WSJ: Amy Freeman, a 46-year-old mother of three, stood recently in the young-adult section of her local Barnes & Noble, in Bethesda, Md., feeling thwarted and disheartened.
She had popped into the bookstore to pick up a welcome-home gift for her 13-year-old, who had been away. Hundreds of lurid and dramatic covers stood on the racks before her, and there was, she felt, "nothing, not a thing, that I could imagine giving my daughter. It was all vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff." She left the store empty-handed.
I'm fourteen- one year older than the girl the Mom was buying for. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I've probably read most of those books the mom looked at. I'm not a dark person. I don't cut. I don't want to be a vampire, and I'm a christian. And the "lurid, dramatic" covers? Would you rather it be a blank, white cover with only the authors name and title?
WSJ: How dark is contemporary fiction for teens? Darker than when you were a child, my dear: So dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things in novels directed, broadly speaking, at children from the ages of 12 to 18.
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. There are of course exceptions, but 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.
So the world is a place without these things? I hate to burst your bubble- but every day, a child is kidnapped, people are beaten and bullied, and innocent girls and guys are picked up off the street and raped. It is the run of things- YA books are no darker than the world around us. And to say there is no joy or beauty in YA? HA! YA can be far more beautiful than this world- and it lets you know the beauty of not being alone.
WSJ: In Jackie Morse Kessler's gruesome but inventive 2011 take on a girl's struggle with self-injury, "Rage," teenage Missy's secret cutting turns nightmarish after she is the victim of a sadistic sexual prank. "She had sliced her arms to ribbons, but the badness remained, staining her insides like cancer. She had gouged her belly until it was a mess of meat and blood, but she still couldn't breathe." Missy survives, but only after a stint as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
The argument in favor of such novels is that they validate the teen experience, giving voice to tortured adolescents who would otherwise be voiceless. If a teen has been abused, the logic follows, reading about another teen in the same straits will be comforting. If a girl cuts her flesh with a razor to relieve surging feelings of self-loathing, she will find succor in reading about another girl who cuts, mops up the blood with towels and eventually learns to manage her emotional turbulence without a knife.
This is where the article got personal. My older sister, Allie, was a cutter when she was sixteen. You can still see the scars that mar her wrists, shoulders, and legs. It was a YA book that stopped her. Allie doesn't read- it gives her terrible headaches and she's never really interested. But one of her friends was reading this book, Allie read the back, and asked to borrow it. My mom also found out about Allie's cutting when she found this book- I guess you can call it a Mom's intuition. I found out about it because I walked in on Allie with a razor over her wrist and blood on a towel in her lap. Anyways, to say it "normalizes" it? Wrong.
WSJ: In the book business, none of this is controversial, and, to be fair, Ms. Myracle's work is not unusually profane. Foul language is widely regarded among librarians, reviewers and booksellers as perfectly OK, provided that it emerges organically from the characters and the setting rather than being tacked on for sensation. In Ms. Myracle's case, with her depiction of redneck bigots with meth-addled sensibilities, the language is probably apt.
I'm gonna bet that the lady who wrote this article has used her fair share of "foul language" in her "Adult" life. And of course it is considered okay to swear in books- how many times have you been approached by a druggie redneck and they say, "Hello, nice day today. Oh, dear me, I seem to stubbed my toe!" No. They would look at you, stub their toe, and probably use their favorite curse word. Reading and writing- in some genres- is supposed to relate to the real world. Helloooo!
WSJ: So it may be that the book industry's ever-more-appalling offerings for adolescent readers spring from a desperate desire to keep books relevant for the young. Still, everyone does not share the same objectives. The book business exists to sell books; parents exist to rear children, and oughtn't be daunted by cries of censorship. 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.
It hasn't bulldozed misery into my life, only happiness. Through YA, I have made friends, found a light in this "darkness", and matured one hell of a lot. Like the article says, not everyone shares the same objectives. The writer is obviously stuck in her ways, refusing to see that us teens actually have working brains and won't automatically do something because we read the words in a book. I find it hard to believe that this woman was ever a teen- and if she was, she either blocked it out or lived in a white padded cell, sheltered from all badness. That's not all I have to say, but I'm going to stop here.