By now, you’ve probably read Meghan Cox Gurdon’s Wall Street Journal article “Darkness Too Visible,” which criticizes the availability of dark-themed YA novels. Needless to say, this has created quite a buzz in the book blog world, with a great deal of debate on both sides.
My own opinion is that Megan Cox Gurdon is doing exactly what she is supposed to do as a reviewer–she’s giving her personal opinions of books. If reviewers don’t give their opinions, there is absolutely no point in reading book reviews.
On the other hand, censorship is bullshit. Part of the reason why kids are seeking dark YA novels is to contextualize issues that they are already dealing with in their own lives. While criticizing the availability of dark novels, we are doing nothing to create a real dialogue with kids about the very dark issues that they face on a daily basis. If kids can’t have that kind of discussion with adults, they’re going to get it from books. It’s kind of like how a lot of young GLBT teens seek out novels about others in their position to help them deal with the hardships that they face.
I found it interesting that Sherman Alexie was one of the authors quoted in the article. His novels deal with the problems of life on modern Indian reservations–problems such as alcoholism, rape, and rampant crime. His novels aren’t an exaggeration; they both draw attention to and mirror some very real problems.
Parents’ concern over what their children are reading should be listened to, but should be used to create a dialogue, not to censor children. I think that when we look at the popularity of YA novels, we’re forgetting a few things, first and foremost being that kids are actually reading. Yay! Secondly, a lot of the responses that I’ve read to this article seem to be lumping all YA novels into a giant pot and saying that all YA novels are trash. It’s not like that, and there is a huge variety of YA available. For people looking for YA fantasy that is well-written and not about weird sparkly vampires, check out anything by Robin McKinley, or the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix, or “Crown Duel” by Sherwood Smith, or anything by Phillip Pullman. There are so many good YA books out there. Everyone has different tastes, and not all teenagers are reading about people cutting themselves. Many of them would make fun of such books for being too emo anyway.
Nobody’s pushing these books on kids; kids are choosing to read them. I remember when teachers tried to censor Anne Rice novels when I was in high school. Something about “The gay vampire knelt before Jesus” wasn’t considered appropriate for Catholic high school students in their formative years. I can attest that because the novels weren’t technically permitted, even more people read them. When I studied abroad in Russia, my host mom told me how Oscar Wilde used to be banned in the Soviet Union, so of course everyone who was anyone read it. Declaring certain types of books to be evil isn’t going to preserve the innocence of the youth; that’s already long gone. Instead, talk to the kids. You’d be surprised how much they know and are capable of understanding.
Edit: Here’s a link to another blogger’s excellent take on why kids should be reading dark novels. This is our revolution, baby #YASaves by Erin Brambilla. It was quite refreshing.