Sunday, June 5, 2011

A few words on the WSJ article controversy on YA literature

The already infamous Wall Street Journal article has made its rounds to me this fine evening. For those of you who haven't heard: the above article was written on June 4th--just yesterday--and has received a huge backlash from the online young adult community. In short, the article discusses the moral degradation of young adult literature. The article's author deems much of the current YA literature as 'too dark' for the impressionable minds who consume it, and states its likelihood of having a very negative effect on the age group as a whole.

Though I'm sure my thoughts are already being echoed elsewhere--and worded much better to boot--I do feel the need to comment on it.

I have mixed feelings on the article.

As most of you know by now, I work in a bookstore--the very one mentioned in the above article. I have seen the teen section blossom into a wall of black hardcovers with red font. Vampires. Werewolves. Depression. Suicide. Drugs. Alcohol abuse. There was a table erected in the middle of the teen section called 'Tough Stuff' and had books like "Go Ask Alice" and "If I Stay" and "Thirteen Reasons Why" on there.

Yes, a lot of the young adult fiction that is being sold deals with 'tough stuff.' But is that necessarily a bad thing?

Books have the potential of impacting and affecting those who read them. No questions asked. One book might help reaffirm someone's convictions; another book might fill another person with despair and anguish; another yet might instill a reader with hope and a desire to improve. And at the same time, a book might do nothing to the reader; he simply takes it in and moves on.

Books can be powerful tools, for the positive or the negative.

But then I read this in the WSJ article:

"Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures."

This is where I draw the line. I do feel like there's a gray area where books can be influential in decision-making. But using books as a scapegoat for the real issue--in this case self-harm among young teens--is irresponsible at best. If someone begins to cut simply after reading a book about a cutter, there is very clearly something else at work here. How can a book be to blame for someone's behavior? It can't be. Ultimately, we are responsible for what we take in and how we process and react to it. In the case of young adults, parents should be part of their children's decision-making process regarding what they are reading and viewing.

Further, I have never read a young adult book that features a character actively engaging in harmful activities who continues to engage in said harmful activities without some kind of realization and subsequent change (thus giving readers who may currently be participating in similar activities hope to also change), or a negative repercussion such as death or permanent damage (in order to scare or dissuade readers to engage in such activities). Isn't that the entire point of a novel with a pathological theme? Correct me if I'm off base here, but how does that 'normalize' pathologies, or make them more accessible?

But the fact still remains that there is 'dark' literature out there, and it's being targeted at the youth. If you want someone to blame for this inundation, please, for the love all things holy, do not blame the authors for it. At the end of the day, they are at the complete mercy of their publishers. As a writer who hopes to one day be a published novelist, I have the right to write whatever the hell I want. It's up to the publisher to decide if the content is publishable, if it has a market, and what/who the market is. End of story.

Or you could--you know--stop the blame game, put aside the scapegoats, and take responsibility for your actions. Today, we are flooded with 'tough stuff' in many, many more accessible ways than books; I've seen some graphic scenes in PG-13 films that I couldn't even picture being in anything other than adult fiction, and I feel like today's youth veer more toward visual stimulation than book-form entertainment! Parental regulation and communication is key when it comes to children viewing more mature films or shows, and it should be absolutely no different with books.

1 lived to tell about it:

Will Thornton said... Reply

Media is used and processed in multiple ways. Books are a reflection of the culture in which they are written, and if the reader is influenced by a book it is because he or she can already relate to the content of that book. Although I read Harry Potter and waited for my letter from Hogwarts until I was 12, I do not aspire to gather Death Eaters and kill muggles. Books dealing with dark issues raise awareness so that young adults are better able to deal with those issues when they face them in their own life.

Still waiting for my letter.
One Love.
Will

Post a Comment