The Debate over YA Fiction

I just wanted to share this article by Linda Holmes on NPR today speaking about the debate over YA Fiction being too dark according to the Wall Street Journal.

My favorite part:

“I was always going to read Stephen King, because I was interested in the way he talked about hope and despair, about finding salvation in other people, and about things like eating your own foot that were just plain freaking crazypants cool. Not reading scary, weird, dark, or dirty books wouldn’t have made me a different kid. It certainly wouldn’t have made me a happier kid.

It might have made me a kid who read less, though.”

Read the full article here

Personally, I don’t believe that YA is too dark and for many of the same reasons that Holmes mentions. Even when I was a teenager, those books assigned in school and those on my parent’s shelves that I picked up could blow any current YA out of the water in its possibly violent or dark content.

I will admit if you walk into the YA section, the many, many, many, covers of black with white figures, flowers, blood, fangs and other things may lead you towards that conclusion. But if you actually read the books? In my opinion, the dark aspects tend to deal with issues that young adults deal with anyway. Everything from abuse and cutting to not fitting in or dressing different, have always been a part of young adult life. (OK, not the supernatural love triangles, but those are called fantasy for a reason) If we wrote only happy books, would these issues go away just because we don’t write about them? I doubt it. When I was a teenager, none of the current YA books that are being debated about existed, and yet I still had friends with eating disorders, cutting problems, who had been abused, faced rape situations and drug conflicts. These are issues that teenagers face. Sure, not every teenager, but plenty do. And even if they don’t face any of these issues personally, I guarantee you that they have friends or classmates who have. We live in a world where darkness and evil exists. Reading or not reading about it in a book, isn’t going to change anything in their world view.

Most importantly, lets give these readers some credit. Just because a young adult reads Hunger Games doesn’t mean they aren’t reading books like Harry Potter or Little Women. Readers who love reading often read more than one genre and will expand their own horizons through their love of books. And why are we even arguing about Young Adult lit? Its not like we aren’t subjected to darkness from the beginning of our reading lives. Didn’t the hunter chop open that wolf to get to grandma who was swallowed whole inside him?

Ms. Gurdon in the Wall Street Journal wrote “No family is obliged to acquiesce when publishers use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children’s lives.

I don’t know about you, but reading has never made me miserable, no matter how dark the story. It has never done anything but help me, encourage me, delight me, entertain me and sustain me. It has taught me when I needed teaching, given me hope when I was sad, let me escape when I needed a break and most of all, when I was growing up, it gave me books that reflected the issues and stories that were a part of my world.

C.S Lewis once said, “We read to know we are not alone.” Every young adult deserves that, no matter what book they find it in.

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4 thoughts on “The Debate over YA Fiction

  1. Fantastic post. I just finished “Speak” and what struck me about it was how it dealt with these dark issues (ones the WSJ would probably take issue with) in a very mature way. If all these YA books were tossing in things like rape, eating disorders, cutting, abuse, simply for shock value I could understand taking offense; but to protest against books that give teens a way to approach issues that too often aren’t discussed openly…I can’t understand that.

    • I agree. And I think that saying “all YA” is dark is way too general. I’ve read plenty of positive and light YA, it exists out there too. I think people read the books that interest them, and their interests stem from what is going on in their lives. We all read what we want to read, young adults aren’t any different.

  2. I sort of agree that all YA books shouldn’t be lumped together. When someone says Young Adult people think Twilight and something more toned down like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Both are technically YA, but on two very separate levels. I don’t think that books should be rated like movies, not exactly, but they should have some kind of logo/icon that indicates to the parent what kind of content the kid is getting. Like video games parents can glance at the parental advisory on the corner and see what’s going on. Instead of being required though, it would be self imposed, akin to the Comics Code Authority.

    Generally I don’t have an issue with scary or mature content in YA books. Every kid matures differently, and every parent has a different viewpoint on what is appropriate for their kid. There are tons of books out there. The debate is only there because some of the most popular YA books at the moment are the scary and/or mature themed, but what a lot of people forget is that adults read those books too.

    • Definitely agree! Just like adults don’t limit themselves to one section, I seriously doubt the teens do either. Everyone is going to read what they want to read, regardless of the content or what shelf its on.

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