Darkness Too Visible

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.

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Categories: Other, YA | Tags: , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “Darkness Too Visible

  1. Pingback: Weekly Geeks: Favorite Bookish Quotes « The Book Stop

  2. This is a great post! The fact is, the teen years are DARK times for a lot of people. At that age you gravitate to anything that expresses all that emotion and confusion — for me it was music as much as books. I didn’t have Harry Potter or Twilight as a teen but did have Anne Rice — I also read most of Stephen King’s books and loved Lois Duncan, if anyone’s heard of her. So all this paranormal fiction isn’t really anything new, it’s just more marketed. Also agree there is some really strong YA/fantasy literature out there. I love the Abhorsen trilogy.

  3. Thanks for the link up!

    I agree with you that first, and foremost, kids are reading! Let’s focus on just that for a minute: YAY! And I don’t care if they read about sparkly vampires or cutting as long as they are getting something out of it. Even just an escape. Or enjoyment.

    And also, there is so much variety in YA! I just got done reading (for the second time) Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Talk about NOT dark. It was lovely and warm and fuzzy and I kind of wanted to fall in love and go to Paris! But surely for those that don’t want to read “dark” topics, a book like that would fit the bill.

    I admit that sometimes the dark topics do make me uncomfortable. I read Ellen Hopkin’s Crank and was terrified. And not because I thought the book shouldn’t have been written but because, as a mother, I hope that never, ever, ever happens to my daughter. But it’s good to know people go through that. So I can talk with her about it. And educate her on it.

    Another point I feel the article misses–usually the books that deal with dark topics aren’t glorifying them. They are usually stories of recovery or redemption or hope in the end. I don’t think the message is EVER, “Do this. It’s cool.” It’s “I did this and now look what happened. This is how I made it through.” And I don’t see anything wrong with that message.

    Anyhoo….I’m getting long winded here 🙂 Another blog in itself! Thanks for a thoughtful post!

    • Great response, and I’m glad you brought up that these books aren’t glorifying dark topics, but rather serving as either a warning or an inspiration for how to get through tough times.

  4. Anne Rice was banned at your school. How did they attempt to do that?

    • They had the books in the library, but refused to let people actually check them out.

      • That is interesting. Why even have to books in the library? I remember reading “The Witching Hour” in high school and loved the book. Could you check out Huck Finn or was that banned as well? I’m always surprised by some of the books they try to ban.

        • Huck Finn was actually required reading, and is one of the few books that I despise, mostly because I couldn’t identify with any of the characters, lol. Part of the problem with the library at my high school was that we had had an excellent librarian who was open to everything, but she retired. The interim librarians had different opinions as far as what was appropriate for teens to be reading. The first librarian though was an inspiration, and she always had excellent recommendations for me.

          • Little people with power can ruin things. I’m glad the first librarian was an inspiration. I don’t understand why so many people today don’t like to read. I fell in love with books at an early age.

            • Me too, but it took me till around third grade to really fall in love with books. A lot of the books for early readers are quite dull and are an intellectual insult to young readers–by the time someone’s in first or second grade, they need more of a story than “Jane has the ball” or “the cat ran fast.”

              • I can’t even remember those books. I know I must have read them, but I don’t remember them. Maybe I’ve blocked them out of my mind. The first book I remember reading was Stuart Little.

  5. this is all too true. i used to teach Middle School, and it amazed me at how many kids came to me just to talk, because I would talk to them as peers and humans and not like some sort of deranged creature that needs to be led and controlled. sure kids will make stupid decisions ( and so do all my friends), but they’ll make even worse decisions if you just tell them not to do something instead of opening a meaningful and relevant dialogue with them. kids are smart, censorship is dumb. just be happy they’re reading.

  6. You’re right. Books can be mirrors of what society is doing at the moment. If you live in Disneyland you’re going to see through Disneyland eyes. I mean you write about your atmosphere…and if it’s the nitty gritty of real life, then it is what it is. We can’t really dispute self experience I mean I feel that Sherman Alexie writes with the resignation of pain. He experienced that life. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven are some of my favorite books. And even though there is a sadness to them I think the overall message is hope. What’s wrong with that? lol.

    • Exactly, and I think that Alexie’s books have done a great deal of good in raising awareness to the problems with modern reservation life.

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