Friday, June 17, 2011

YA Too Dark?

I know I'm a little late to this show, but I've finally sorted out some of my feelings about the Wall Street Journal Article attacking YA Literature for being too dark.

First off, I'm against censorship of all kinds. Open discussion of and access to ideas is the most important freedom we have...and that freedom is important for teens too. Sheltering them is NOT the answer.

That being said, this overall trend toward dark topics does concern me. Not just in YA...It's in all aspects of entertainment, for adults and teens...from video games, to pop music, to the fact you can't seem to hit more than two buttons on your TV remote control without hitting a murder mystery show. Really, the daily fictional murder toll must be close to outdoing the national real-life average.

At some point, we need to ask ourselves, why? Why all this focus on death and violent crimes? (And while we're at it) why must most YA protags have a dead parent, friend, family member or be dying themselves? Is it not a true/important/serious enough story unless death or violence is involved?

For the most part, I agree with Judy Blume who says that if a teen isn't ready to read something or if it disturbs them, they will put it down...but that's not true of all readers. I'm afraid there could be some depressed and suicidal teens out there who might be feeding off the darkness of these books.

On the other hand, there are many troubled teens who are helped by reading about others going through similar dark things. As Laurie Halse Anderson said in response to the article, YA saves lives.

(I found the opinions expressed by Blume and Anderson in this article)

Mostly, teen readers want to be entertained and not talked down to, which is what I think these edgier books accomplish. And these edgier books may also have the added benefit of helping teens see the world from different perspectives and empathize with others going through difficult things.

When it comes right down to it, the adults in teens' lives should be aware of what they are reading and any potential emotional ramifications of their choices. It isn't the book's job...or author's, or publisher's, or even the library's job to do that. Freedom of speech/press is important and should be protected, but it's not w/o risks.

As parents often tell their teens, freedoms come with responsibilities.

What about you? What have you been thinking about all this?


  1. Great post. I didn't agree with the article author's opinion, and it annoyed me that her opinion was being presented as news. At the same time--she's entitled to her opinion, I'm sure some others share it. I think some parents/readers having a preference for non-dark YA shouldn't feel like a threat. There is plenty of room for dark and light in the category.
    I feel like if her piece had felt less like an attack on the category and more like an expression of what she (personally) wants to see on shelves, it could've sparked an interesting conversation instead of an angry debate. Lost opportunity.

  2. I love reading the responses to dark YA. I do hope there is a swing back to light more humorous YA. Though I enjoy reading both.

    I think maybe by using death and darker subjects, that's how writers make their story more powerful. Automatic internal struggles when death is involved. High emotions that are hard to create without big events - like death. I think readers want to be moved - and it's hard to be moved with a lighter book. And it's harder to create that emotion in a lighter book.

  3. Rebecca-You're so right about news verses opinion...her article did come off as a factual attack rather than observation and opinion.

    Laura-It seems like many things in a teen's life have the potential for high emotion...maybe death or threat of death is more a form of takes readers to high emotions they're less likely to be dealing with themselves.

  4. Also, Laura, I realize your comment was more aimed at why writers choose death as a someone whose "lighter" books have sometimes been passed on for being "too quiet", I see the allure.

  5. I totally agree with you. I don't think these subjects should be off limits. As a choice, I only read happier stories as a teen. And today, I do the same. It's why I stopped watching TV altogether. I was over all the negativity.
    But teens def need to be able to relate and understand feelings that sometimes only a book can offer.
    Why are peeps so fascinated with death and murder, anyway? It's baffling.

  6. To be quite honest, I don't read a lot of YA so I don't really have much of an opinion! But I think novels usually echo the times. There's been a lot of fear and negativity around these days, in general. Novels are probably feeding off that.

    Hope you're having a good weekend!

  7. I don't think these topics should be off limits - at all. They're real. And while I would love to shelter my twelve-year old from practically everything, I don't. And she reads what she's comfortable reading when she's ready for it (like what Judy Blume said). Besides, I would much rather teens read it, then watch it. With the exception of the Disney Channel, dark seems to be all you get on tv these days.

    Great post. I've been meaning to read this article since Kate Hart posted about it.