WSJ, YASaves and A Reading List for Teens Who Don’t Want to Read Paranormal

This response is a bit late but it needed time to germinate. At the beginning of June, the Wall Street Journal published an article called “Darkness Too Visible.” You can read the article but the premise is that fiction for young adults has taken a turn into more “dark” material and the author felt this could be harmful to teens. The YA community responded in force about how teen literature needs to also include stories about the darker parts of life. About how some of the books people might deem “too dark” have actually helped teens out of some bad situations. The movement was called “YASaves”

A few things before I continue:

1) I am not a parent. I am not a teacher. I am not a psychologist. What I am is a reader, a writer and most important: someone who was a teen not too long ago with her own “dark” problems to work out.

2) I agree with YA Saves. I don’t think you’re doing kids any favors by removing media that acknowledges the darker parts of life. I think books can be one of the safest environments to learn about the bad parts of life. You learn to empathize with characters in situations far removed from your own and recognize parallels to your own life. You learn that you are not alone.

I think A Wrinkle in Time author Madeleine L’Engle said it best when she said:

“Our responsibility  to [children] is not to pretend that if we don’t look, evil will go away, but to give them weapons against it.”

3) I will concede to the author that some language and scenes are unnecessary. I think there authors who use violence/swearing/sex in a way that is gratuitous and does nothing for the plot. HOWEVER…I actually don’t come across this very much in YA. In adult fiction yes but most YA fiction I’ve read handles these things very well.

4) The one thing that did resonate with me was the beginning of the article, describing a mother and daughter leaving a Barnes and Noble, unable to find a “non-dark” book. Now I don’t know the situation, whether it was the daughter or the mother who had a problem with the books.

I do know that most bookstores have a balance but to the newly inititated, I can see why one would assume all books are “dark.” Rather then dismiss these consumers, we should try to guide them.

And I do know this: when I was younger, I was not comfortable with vampires/werewolves/the like. Which is funny because now I eat up paranormal books, be they YA or Adult. At the time though, no vampires for me. But that was okay because there were plenty of contemporary/historical/fantasy options for me and still are. With the internet, most of these books are accessible even though they’re not new releases.

(This is not at all to say that all vampire books are automatically “dark.” Not at all. That is what a lot of people assume, not what I think.)

I’d like to share a quick list with you, if you’re a teen who’s also not big on vampires (for whatever reason) and looking for some reading material.

1. Anything by Madeline L’Engle

2. The Redwall Series by Brian Jacques

3. The Princess Diaries Series by Meg Cabot

4. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

5. Anything by Patricia Wrede

6. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

7. The Avon True Romace Series by Avon/Various Authors

8. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

9. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

10. The Young Royals Series by Carolyn Meyer

11. Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith

12. The Once Upon a Time Series by Various Authors

Honestly this list could go on and on and on and on because there are options up there. I don’t think its fair to blame publishers or writers. Maybe, just maybe, you can get away with calling out one or two individual bookstores for not stocking enough of a variety. But even that I can’t really support.

Kids are pretty discerning. Or at least I was. If something made me uncomfortable with its subject matter, I put it down. Not to say I was a perfect little child, there were times I read things that a lot of people would deem inappropriate for my age at the time. And I definitely read some dark books about issues far out of my realm.

But the thing is…I think reading about those things helped me. I struggled a lot with depression and self-esteem issues throughout adolescence. I was in and out of counseling.

A lot of books about grappling with darkness helped me during those times, because a lot of days all I could see was the darkness hovering over my life. Also music played a key role–a song from Linkin Park about dealing with pain helped me more than any cheery bubbly song. And I had parents who told me I wasn’t a horrible person for feeling the way I did. They acknowledged the darker things I was feeling. The same way a lot of books do now.

So in conclusion…I don’t want to hate on people who feel like they have no reading alternatives. That seems legit to me as someone who was raised a conservative Christian and very concerned with subject matter throughout adolescence. I think we should provide help for them, not hate.

That being said, you can’t remove the darker parts from books. Because 9 times out of 10, those dark elements are there for good reasons. You are the one to make the choices, don’t demand that the publishers and writers do it for you.


1 Response to “WSJ, YASaves and A Reading List for Teens Who Don’t Want to Read Paranormal”

  1. 1 Kimmi September 1, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    … if Mum is willing to read the books first, she’s probably 10 steps ahead of my parents, who let me read books that had graphic descriptions of rape in them when I was around age eight or so (crime novels).

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