|I don't usually post pics like this, but it's way too appropriate.|
I wasn't going to blog today because I was going to bury myself in Imajica (which I've been doing), but there's an article that I read this morning that has bothered me all day and I wanted to talk about my reaction to it. I'm sure most of you know the article I'm talking about: "Darkenss Too Visible," which was featured on the Wall Street Journal's website. In it, Meghan Cox Gurdon, rails against the "hyper-violent" nature of YA literature, citing novels such as The Hunger Games (written by Suzanne Collins) and Jackie Morse Kessler's Rage.
In addition to being full of wrong assumptions and misinformation, Gurdon clearly seems to have a vendetta against anything published in the last, I don't know, 25 years. I've mentioned several times on this blog that I'm not a fan of the YA genre, but it's because I find many of them to be repetitive, boring, poorly-written, and because I have a hard time relating to their (mostly) female protagonists (although there are lots of exceptions that I've found over the years). Never in my life have I once thought, "Oh, these are too violent; people shouldn't read these." Part of this is because I don't mind reading about sex and violence; part of it, and this is most important, is because I've been a teenager and I know the struggles that people face. I can see how YA novels could be a comfort to disaffected youth who, rightly, feel misunderstood, lost, and alone.
There are issues, I think, that aren't even worth complaining about--breakups and broken hearts, petty friend-related drama, popularity, bad grades, etc. These, however, are not the problems that most teenagers obsess over, no matter what their parents like to think. Weight problems, divorces, abuse (mental, physical, verbal, and/or sexual), health issues, overwhelming expectations that they feel they'll never meet--here is where the real battlefield is; the place where teens collapse under pressure; the place where eating disorders, self-mutilation, abusive relationships, and other forms of self-hate form. Societal norms battle with teenage goals and aspirations at a time when males and females are developing into who they are meant to be, both physically and mentally. Is it no wonder that with hormones raging and pressure mounting that some teenagers need an escape?
YA lit can help them to flee from the things that haunt them, letting them know that they aren't alone and that there are other people out there who have suffered the things they have. Gurdon complains about books that talk about sex, violence, cutting, incest, etc. What she can't seem to comprehend is that these things don't just exist in books. Drug use, suicide, rape--all of these things are very real and affect thousands upon thousands of teenagers in the States and countless more across the globe. Where does she get off complaining that there are writers out there who are willing to write about the inequalities, injustices, and horrors that permeate our society? And how can she fail to overlook that it is imperative to discuss these themes if we ever have a hope of fixing the deeply rooted problems in the world?
I can't even agree with the idea that there should be an age limit. I was never censored by my family in terms of what I read. They never saw a book as being "too old" or "too young" for me. They instilled in me a love of the written word and left me to discover what I liked to read best. I read adult romance novels at the age of 10 and still delve into kids books at the age of 25. I never discriminated between books based on intended age, gender, race, etc. I just read whatever I could get my hands on. This indiscrimination made me a stronger, smarter, more discerning person. It gave me critical thinking skills and it educated me about issues, identities, cultures, and institutions that I might not have been educated about otherwise. My vocabulary grew so much that people in high school often told me that they felt like they should have a dictionary handy when I was speaking to them. This isn't bragging; it's the truth and it's a truth that people like Gurdon appear to want to shield children from.
Kids and teens aren't stupid. If they don't experience horrors on a personal level, they at least see them on the news or hear about them from friends. Books, especially YA novels, have a way of drawing people into these issues, informing them, or helping them to cope. For example, a girl who has an eating disorder may find comfort and hope reading a book like Kessler's Hunger; her friend, who knows nothing about eating disorders; may finally come to an understanding and figure out a way to help her troubled friend by reading the same book. Similarly, teen girls (or guys) who have been raped or sexually assaulted may take solace in Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, while her worried sister may read the book and finally see what it is that her sister's been hiding from her.
I am sickened that people would dismiss YA literature based on its content when adult (even classic) literature, contains a lot of the same. It may not be as graphic or it may be worse. Some of the comments on Gurdon's article were from parents complaining about YA lit and saying that they only let their kids read classics. First of all, way to keep your kids under a tight leash. How do you expect them to become adults if they're stuck having you control everything they read? I believe that reading is imperative to become a mature person and that having a choice in what you read is even more important. Secondly, how do you explain books like The Catcher in the Rye or Native Son? Both books contain themes that could be considered "inappropriate" and yet these are classics, books that are read in high school and college English classes. Third, when do you stop being a helicopter parent and let your kids grow up? When do they start feeling like they actually have some control over their lives? Is it after high school? After college? After you're dead?
We have been a nation that is obsessed with keeping kids safe and healthy, but we end up doing more harm than good. A parent afraid of kidnapping keeps their kid inside and the kid eventually decides that it's better to just sit around and play video games and he or she becomes obese. A parent who is afraid of their kids watching the news (and I have a friend whose mom was like that) is in danger of raising an ignorant kid who has no idea what's going on in the outside world. Parents scrub their counters and use anti-bacterial everything in the hopes that their kids will never get sick and yet what they don't realize is that they are endangering their child by contributing to the proliferation of resistant strains of bacteria and by inviting even the simplest of illnesses to cripple their children by not allowing anti-bodies to develop after exposure to diseases.
My point is that this article is not just about books. This article is about a prevailing mentality, a dangerous zeitgeist, that has been gripping our nation for far too long. It's important for kids to make decisions, to get sick, to make mistakes, to read things parents think they shouldn't, to take risks, to get dirty. It's important for teenagers to be able to think critically, to be educated about the dangers of the world so that they can be prepared in a risky situation. It's also important for them to know that they are not alone, that not everyone in the world is out to get them. They need to feel that their parents care enough to let them wander a little, to let them grow up to be something other than a clone of their mother or father.
I am appalled that there is such a large number of people out there who think that censoring reading is okay and, even, healthy for their child. It isn't. It's detrimental to maturation, to mental development, to socialization, to education, and to spiritual well-being. It stunts academic as well as personal growth and it creates adults who have no clue as to what they think, believe, want, or know.
Shame on you, Gurdon, and on all of those ignorant parents commenting on your ridiculous article.