Thursday, June 9, 2011

On YA Saves

Almost a week ago, I went onto Twitter to find plenty of reactions to this article from the Wall Street Journal called "Darkness Too Visible". It talks about how there is too much "dark stuff" out there for teenagers to read. The article didn't have any of the teenage perspective and focuses on if these issues in YA novels are "harmful" or "helpful" to teens. The article even has a poll about it (and the results are interesting to see at 81% helpful vs 18 harmful out of 1500 takers).

"Darkness Too Visible" spurred a movement on Twitter by Maureen Johnson which ended up become the third highest trending topic within twenty minutes in the US. Johnson ended up writing an article in the Guardian and her counter argument on the behalf of authors is this:

"There isn't a YA writer alive who is out writing books to corrupt youth. No one writing about self-harm is teaching how to self-harm. No one writing about rape is providing instructions on how to rape or how to be raped. I know this seems a ridiculously obvious point, but this is the argument that comes up again and again.

If subjects like these are in YA books, it's to show that they are real, they have happened to others, and they can be survived."

I remember as a teenager of some of the things that I had to go through and how lonely it felt. I was sometimes searching for a way out or a way to see if anyone felt the way that I did. Those very feelings lead me to write this as my #YASaves tweet:

Sometimes I needed to escape, other times I needed an understanding friend. Books were always there. And remain so.

Books and writing helped save me. Without them, I don't know what I would have done and what I would have become without them. There is no way that they brought me issues that I couldn't handle. If anything, they helped me realize that other people's problems were bigger than my own and that someone else could be going through something. I learned to empathize more with the people around me.

Another article was published today in the Wall Street Journal by author Sherman Alexie called "Why the Best Kids Books are Written in Blood". He writes about the experience of being a writer who interacts with his readers and his own experience growing up as a reader. Through these observations, he uncovers who we are trying to protect from the YA literature and uncovering why he has decided to write what he does:

And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons–in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.

This conversation on books for children isn't something new. It comes up every year with the year's most banned books or an article in the newspaper of a parent trying to get a book banned from the school curriculum. We must learn we can only shelter our children from so much and that we must also give them the benefit of the doubt. Their voices are the ones that I see lost here, but as someone that grew up with young adult literature, I know that I would not be here without books and the issues that they explored. The authors don't spill their blood for nothing, but they help heal our wounds and strengthen our hearts. They are our voices when we can no longer speak. They aren't just weapons, but our angels.


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