The Wall Street Journal posted an opinion piece about YA literature on Saturday. I was first made aware of this article when I signed onto my twitter account and found message after message with the hashtag of #YAsaves flashing by. I live on the west coast, so Twitter isn’t usually all that active on a Saturday evening in my time zone. I was curious, so I found a link to what everyone was talking about and found the article titled “Darkness Too Visible” by Meghan Cox Gurdon.
To say I was disappointed that this article was published by what I consider a reputable publication is an understatement. I realize that everyone has to make money, but I was appalled that an opinion piece such as this was published in the WSJ.
Was the article all bad, not at all, but it had some parts that I would like to discuss.
1) The article opens with a statement from a mother who, when looking for a book for her 13 year old, was disturbed by the many “lurid and graphic” covers. Everyone who has read more than a handful of books will realize that the book cover is art. In many cases it has nothing to do with the story found inside. It attracts the eye and compels the potential buyer to pick it up and look further. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve picked up a book based on the yummy man on the front cover only to realize that that yummy man has nothing to do with the story. What’s the phrase – “Sex sells”? It sells fashion, it sells cell phones, it sells beer and now it sells books. Are we surprised?
2) The author claims that “40 years ago no one had to contend with young-adult literature because there was no such thing. There was simply literature, some of it accessible to young readers and some not.” I have to disagree with that statement. There was alot of Young Adult Literature 40 years ago. It just wasn’t labeled as such. I have been a voracious reader for many decades and I had plenty to fuel my need to read 40 years ago. Certainly, alot of the mainstream books were pretty tame, but it was not difficult to find edgier, darker books. Alot of the “edgier, darker books” I read in English class in high school. MacBeth (Shakespeare), David Copperfield (Charles Dickens), Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare) and Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte) come to mind. Nothing like high school english class to give one nightmares! One classic that seems to have a long life is about a man who hunts and kills humans for sport. I found out a few months ago that English classes are still reading and analyzing that gem. I find it disingenuous to say that there was no young-adult literature 40 years ago simply because the label of YA is relatively new and there was nothing comparable in the “dark and edgy” genre!
3) Alot is said about the author Lauren Myracle and the book that she has recently published. I’ve not read this book. From the description of what is covered in this book, I don’t think I want to read it. What about the other authors? Why only comment on one author?
4) Finally, there was a comment about an independent bookstore that has created a “PG-15” section for YA books that are more advanced. I find this admirable. But ultimately, isn’t it the job of the parents to guide their children’s reading? I or my husband read everything that the short ones read. Do we censor books – no – we discuss them. We also help the kids choose appropriate books but if they want something that is questionable we read it with them and discuss it. Is my 7 year old reading erotica – NO – but she brings home some pretty interesting books about racism and bullying from her school library.
I think that this article painted YA literature with too broad a stroke. I work in a high school library and the librarian that I work for is very well versed in YA literature. I’ve read a good quantity of YA, but he beats me hands down. Are there some dark and disturbing YA books out there? Yes! Absolutely! Are there thousands and thousands of wonderful YA books out there? Again, Yes! Why do we have to focus on a very small fraction of books where the vast majority of YA literature is outstanding! I am surrounded by it every day! I would ask Ms Gurdon to go to her local high school and pick 5 random books off the shelves and read them. Before she asks, yes, there are dark and disturbing ones on the shelves, but there are also good ones. After you’ve read 5 then re-work this article.
One point that any high school english teacher or librarian will admit to is that the Twilight series has encouraged a whole generation of non-reading kids to read. These books (and the movies) are catching the kids’ interest. Is the Twilight series the be all and end all – no – but it leads to other books that are a bit more complicated in the plot, but are still in the paranormal genre. Before you know it, the non-reading kids are seen bent over a book, desperately trying to finish it by the end of lunch. Why is this a bad thing?
The most disappointing thing about this article is that it seems that it is a marketing ploy. One of the comments on the article suggested readers comment on the WSJ’s Facebook page. I clicked on the link and we were encouraged to give our opinion. There are at last look 209 comments on the FB page. The article now sports a comment about all of the tweets with the #YAsaves hashtag that can be found on Twitter. So…..which is it…..an opinion piece or a marketing ploy?? It certainly lit Twitter afire Saturday night! So maybe it’s working!