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A Dark, Depraved Blog Post

So many fabulous people—authors, editors, agents, teen and adult readers, bloggers, etc.—have already weighed in so eloquently on the Wall Street Journal article ranting about YA books that I had almost decided not to. I mean, I’ve tweeted plenty on the subject. What else could I have to say, right? Well, not exactly. Some of this will likely repeat what others have said. But once I get it off my chest here, I can go back to my next dark, depressing, depraved work-in-progress. (It’s not, but you know . . .)

What I want to say is this. Yes, some YA lit includes references to sex or drug use or abuse. And that is because those things are threads in the teen weave. But YA authors DO write with our audience in mind. Authors for the adult marketplace have no such worries. When I was a teen, “young adult” meant middle grade. There was no teen fiction. So I, an avid reader, read whatever I could get my hands on. I read Jean Auel. (God, those Clan of the Cave Bear rutting scenes!) I read Jacqueline Suzanne, Jackie Collins, Colleen McCullough (that priest in Thorn Birds!) and Erica Jong (Fear of Flying’s “zipless fuck!”) I read Stephen King, Ken Kesey, Dean Koontz, Mario Puzo (Sonny and Lucy against the door!), and even managed to find a copy of Story of O. Too often, these books equated sex with “getting off.” They didn't make me want to run right out and get off. But neither did they define "healthy sex" for me.

Teens have sex. Period. They do, and always have. Why not show them what healthy sex is, or isn't? Rather than focus on sex as titillation, YA books tend to portray it as an outpouring of love—good, bad or confused. They show the outcomes of sex given too cheaply or taken by force. Teens make choices every day. It is vital they understand that every choice has a consequence. Mistakes can be forgiven, but some consequences can’t be taken back—a pregnancy, an addiction, a drunk driving accident that kills someone. Knowledge is power—the power to see consequences before a choice is made.

It is ludicrous to assume a teen who reads about cutting will choose to self-harm. Kids cut to deal with the immense pressure in their lives—the pressure to succeed at school, at sports; to live up to others’ expectations, or perhaps have no expectations at all because no one really cares. Ditto reading about drugs. Young people use to cope; to fit in. Hey, to have fun. But if they can become a character in a book, use and lose control, right along with that character, they understand better what’s at stake.

YA books do not make the world a darker place. They bring light and hope to an already shadowed landscape. Parents have every right to encourage their kids to read the kinds of books they’d prefer. But I submit that they also have a duty to arm their young adults with knowledge; to empower them to make better choices. And they should respect their teens enough to let them read the books they’re hungry for, whether that’s vampires or wimpy kids or teen prostitutes. Step up to the plate, parents. Read with your kids. Open the lines of communication and discuss your kids’ favored reading material with them. That’s parenting. Censorship is not.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 5th, 2011 11:18 pm (UTC)
For me it's always been easier to write what I feel than to actually say it. I am not the best verbal communicator, but I use some of these YA books to help open that dialog with my kids (sex, drugs, abuse, etc). We can talk about these characters, their situations, and how to "deal" with the circumstances if it were "us".

These books give me the opportunity to teach, learn, and grow as a parent. Talking about things that are relevant--I hope would help build that bond and increase trust, so if my children are put in a situation where they have to make difficult decisions or are in harms way, they will feel comfortable enough to talk to me about it and/or ask for help.

I am such a fan of your work, and I can't thank you enough for all that you do.

Jun. 6th, 2011 01:29 am (UTC)
And the WSJ seems to suggest that because there are lots of trashy vampire novels published now that somehow a hundred and fifty years of YA classics have vanished, never to be heard from again....
Jun. 6th, 2011 02:11 am (UTC)
I completely agree with you. As a teen I pretty much was allowed to read what I wanted, which because of how advanced I am in reading wasn't often what some would consider 'age appropriate' material. I can't imagine that I would read as much today had I not been allowed that freedom as a young adult.
Author Matthew Rush
Jun. 6th, 2011 01:44 pm (UTC)

What a novel idea. As a father here's what I do: read the books my daughters read. Not before they do, but as soon after as I can. That way, if they have questions, or something bothered them, we can discuss it like intelligent people.
Jun. 6th, 2011 04:29 pm (UTC)
I've always thought those teen years were intended to transition people from being children to becoming adults. They can't actually do this unless they're permitted access to the world of adults, which includes sex, drugs, alcohol, moral ambiguity and other major decisions about behavior and consequences. They don't magically become mature the day they turn 18, and they aren't stupid and oblivious up until that point. Young adult fiction allows them to "practice" being adults beforehand.
Jun. 6th, 2011 05:13 pm (UTC)
I love how you put that, very well said. We indeed have a duty to arm our kids and turning our back on that duty to simply pretend these problems don't exist is to do them a disservice.

~Heather McCorkle
Paul Davidsung
Apr. 21st, 2016 05:44 pm (UTC)
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( 7 comments — Leave a comment )