself

I was all set to blog about X-Men today — and about my gorgeous Hollywood boyfriend Michael Fassbender — but over the weekend something more important came up. Hope you don’t mind the delay.

I’m not sure what’s going on at the Books department of the Wall Street Journal, but my suspicion is that they’re trying to attract more readers by being shock-jocks. First they misrepresented the Tiger Mom, now they’re condemning YA literature. While I can’t blame them for focusing on their bottom line, I don’t respect the tactic.

The one good thing coming out of all this is that controversy generates discussion. But do those much-needed conversations offset the potential harm done? There’s no real way to know.

I shudder to think about how many parents might blindly refuse to let their children read YA literature after reading Meghan Cox Gurdon’s op-ed (which was not labeled as such but should have been). Books that might help their kids through a tough time. Books that might make their kids more understanding of their peers. Books that might not even be “dark” but have been lumped in with the ones that are, all under a battle cry of “Watch out, YA is dangerous!”

YA isn’t dangerous. YA saves.

There are thousands (maybe millions) of tweets and dozens of blog posts to prove it. Believe me, I spent all of yesterday reading them, and being moved to tears by the personal stories that were shared. Not just by teens, but people of all ages.

I won’t deny that there’s a lot of “dark” stuff on the YA shelves nowadays. There is. And it can feel overwhelming. And not every teen should read it. Not every teen wants to.

But for Gurdon to say that NO teen should? That NO teen needs these books? That’s simply preposterous.

If you don’t want (or have time) to read all the great responses, here are 4 5 that I highly recommend:

To be clear: the issue here isn’t differing opinions. I know how to respectfully disagree. To be honest, I don’t even disagree with Gurdon on all of it. And I would certainly love to live in a world where these “depraved” books didn’t resemble reality.

But they do. So the issue is Gurdon’s lack of research, and her use of scare tactics, and her endorsement of book banning as good parenting.

I’m speaking out against those things because, like Gayle Forman said, “as any reader of YA knows, the only way to defang a bully is to stand up to them.”

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14 Comments

  1. Well, being an English teacher of teens, this sounds like a conversation I should take a look at. From my gut reaction, I would say that the person condemning YA lit has no business unless she or he has actually worked with hundred or thousands of teens over the years (I have).

    The school where I work now (teaching 8th grade) is predominately kids from public housing. Their lives ARE dark. Many are attracted to reading literature that is real to them.

    When I taught in a more affluent school, there were still kids attracted to the darker literature. Some were the really smart and sensitive kids who cannot block out the news and the darkness of the world right now and therefore read stories that connect to this. Some come from homes that are dark on the inside, despite having money.

    Still, lots of kids read lighter stuff.

    The important thing is that they are choosing to read.

  2. Far more important than the X-Men, I agree. I already linked to this post from Liz McKenna on my blog (http://stufflizreads.wordpress.com/2011/06/05/in-praise-of-the-dark/), and I’ll add a link to your post as well.

  3. I haven’t read Gurdon’s piece, so I can’t speak to it directly. I have found some YA that I’ve read to be something I would question letting my future teenager daughters read. However, I wouldn’t condemn the entire genre. Also, if I read what you wrote correctly (and you correctly summed up Gurdon), I would not tell any other parent what they should or should not let their child(ren) read.

    Frankly, while I may or may not want my children to read certain books, I honestly don’t know how I’d stop them from doing so once they are teenagers. I don’t know how my mother could have stopped me from reading a book if I wanted to do so. Teenagers have some money and some freedom, and with those two things, you can pretty easily get a book, read it, and hide it from your mother if necessary. The most I can really hope for with my children is we can be in discussion about the things they are exposed to and also those things they choose to expose themselves to.

  4. Wow. I don’t know much about this topic so forgive me if I sound completely off base or ridiculous, but I just read the article and all I can think is that these books are probably no different than what kids and teens watch on TV anyway (oh lord I sound like my mother). Whether it’s dark, gory, happy or light, the fact that kids are choosing to read over sitting around and pulling up Netflix is something to be addressed. Reading provides so much more enrichment and allows the mind to work so much more creatively, I find it ridiculous that this mom is sad about the books available when it’s not much different than what’s on TV and in movies anyway. She probably lets her kid watch Teen Mom, Twilight and other trash, so at least the kid wants to open a book, whether it’s up to par with her standards or not.

  5. Joelle

    I read the article and I then thought about when I was a teen. I watched movies, read fiction, read poetry, watched T.V. and never once did I ever think it was okay to emulate any of the dark things I read about or saw. I never felt influenced to drink, do drugs, have sex or hurt myself because I read about it. Research is definitely the key when deciding what you want your child to read or see. If you are concerned then talk to your kid(s). It’s that simple. At least the article made for some great discussions.

  6. Thank you so much for posting my article as one of your five links! I really appreciate it. And I completely agree with all you’ve said here. I really enjoyed the other links you posted.

  7. There are a lot of dark books on the shelves right now, but there are plenty of other books to read as well. Nobody is forced into reading something they don’t want to read and parents who worry about that sort of thing are free to monitor their children as they see fit. I’m not sure why she wrote such a condemning piece, unless as you suggested, she wanted to shock.

  8. The woman in the article is simply a terrible shopper. I’ve been in book stores when Moms and Aunties have asked for help buying “anything but the vampire stuff” and the associates have been more than happy to show them a wealth of choices.

    Sadly, a lot of people don’t understand the idea of giving a gift the recipient wants. I work at a board games store, and well-meaning folks always want “educational” games. You know what no kid has ever asked for? An educational game.

  9. Tamara, I agree. Bookstore clerks and librarians can help a lot (both my parents were librarians).

    And the funny thing is that you can sometimes get kids to play educational games, as long as you don’t tell them they’re educational. :-)

  10. Pseudo-
    “The important thing is that they are choosing to read.” {nods}

    Anthony-
    Thanks for the link, that was a great response!

    Sonje-
    Couldn’t agree more.

    Mandy-
    My guess is Ms. Gurdon would like to eliminate all those TV programs as well. Sesame Street until kids turn 18, maybe?

    Joelle-
    So says the Queen of Darkness. ;P

    Emma-
    Thank YOU! What you wrote was so smart and passionate. :)

    Sherrie-
    Yes, I find it hard to believe that there was NOTHING on that shelf that the mother or author could approve of. Perhaps they didn’t spend enough time there.

    Tamara-
    Lol. I know, I always groaned when my mom phrased my gifts that way. “Oh, this is great, it’s educational!” Like Anthony said, just don’t SAY it. Most of the educational stuff is fun if you don’t know it’s good for you!

  11. The weird thing is, I was going to blog about the X-Men this week too…does it have something to do with character?

  12. I think the article was valid but one-sided. What would be great is if someone listed all the great YA books that have little or no violence, like Nina LaCour’s Hold Still (I don’t read a lot of YA, so that’s one that comes to mind.) And I like the idea of a PG-15 section in bookstores to separate the violent books full of profanity from the rest.

  13. Sophia-
    Nope, it was pretty much just me walking down memory lane. :)

    Meghan-
    I don’t know if her blanket generalizations were valid… But her concerns about young kids getting into mature content they’re not ready for? Sure.

    That said, I don’t think she would have approved of HOLD STILL. Depression, suicide, and premarital sex? Tsk tsk.

    (For the record, that “tsk tsk” was sarcastic. I love that book.)

  14. Susan O'Connor

    James Hollis once wrote that consciousness is as good as it gets. In a world where it’s difficult for people of all ages to get to that stage, YA literature opens the back door and invites it in.

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