So, yesterday Wall Street Journal released an article, Darkness Too Visible in which they deemed modern Young Adult fiction "rife with explicit abuse, violence, and depravity". The author goes on to point fingers at books such as The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Scars by Cheryl Rainfield, and Shine by Lauren Myracle.
The article suggests that you can't go into the YA section of a bookstore without being faced with "lurid and dramatic covers". There's one quote from a 48-year-old mother, who leaves the bookstore empty-handed because apparently the YA section "was all vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff." Well, first of all, not all YA books are about vampires, suicide, and self-mutilation. Secondly, the latter two are a regular conflict in teen life––like it or not. What are you going to do, hide your kids in a box and never let them glimpse reality? Adolescence is a transition between childhood and adulthood––and how can you expect teens to become responsible adults, if they are never exposed to adult material?
"The argument in favor of such novels is that they validate the teen experience, giving voice to tortured adolescents who would otherwise be voiceless. ... Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people ..."Seriously? The author of this article obviously does not understand the concept or purpose of Young Adult fiction. At least she's right in saying that YA fiction gives voices to the voiceless––but implying that books about self-harm encourage self-harm? What?
Look, Wall Street Journal. Just because something happens in a book does not mean that the author encourages it to happen in real life. In fact, usually it's the opposite. In literature, harmful actions result in consequences. That's what a story is. It needs to have a conflict. Furthermore, the purpose of dark YA literature is not to rape the minds of innocent children. Firstly, teenagers are not children, and they can make decisions for themselves. Secondly, YA fiction is not focused solely on darkness; it's about hope. I know I, for one, don't read YA books because I have some kind of morbid fascination with bloodshed and self-mutilation––no, I read these books so I can discover characters I love, so I can see how their relationships and their strength prevail even in the darkest of conflicts. I walk away from most books feeling inspired, not depressed.
I'm graduating from high school today. Somehow I've managed to survive the past four long years, and a lot of credit goes to reading and writing. Without both these things, it would have been near impossible to cope with stress. Reading has helped me become more knowledgeable about the world, to realize that life can be terrible but that things can always get better. Writing helps me release any of my inner turmoil, and to expose truths and issues that I care passionately about.
Maybe I'm a bit biased, being a teenager, and quite an open-minded one at that. But on the other hand, this Wall Street Journal article is extremely biased as well. Besides the first sentence in the above quote, there is almost no support for dark concepts in YA fiction at all throughout the article. There are no quotes from teens themselves, or even from YA authors––except a brief quote from Sherman Alexie, which the author of the article basically ridicules.
As a writer of YA fiction, this article made me very nervous at first. When my work is published, is it only going to be shot down by a terribly closed-minded world? Luckily, I was given hope by the wonderful Maureen Johnson––who is one of my favorite authors, and also a very awesome person––who immediately started a protest of this article via Twitter. She started a hashtag, #YAsaves, in which people share stories of how YA fiction has helped and inspired them. #YAsaves is currently the #1 tag trending worldwide, and has gained support from YA authors such as Scott Westerfeld, Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Laurie Halse Anderson, Malinda Lo, Sarah Dessen, Gayle Forman, and Shannon Hale ... and many others, I'm sure. I'm only naming ones I've seen thus far.
So in a way, the release of this article is almost a good thing. It started a very important conversation, and it also encouraged readers and writers everywhere to voice their love for YA fiction. I was furious at first, but seeing such a strong backlash against the article has given me so much hope.
Any thoughts? Opinions? Stories? Do you think YA fiction is too dark? And/or has YA fiction helped you any way? Please share! (Or better yet, share on Twitter! #YAsaves!)