Sunday, June 5, 2011

Thoughts on the Wall Street Journal Article "Darkness Too Visible"

This article, written by Meghan Cox Gurdon is a criticism of Young Adult literature. That's right, not just one YA book, THE WHOLE GENRE. This article has blown up, causing dedicated book bloggers and Twitter patrons everywhere to revolt. (see Twitter hashtag #yasaves) I don't call myself a book blogger, but as someone has has read her share of YA, I feel offended too. I guess for anyone reading this who doesn't know about the article, I should link to it: [link]

I should start off by saying that although I am currently a teenager, YA is not my favorite genre (or rather "age group"?) Personally, I prefer middle grade and some adult stories myself. But still, I have read many a teen novel. I have read enough to know that YA is not just the darkness, violence and profanity that Gurdon says it is. There is certainly some of that in there, but it's not everything. Does that make those who choose to read the books with darker themes wrong or perverted? Of course not. Everyone is different, and some people enjoy pondering the darker issues of life. Or maybe someone finds comfort in a story that is similar to an unfortunate situation in their own lives.

 By taking this approach to making her point, Gurdon generalizes teens and YA big time. The only examples of YA books that she used happen to be books that deal with more serious matters. Not a very wide sample selection, huh? There are so many examples of much more lighthearted, widely known YA novels... anyone ever heard of The Princess Diaries? And teens are people too; as I said before, we're all different. We can not defined by stereotypes.

Something else that really bothers me is that the only outside opinion that Gurdon uses is that of a 46 year old woman. That's fine and all, but to really prove a point, there needs to be a real range of examples. In this article about young adult books there is not one singe opinion from an actual teenager.

Gurdon also throws about serious themes as if they are just written about because the author is a sick human being who wants to corrupt innocent children. "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." I think this completely ridiculous. The reason these things are written about is because they are about the realities that exist in this world. Yes, they are ugly, but they also most certainly happen. Rape and sexual abuse, self harm, drug abuse, murder and all other sorts of sad, serious things actually take place out there in the world, as awful as it is. It's so much better to find out about these things and be able to think about them, rather than be ignorant. It's themes like this that help to shape personal beliefs about the world in young readers. 

Gurdon argues that although a darker book may comfort someone in a similarly dark situation, there is a significant danger of others being affected by themes such as cutting. "...may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures." This is an insult to teenage creativity. No matter what, if someone is hurting, one way or another, they will eventually find an outlet for their emotions. Maybe reading a book about cutting will put that idea in their head, but if that book hadn't come along, something else would have; maybe even something worse that wasn't a YA novel.

"...a careless young reader—or one who seeks out depravity—will find himself surrounded by images not of joy or beauty but of damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds." This is an insult to teenage intelligence. Yes, teens can be careless and irresponsible (sometimes) but I don't really think that on a trip to the library, anyone would really pick up a book that was too serious for them and then, once arriving home force themselves to read it. Gurdon acts as if these books will physically force themselves onto unsuspecting victims. Novels with more serious themes can be really great if you want to read them, but by all means, you don't have to. Who does she think is forcing kids to read these novels? Also, "seeking out depravity?" what does she take us for?

At the end of it, this is what I thought: YA includes a wide range of subject matter, so don't generalize it; when writing an article about teens, actually talk to some teens; a lot teenagers are more creative and intelligent that this article gives them credit for; and unless you live in a world created by J.K. Rowling, books will not jump out at you and force you to read them. We have choices!

P.S. "Mrs. Gurdon writes regularly about children's books for the Journal."  I think someone's been a bit shielded by The Babysitter's Club and The Boxcar Children...

1 comment:

  1. "unless you live in a world created by J.K. Rowling, books will not jump out at you and force you to read them. We have choices!"
    I love that! Thanks for an insightful post.