YASaves, Parenting, and Censorship

A lot of the reaction to last week’s WSJ article about darkness in young adult fiction was, quite rightly, “Who are you to decide what’s good for a particular kid?” That just because something is dark doesn’t mean it’s not appropriate for some people, that different kids can handle that stuff (and as #YASaves suggested, many need it). That yes, maybe some kids don’t need to be exposed to some of the darkest, most graphic stuff, or that yes, some of the books out there don’t handle it well (or are just poorly written) — but that you can’t make a blanket statement about all YA fiction nor all young adults and what they should read.

Author Sherman Alexie writes:

When some cultural critics fret about the “ever-more-appalling” YA books, they aren’t trying to protect African-American teens forced to walk through metal detectors on their way into school. Or Mexican-American teens enduring the culturally schizophrenic life of being American citizens and the children of illegal immigrants. Or Native American teens growing up on Third World reservations. Or poor white kids trying to survive the meth-hazed trailer parks. They aren’t trying to protect the poor from poverty. Or victims from rapists.

No, they are simply trying to protect their privileged notions of what literature is and should be. They are trying to protect privileged children. Or the seemingly privileged.

Two years ago, I met a young man attending one of the most elite private high schools in the country. He quietly spoke to me of his agony. What kind of pain could a millionaire’s child be suffering? He hadn’t been physically or sexually abused. He hadn’t ever been hungry. He’d never seen one person strike another in anger. He’d never even been to a funeral.

So what was his problem?

“I want to be a writer,” he said. “But my father won’t let me. He wants me to be a soldier. Like he was.”

He was seventeen and destined to join the military. Yes, he was old enough to die and kill for his country. And old enough to experience the infinite horrors of war. But according to Ms. Gurdon, he might be too young to read a YA novel that vividly portrays those very same horrors.

“I don’t want to be like my father,” that young man said. “I want to be myself. Just like in your book.”

Writer and librarian Shedrick Pittman-Hassett wrote:

Another big problem with the idea of appropriateness is the inherent fluctuation of any applied standard.  Once again, one parent’s idea of what is appropriate varies from another.

Writing for Salan, Mary Elizabeth Williams adds:

And no, not all of it is great literature. Remind me again when there was a time when there was nothing but great literature from which to choose? Critics like Gurdon are forever holding the dregs of the present up against the best of the past, which is an unfair and highly loaded argument. You can’t compare what’s crowding the shelves now with a tiny handful of classics that have endured.

Author Harry Connolly is right in saying:

…with teenagers, there’s this idea that someone else’s kids might be screwed up enough to need screwed-up books, but our kids are perfectly fine, thanks, and don’t need to be exposed to helplessness or pain.

Not only is that wrong, it’s as wrong as wrong gets. Everyone, young and old, needs to experience a wide variety of emotions in the safe space that books provide. It’s not about normalizing, or processing your own shit; it’s about being human and understanding other humans.

There were a few notes about what role booksellers and librarians can and should play — with a breadth of knowledge of the material out tehre, they can help identify what a particular kid should read.

Bookseller Josie Leavitt wrote for Publishers Weekly:

Well, if Amy Freeman had shopped at an independent bookstore someone would have asked her if she needed help. The staffer would have offered help and most likely, the indie would have been well stocked in other types of YA…

Page 1 of 3 | Next page