YA Fiction is Too Dark: Some Responses

In an earlier post I discussed the furor in the book world caused by the publication over the weekend in The Wall Street Journal lamenting the sad state of YA (young adult) fiction. Here are a couple of responses that get at the heart of the matter.

Has Young Adult Fiction Become Too Dark?

Over at Salon Mary Elizabeth Williams identifies the essential flaw in Gurdon’s (the author of the WSJ piece):

She assumes that coarseness and misery — and profanity, and violence, and sex — are in and of themselves unsuitable subject matter, regardless of the quality of the writing. That’s where she goofs up big time. 

Williams continues:

there’s something almost comical about raising them with tales of big bad wolves and poisoned apples, and then deciding at a certain point that literature is too “dark” for them to handle. Kids are smarter than that. And a kid who is lucky enough to give a damn about the value of reading knows the transformative power of books. . . . we can’t shut them [teenagers] off from the outlet of experiencing difficult events and feelings in the relative safety and profound comfort of literature. Darkness isn’t the enemy. But ignorance always is. 

Teens are smarter than Gurdon: They know the difference between life and literature.

Seeing Teenagers As We Wish They Were: The Debate Over YA Fiction

NPR’s Linda Holmes makes a point similar to Williams’s. Holmes is

intrigued by the aspirational nature of the quaint but sad idea that teenagers, if you don’t give them The Hunger Games, can be effectively surrounded by images of joy and beauty.While the WSJ piece refers to the YA fiction view of the world as a funhouse mirror, I fear that what’s distorted is the vision of being a teenager that suggests kids don’t know pathologies like suicide or abuse unless they read about them in books.

Sure, we’d all like to protect our kids from some of the harshest forms of reality. But teenagers are going to learn about the world anyway.

But adolescence is a dark time for a lot of people. Not a fake-dark time, because they got a pimple, but a real dark time, because they have a friend who drinks too much or is abused at home or has a mental illness and wants to kill himself. It’s sad, but keeping books away from them doesn’t make it any less true.

Reading helps them sort out the dilemmas. It can also teach them understanding and compassion. Adults as well as teens learn about life and about themselves by reading.

Holmes’s article includes links to some more reactions to Gurdon’s original article.