This past weekend, the Wall Street Journal printed an article called “Darkness Too Visible: Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?” In it, WSJ book reviewer Meghan Cox Gurdon blasts YA literature today for being too R rated and says that what the publishing world calls ‘banning’, “in the parenting trade… we call this ‘judgment’ or ‘taste.’” She ends the whole thing like this:
No family is obliged to acquiesce when publishers use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children’s lives.
Ouch. And yuck. And yes it’s true, no family is obliged to buy anything SO RELAX. If only the publishing world could bulldoze books into homes, most authors and illustrators would be a lot more pleased with their royalty checks. (I’m kidding of course.)
Needless to say, people are PISSED and hashtagging all over the place about it. (Check out #YAsaves.) I groaned aloud several times while reading it, mostly because I agree with YA God Judy Blume when she tells the School Library Journal in their response article, “If it makes [a kid] uncomfortable, if they’re not ready for it, they’ll put it down.” Who keeps reading a book they don’t like? (Ok, most of the time I do, but that’s just because I’m stubborn about it.) I’ve also heard award winning, First Amendment rights champion/ YA author Laurie Halse Anderson speak on several occasions about the heart felt responses she’s received from readers thanking her for giving it to them straight and for giving the most unfortunate of them the courage to come forward about their own horrific experiences. Like she says in that same response article, “YA literature saves lives. Every. Single. Day.”
This all feels extra timely for me since Steven and I happen to be in the middle of blowing through Suzanne Collins’ super popular and inherently violent Hunger Games series. (Teens are annually forced to kill each other on live TV in a whoever-is-the-last-man-standing-wins game.) This was us last night at 1 in the morning:
We thought about taking a picture, but it seemed a little inappropriate being not exactly clothed and in bed. (You never know where those photos wind up, do you Weiner?) But now I kind of wish we DID because people who go crazy over violence tend to go crazy over lady-nipple and I kind of love to drive those people crazy. I also kind of love that there are no lady nipples in this shot only because they’re being covered by a crazy violent YA book.
But I digress!
Steven told me he thinks the WSJ is running something like this so they can stake out their conservative territory in the news world, but that it is “pretty ironic” they would put True Grit on their list of recommended YA ficiton. “Just because a teenaged girl wants to kill the person who killed her dad 100 years ago it’s ok? It just reaked of can’t-handle-it-because-it’s-happening-right-now-ism”. WORD.
I also agree with what Christopher John Farely wrote as a response in the WSJ blog:
The worst pathological books will fade away with childhood. The best will live on and become permanent parts of the landscape of adolescence. I’m now going to let my son … read YA fiction to his heart’s content (as long as my wife agrees too). I’ll just be there to talk it over with him.
The stuff that’s written just for shock and awe, that’ll get old. Kids see through that. It’ll be the books that have a real heart in them– tough life questions, impossible situations and choices– those will be the ones that will stay and continue to inspire. And as long as you’re around as a partent/librarian/teacher/big sibling/babysitter to talk about the tough topics that arise, then you’re all good.
Like my dad (author/rabble-rouser Jon Scieszka) has said many times before, kids are smarter than almost any adult gives them credit for. That’s why we didn’t cut out all the sex and booze and danger in our book. This shit happens people, and teens know it.
And seriously folks. Once you start censoring, there ain’t no going back.