Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Bad Opinion of Young Adult Fiction

Recently, the Wall Street Journal had an article that attacked the darker themes that tend to over-saturate contemporary Young Adult fiction. The article is quite biased against any kind of YA literature that does not fall into the (non-existing) category of happy-happy goody-two-shoes plotting. With a grand total of one mother, one librarian, and one bookseller quoted, I really do not see how this is anything but a poorly-researched opinion piece, favoring those who would happily ban 95% of all literature ever produced - and no, I'm not exaggerating. Once a person crosses that invisible line of wanting to ban a book, nothing is too sacred to be censored, not even the holy books.
Gayle Forman wrote an excellent rebuttal to the article that explores the journalistic relativism of the whole mess, so I won't explore that territory. I did compile a list of the titles that the original article cites as examples of the lurid and risqué topics found in YA literature:

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
Sarah T: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic by Robin S. Wagner
I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier
The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith
Rage by Jackie Morse Kessler
Scars by Cheryl Rainfield
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Then Again, Maybe I Won't by Judy Blume
Forever by Judy Blume
Shine by Lauren Myracle
Inexcusable by Chris Lynch
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Only 14 titles, really? And since only half of these are current releases, it's pretty pathetic support for such an over-generalization of YA literature. I have always been a bookworm, and the YA genre has continued to appeal to me even now, in my late 20's. Since I prefer variations of fantasy and romance themes, I can only remember reading one of these books in my life, but never have I had a problem with finding YA literature to fill my reading obsession. That tells me that there is plenty to go around to fill anyone's taste in that genre alone, not even including all the other books that don't fall under the YA heading, but can still be appealing to young adults.
As for the dark themes, when have these themes NOT been present in literature, especially the "classic" stuff that young adults are usually required to read in school? Look no further than the works of Shakespeare for proof.
As for my opinion as a parent, I know darn well that children have an ingrained thirst for knowledge, especially when their desire for independence gets stronger in their teens. If they perceive something as forbidden or wrong, well that hunger to KNOW gets kicked up a notch. If there is anything that school teaches, it's that anything you want to know can be found in a book. A good parent reads the same stuff his child reads and makes a point of using this literature to further instruct the child in right and wrong, as well as encouraging the child to KEEP READING. A bad parent takes the book, refuses to talk to the poor child about it, and then turns it into a lawsuit to force their control on everyone else's children. And the child of the bad parent? He reads the book at a friend's place, feeling combinations of guilt, rebellion, shame, and anger, and misses out on a constructive, mature discussion of a possibly sensitive topic. That's if he even bothers to read anything ever again.
Yes, there have been books that I have hated beyond all reason, books that I have thrown across the room, hours wasted on books that I will never get back, but I will never support banning books for any reason. Even if you can't understand why an author would choose to write a certain book, address a specific topic in a certain fashion, does not mean that author should not have written it. Books are as common and varied as opinions, and everyone has the right to write a book as much as everyone has the right to speak his mind. Banning books was never about solving problems, only about controlling minds and stifling freedom.

Not to mention, in today's digital age banned books tend to hit bestseller lists post-banning. Ineffective, to put it mildly.


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