According to Meghan Cox Gurdon's article "Darkness Too Visible" in the the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), a simple question addresses a touchy topic. How dark is contemporary young adult (YA) fiction? Ms. Gurdon thinks it is (to paraphrase) too dark and damaging for young adults, and is simply a mechanism by publishers to keep book sales up. Among listed examples are Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy, Jackie Morse Kessler's Rage, and Cheryl Rainfield's Scars. The article also sites the concerns of Amy Freeman, mother to a 13 year old girl, who was unable to find anything to purchase for her daughter in the YA section of a store because it was all "...vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff."
I have read both the original article "Darkness Too Visible", as well as Jackie Morse Kessler's invigorating blog rebuttal "Making The Darkness Visible". (Links to both can be found at the bottom of this blog.) The WSJ article, as well as Ms. Kessler's response have spurred a #YAsaves hashtag on Twitter, and everyone seems to be weighing in.
My thoughts, you ask? (Said with hand cupped behind ear, head tilted to hear you better.)
The same evils have been around since humanity doubled from one to two. Has the world really changed that much? No. Have our offerings to children and young adults really changed? Absolutely. Especially the presentation. Many generations grew up reading Grimm's Fairy Tales. If you read them -no, not the current panzied versions, but the originals- they were ugly, degenerate-induced, seedy things wrapped in candy shells. But they served their purpose, teaching and reminding us that good is always accompanied by bad, and if we can learn to recognize the different varieties of both, the better our lives will be. So these stories live on. And, as Ms. Gurdon notes, S.E. Hinton did blast onto the scene in 1967 with The Outsiders, spreading the word that it's okay to address social problems because they do, in fact, affect teens. So, by this point in history, we've covered good vs. evil and social issues can be a bitch. Now, what of current YA books?
Young Adult books, as of late, seem to focus more on the bad bits we find in ourselves rather than in others. Instead of purely focusing on social events/consequences, it's okay for teens to put themselves under the microscope to ask questions, find others, and seek answers. Is that so wrong? Meghan Gurdon thinks so. But we do NOT live in past eras that consistently misunderstood some of the more damaging psychoses (such as depression, anorexia, bulimia, self-mutilation, etc...), and mistreated these with atrocities far worse than the diseases themselves. While stigmas may never completely wane, we DO live in a world fueled with technology, communication, and the power to come together as one voice to enforce what we cannot always say as one individual.
In high school, I was one of two actresses in 'Night Mother, a play written by Marsha Norman in 1981 that addressed suicide. My character shot herself at the end of the hour and a half ride, and the audience was left to watch the character's mother, in horror, beat on a closed door, screaming, and finally collapsing in silence before having to make "that" phone call to her son. (Paige, you were awesome!) Many parents argued it was too sensitive a topic for mere high schoolers, while some parents were too busy talking with their suicidal high schoolers that had found power from the play and stepped up, asking for help. No matter the catalyst -whether a play, art, or literature- illuminating ugly troubles -whether severe or mundane- is far healthier than pretending they do not exist. As Ms. Kessler states on her blog today, "Maybe the notion of discussing these issues makes some people uncomfortable. That's understandable; these are not comfortable topics. But that's not a good reason to remain quiet."
To Amy Freeman, mother of a 13 year old girl,
If you were unable to find anything within those ranges of fiction for your daughter, that she would never be able to identify with any of them... Then you are lucky. But some children do not have wonderful parents or role models or anyone, really, to relate to, or to ask for help. So for those children, these authors of "darkness" offer a flashlight, a hand to hold, and maybe even hope.
To Meghan Cox Gurdon of the Wall Street Journal,
"Entertainment does not merely gratify taste, after all, but creates it." Individual choices in entertainment also lead to empathy for differences, self-empowerment, and sound sociological bearing. At one time, someone was addressing Judy Blume and S.E. Hinton with the same amount of piss and venom, and now they are beloved authors that most consider lucky to have read because they broke through the "safe" barrier to the truth of things.
Is it so dangerous to admit we are imperfect?
Should we wait for the ceiling to collapse over our children's heads?
Or should we give them the tools to ask, "what ceiling?"
Censorship is not an answer. Talking to our children is.
Wall Street Journal's article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303657404576357622592697038.html
Jackie Morse Kessler's blog rebuttal: