Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Young Adult Fiction Under Fire

Last week, The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece regarding the dark subject matters covered in young adult literature. The article’s tone was generally negative, and it has sparked a great deal of debate between YA authors, parents, teachers and everyone else affected. The article makes the usual “video games make children violent” argument. It also suggested that Young Adult literature features such controversial material as suicide, abuse and self-mutilation in order to draw interest from young readers, who are used to seeing crazy things on TV. I’m not a parent or a YA author, but I object.

As a recovering angsty teen, I can truly say how much it means to be inside of the head of a character who acts like you and thinks like you. I found Jessica Darling (The main character of the series by YA author Megan McCafferty) later in my teenaged years, but I felt a warmth reading her thoughts and relating to her anxieties and her chronic overthinking. Cautiously, I told my mother to read it because I thought it would help her better understand me. She balked at the fact that I implied she didn’t understand me. I went back into my YA literature where it was common knowledge that parents don’t understand.

I’m 21 now, but I still read Young Adult books regularly. Yes, I am a little embarrassed because of the reading level. Faulkner, it isn’t. And I never stop telling people that I got through the book so quickly because *casual shrug* “It’s just a Young Adult book.” But behind that I don’t mean it, because I find a certain truth and honesty in YA books that I have yet to find in as many Adult novels. I mean talk about selling to the public’s interest? How many crime thrillers are on the bestseller list right now?

I’ve heard a lot of YA authors speak. I’ve seen some in person. (Megan McCafferty is adorable. I keep writing on her Facebook wall in the hopes that she’ll become my friend. Sigh.) I’ve watched videos of some talks. I follow YA author John Green on Youtube. I’ve even engaged with some on social media websites. What I have found is universal: They have a passion and a dedication for connecting with teens and putting something good out there. Their characters may not set the best examples, but they almost always provide food for thought and truly deep, important lessons.

These novels will continue to meet controversy as long as we live in a society where parents ignore what’s really going on with their children. Really? They shouldn’t read curse words? Believe you me: way worse is said in the hallways of your local junior high than in these books. Many of these authors are writing about real kids with real problems that many teens out there are relating to on some level.

Jay Asher, author of the Young Adult novel, Thirteen Reasons Why in which a boy listens tape recorded two weeks prior by a girl in his school before she committed suicide, recently told Entertainment Weekly about teens who have told him that his book had saved them from suicide. To the people who take issue with their teens reading these books about suicide, I can’t help but ask: What if your teen needs this book? And even if it’s not your teen, wouldn’t you say that a book with the power to prevent even one person from taking his or her life has a little more to it than just entertainment value? 

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