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Oh, the Depravity! Pearl Clutching at the WSJ Over Young Adult Fiction

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran a ‘commentary’ on young adult fiction by Meghan Cox Gurdon, who evidently ‘regularly writes about children’s books for the Journal.‘ With a qualification like that, you can expect some quality journalism; a thoughtful discussion, perhaps, of the current state of YA, maybe. Some coverage of attempts at book bannings, perhaps, like the assault on Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak that occurred last year. Possibly even some coverage of the rise of crossover fiction, books that appeal to both youths and adults. There are lots of things to talk about, given that YA is exploding, as a genre.

But no. This is the Wall Street Journal. And that means it’s time to concerntroll for pageviews:

Pathologies that went undescribed in print 40 years ago, that were still only sparingly outlined a generation ago, are now spelled out in stomach-clenching detail…a careless young reader—or one who seeks out depravity—will find himself surrounded by images not of joy or beauty but of damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds…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 who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures. Self-destructive adolescent behaviors are observably infectious and have periods of vogue.

Ah. I see. Land sakes, we can’t go around normalising human experience! Gurdon’s commentary proceeds to single out a number of books she thinks are deserving of condemnation; many of them are on my shelves, and the rest of them will be by the end of the week, when my order at the bookstore comes in. She clearly believes that YA is entirely too dark these days and that youth need to be protected from it since apparently they are so tender and impressionable that they are incapable of reading a book without immediately running out to imitate the narrator. And evidently, she thinks that teens who experience things like depression, suicidality, rape, abuse, are abnormal and should feel properly shamed about it. Her palpable contempt of the American Library Association’s coverage of banned books is, well, palpable:

Every year the American Library Association delights in releasing a list of the most frequently challenged books.

That ALA, highlighting book challenges! What are they thinking. Have you checked out the list of banned and challenged classics, Ms. Gurdon? Many of the inclusions on that list might actually surprise you. Some of them are books by Judy Blume, the author you laud as an example of acceptable YA because her work isn’t ‘grotesque.’ (Are you aware, Ms. Gurdon, that Ms. Blume is an ardent opponent of book banning and often speaks out on this topic?) I guess we know how this ‘commentator’ feels about book bans:

No family is obliged to acquiesce when publishers use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children’s lives.

Those publishers, printing books! What are they thinking. Families must defend themselves from the evil of companies that print books their children want to read! And let’s talk about those literary agents, who dare to offer these dark, gloomy, no-fun authors representation. Agent Janet Reid puts it best:

Hey WSJ, I refuse to apologize for repping, selling, and reading “ever more appalling” YA novels.

Almost as soon as this appalling piece of ‘journalism’ went live, people started pushing back on it. Authors Maureen Johnson and Libba Bray both had rather a lot to say about the topic, and Ms. Johnson even started a hashtag, #YAsaves, asking readers to testify about what this ‘depraved’ literary genre has done for them. The results were stunning; within half an hour, it was among the top trending topics in the United States, and the testimonials are varied and eloquent. (Gosh, it’s almost like regular reading makes people better writers and communicators.)

Gurdon says that modern YA is ‘too dark’ for teens to be reading. Well, when I was a teen, I read a lot of dark books. And you know what? They were there for me in an extremely dark time, and they spoke to me in a way that other books did not. They reminded me that I was not alone, that other people had similar experiences, that there was a chance I could get through it. I could escape from my own darkness and into the darkness of another in a way that more upbeat books couldn’t pull me outside my experiences. I couldn’t read a cheerful book and feel better about myself. If anything, ‘nice’ books made me feel worse. Like more of a failure and a freak. I needed to read books where the protagonist was like me. I wish I’d read more books where the protagonist was like me.

In high school, I didn’t understand a lot of things about myself, like that I was mentally ill and that was a big part of why I struggled so much with things that seemed so easy for everyone around me. Maybe if I’d had access to more books about mentally ill teens, I could have recognised myself and I would have had the tools I needed to ask for help. Maybe I wouldn’t have lost a semester in college to my mental illnesses. Maybe I would have felt strong and proud, instead of useless and worthless. Maybe if the people around me hadn’t used rose-tinted glasses to describe childhood and the teenage years, I would have understood that my experiences were not at all uncommon.

The ‘depravity’ described; rape, incest, assault, these are all indeed terrible things. And they are terrible things that happen to teens. Teens read dark books because some of them have dark lives. Teens are raped. Teens are beaten. Teens are tormented and harassed. Teens are in abusive relationships. Teens have horrible home lives. Teens are hungry and homeless and desperate. Teens use drugs. Reading books about these experiences don’t make teen readers commit horrible acts. They help teen readers identify the things that have happened to them and develop tools to talk about them. Reading Speak, for example, has a profound impact on a lot of teens who have experienced rape. Go Ask Alice, namechecked as an early leader in the ‘depraved’ YA literature field, was and continues to be important for many teens. Thirteen Reasons Why doesn’t make people commit suicide, but it sure helps if you’re feeling suicidal and you need to read a book with a protagonist you can identify with.

And it’s not just teens who benefit from dark YA. Lots of adults read it too. There’s a reason crossover fiction is big right now. I have copious YA on my shelves and not just for research purposes. Because, yes, The Hunger Games did more for me than nice acceptable ‘adult’ books at a particular time in my life. Adults are active on the #YAsaves hashtag as well, talking about their experiences with it now, and how reading YA as youths led some of them to pursue careers as librarians and teachers (undoubtedly corrupting the youth by forcing evil, evil books into their hands).

The WSJ, ever interested in service to readers, helpfully provided readers with an acceptable list of young adult books. It’s divided into boy books and girl books, naturally, and that gendered split follows in terms of narrators, as well. Girls should read books with girl protagonists, while boys should read books with boy protagonists. As for the rest of us, well, I suspect the WSJ doesn’t think we exist, and would put books with genderqueer and androgyne or other nonbinary protagonists in the ‘depraved’ category. Naturally, none of the recommended books feature binary trans protagonists. After all, those sorts of books, with protagonists who experience oppression because of their gender, ability status, race, class…might be a bad influence on impressionable teens. We certainly wouldn’t want trans teens learning that they’re not freaks and there’s a word to describe what they’re experiencing. We wouldn’t want teens of colour and nonwhite teens learning that they can and should take pride in their identities. &tc.

YA is a powerful genre and a lot of young adult authors do impressive anti-oppression work. It is heartening to see so many standing in solidarity with their readers today as the WSJ attacks them. Rather than condemning the ‘depravity’ of young adult fiction, we should be talking about the real-world depravity that so many teens experience in a world with murderous bullying, sexual assault, and so many other things. We should be asking why the government is so bent on cutting the social services so critical to teens; why it is that so many children and teens are living with hunger and homelessness; why it is that the treatment of teen rape victims is dependent on the social status of their rapists; why it is that queer and trans teens experience suicidality and poverty at rates much higher than that of the general population; why it is, if our youth are so important, that we treat them like garbage. That is depraved. Books that help teens survive in a harsh world speak not to the need to censor books, but to the need to fix the world we live in.


  1. Jane wrote:

    I am so puzzled by the presence of the WSJ’s argument that I don’t know quite what to say.

    I will point out that these sorts of books are also instrumental for more privileged teens — at least they were for me — in developing a broader and, I think, a more compassionate perspective on the world. I went to a small, all-white high school, so one of my only exposures to the experiences of /any/ racial minority (until I went to college) was through young adult fiction. And — well — I remember reading Speak. I didn’t have to exactly share the narrator’s experiences to care deeply for her life and her struggles — and I think that’s a super valuable skill for teens to learn.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink
  2. K. wrote:

    I read that WSJ piece late last night after a friend tweeted about it and was so stunned that I had nothing to say (which is rare.) I’m glad to see it getting coverage here on Tiger Beatdown and couldn’t agree with you more re: YA fic giving young adults a set of tools to help them identify & speak about their own experiences.

    Growing up, YA fic helped me to know that I was not alone in being poor, in having parents who didn’t always get along, in being assaulted by someone who said they loved me, in watching the adults and the peers in my life struggle with alcohol and drug abuse, and on and on. YA fic (along with a lot of other things — parents and teachers who cared about me, for example) helped me to recognize myself as a person of value. As an adult, my bookshelves are still crowded with the stories that saved my life over and over again in middle and high school.

    It’s disheartening to see YA novels (that, like it or not, WSJ, are reflective of the lived experiences of many teens) being decried, particularly because by labeling these stories as unacceptable, we’re only further stigmatizing the kids who need them the most.

    (Also, thanks to Jane for her comment on the way that challenged YA books can positively impact teens from more privileged backgrounds — this is a great & often overlooked perspective.)

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 10:56 am | Permalink
  3. Naru wrote:

    At least these people have moved from trying to ban Harry Potter books. Gurdon has some half-decent points, though seriously misguided.

    I read almost everything I could get my hands on from the time I could read until I finished high school (I’m now in my early 20s). This included dark or controversial novels like Lovely Bones and Lady: My Life as a Bitch, as well as happy books like Baby Sitters Club. I tell you what, I learned way more about life and human nature from the dark novels than I ever did from lighter ones.

    The Hunger Games is indeed a very violent series of books, but it’s violent within a larger context, unlike needlessly violent video games. There are children in the world who ARE experiencing violence like this in the real world, and Gurdon would do better to try and protect those kids from losing their innocence than prevent teenagers from reading great novels where they could actually learn things.

    Also I notice Gurdon neglects to mention A Little Princess, a children’s book where the main character is almost worked and starved to death by her caregiver. And this book was written over a hundred years ago and although it has a happy ending, it deals directly with issues like family and poverty. But I suppose because it’s considered a classic it’s exempt from being bashed?

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 11:04 am | Permalink
  4. Matarij wrote:

    Great post – there was very little of this kind of book when I was growing up in the 60/70s and so I felt completely marginalised by my experience of being the child of the first divorce on the street and then of being the child who was beaten up and sexually abused by a stepfather. This meant that I was faced with a sea of literature that in no way related to my experience – even now I find it difficult to access the classic literature, such as Austin & co, because it is just too ‘middle-class’. I ended up reading adult fiction at 13 – starting with The Female Eunuch, which spoke to me more eloquently than any teenage fiction of the time. This present situation is again due to white, middle-class, privileged people displaying a profound ignorance of other peoples’ lived experiences and should be treated with the contempt it deserves. If only their ilk was not so powerful.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 11:40 am | Permalink
  5. Emily wrote:

    I first read the WSJ article this morning and was amazed by how that garbage even made it into publication. The article does nothing new, all it does is recycle all the old arguments for policing literature, all under the guise of “protecting the kids”, and a very specific type of kid at that. Someone recently made a very good point that book removal and banning from libraries and bookstores is done more for the parents’ sake than anything else, because heaven forbid their kids be exposed to subjects and ideas they themselves can barely deal with as adults.

    To put it bluntly, this article is shit.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 11:47 am | Permalink
  6. SheilaG wrote:

    We are not doing young people today a favor censoring books. Go Ask Alice kept me away from drugs, “Flowers for Algernon” helped me understand the disabled, “MacBeth”– wow, that’s a real Pollyanna classic, or “Tale of Two Cities” — all books and plays of my youth.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  7. Ella wrote:

    I just can’t get over how the author of that piece of drivel goes on to recommend Farenheit 451 as an appropriate book for ‘young men’. Lolsob.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Permalink
  8. Dani Alexis wrote:

    Well said!

    I blogged on a different angle here: .

    As a bookseller and reviewer, my job is to point out books that do well at exploring some aspect of the mess we call “being human” and to stock a variety of such books so that as many people as possible can find what suits them. It’s NOT my job to parent kids I’ve never met by deciding, without ever having met said kids, what is and is not appropriate for them.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
  9. Isabel wrote:

    Ugh, I… can’t even. s. e. got it all, I can’t even bring myself to have more words on this subject.

    INSTEAD I am going to recommend to anyone who is interested in the power of YA this video of Laurie Halse Anderson reading a poem that’s made up entirely of lines from emails and letters people have sent her after reading Speak. HEADS UP I CRY EVERY TIME I WATCH THIS VIDEO, I am actually tearing up just thinking about it, it is intense, y’all, the things people share with this lady. If you would prefer a text version it’s available here, though it’s an image – if anyone wants a text-only version let me know and I’ll type it up for you.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink
  10. Steph wrote:

    I think I was most annoyed by the following implications:

    1) Dark topics and joy/beauty are mutually exclusive, apparently

    2) Boys should be reading True Grit and Fahrenheit 451. Girls should read books about relationships. No way could those books be relevant to the other sex.

    3) My writing includes violence/murder/kidnapping/drug use/other “dark” themes because I grew up with violent video games and I’m desensitized, not because they have a larger purpose within my narrative.


    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Permalink
  11. danielle. wrote:

    What an eloquent post. You’ve said everything I was thinking, more beautifully than I ever could. I am so happy that the WSJ article is inspiring discussion and backlash and am hopeful that it has also inspired book sales!

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 7:57 pm | Permalink
  12. John M. Burt wrote:

    The quote at the top of this post sounds remarkably like something from Dr. Frederick Wertham’s “Seduction of the Innocent”….

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Permalink
  13. Satchel wrote:

    Hahahaha! Tbogg used to call her “America’s Worst Mother” and mock her mercilessly.

    Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 9:11 pm | Permalink
  14. Nikki wrote:

    Thank you for this.
    I was reading The Color Purple, The Scarlet Letter and The Devil’s Arithmetic when I wasn’t yet in junior high. A girl being raped by her father, then given to another man like property, to be raped by him. A single mother, an illicit affair. The holocaust, although this particular book was written for a younger audience. House of Stairs, five orphans being trained to distrust and hate and hurt each other. And now I’m 19, and I read The Hunger Games, the Maze Runner books, and any other dystopian, post-apocalyptic, dark, evil, angry YA fiction I can find. The characters are fascinating. The stories are amazing. And I’m running out of fascinating characters and amazing stories, so remind me to thank the WSJ for giving me a list of new books to read. No, not their recommended list, are you nuts? The ones mentioned in the article as unsuitable. If they get a reaction from people, they must be good. A good book makes people think.

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 2:04 am | Permalink
  15. tree wrote:

    does the WSJ edit their comment section, by chance? that would explain most of the comments there agree with the article. my favourite is by Rodney Adams, who says: “If you want to give young adults a positive view of humanity, and to inoculate them against the repulsive (and false) views of the liberal elite who are working to extinguish the liberties we have left, give them the works of Ayn Rand to read.” i, of course, immediately thought of the sexist beatdown ayn rand edition. AYN RAND! AYN RAND!

    a lot of the YA lit i read in the 80s was about nuclear war. i don’t recall anyone complaining about the ‘darkness’ inherent in apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic fiction. then again, it might just have been that i was too busy reading.

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 4:26 am | Permalink
  16. Lisa wrote:

    I’m the mom of a 12yo son who is an advanced reader, so I’ve been shopping the YA shelves for at least a couple of years now. He likes dystopian novels–as do I–so I’m happy to provide. I bought The Hunger Games for myself and was so pleased that he enjoyed it too–it was the first book with a female protagonist that he enjoyed!
    Anyway, the thing *I* find most dismaying about YA fiction is the lack of variety. After the success of the Twilight series, at my local B&N it seems like at least 50% of the YA fiction is vampire fiction. Dystopian novels are popular but many of them read like they’re cashing in on a trend a la Twilight. For the most egregious example, read a little bit about the I Am Number Four series and James Frey’s involvement. Literature is marketed to young adults in the same way that music is–let’s make a bunch of THE SAME THING and see what sticks.

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 9:38 am | Permalink
  17. ozymandias wrote:

    I would be happy for my children, if I had them, to read The Hunger Games. It is one of the most powerful anti-violence books I’ve ever read, because it shows that violence fucks everyone up: the perpetrator and the victim. I think that anyone who can read, for instance, that one death in the first book (I’m trying not to spoil) and not become, at least for a couplke hours, a pacifist, is lacking a soul.

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 10:46 am | Permalink
  18. Athenia wrote:

    One of my favorite children’s book was The Dark is Rising series.

    The dark is rising, indeed.

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Permalink
  19. But I suppose because it’s considered a classic it’s exempt from being bashed?

    It’s kind of like how when “literary fiction” people talk about how fantasy and sci-fi aren’t REAL LITERATURE, they never mention Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or the fact that Shakespeare wrote plays involving fairies and witches and shit. *still mad about that NY Times ‘review’ of Game of Thrones*

    I adore YA and fantasy and particularly YA fantasy (except the abovementioned Twilight ripoffs), and pretentious “literary culture” old media people can kiss my Tamora-Pierce-reading ass.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I apparently need to go read The Hunger Games like yesterday.

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Permalink
  20. firefly wrote:

    Both Parrotfish and Absolutely, Positively Not had narrators that didn’t fit into a typical boy or girl category: they were, respectively, a transgendered boy and a homosexual boy. And even though I didn’t know however I felt about sexuality at that time, I really enjoyed both those books because they portrayed finding out about your own identity as a tough experience, but also as a time where your friends and family will support you. It helped me realize that there are nice people in the world, and to try not to listen to those less supportive around you. These books should be read by all teens learning about tolerance and gender identity/sexuality. I scorn anyone who says that these books encourage “deviant” behavior, because if books could completely change your person and “corrupt” kids with just one word, the world would be a different place.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 1:19 am | Permalink
  21. Jasmine wrote:

    And evidently, she thinks that teens who experience things like depression, suicidality, rape, abuse, are abnormal and should feel properly shamed about it.

    This. This. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 6:52 am | Permalink
  22. alula wrote:

    Ugh. I’ve worked in a children’s bookstore, and I’ve even discussed the content of “dark” books with parents (or other adult shoppers) so they could decide if it was something they wanted to purchase, and offered them alternatives if it wasn’t what they wanted. Isn’t the WSJ supposed to be all about the market? The existence of “dark” books doesn’t force them on anyone, for heaven’s sake. And that mother who couldn’t find ANYTHING not dark for her thirteen-year-old? I do not believe it, unless she was in the worst book store ever, with no clerk. More than ever, “YA” isn’t a single entity–for almost any “adult” genre or subgenre* (sci-fi, thriller, historical fiction, romance (or specifically paranormal romance or Christian romance or LBGT romance, social satire. . .) And so, sure, there are exploitative or gratitutious YA books, like there are crappy books in all genres. But frankly, in my experience, YA books are LESS likely to use their “dark” content solely to titilate than many of their adult counterparts. And taking those things out of YA will only lead to bored teens not reading at all, or skipping straight to “adult” books anyway, in which case they’ll find more of the same, by a lot of authors who are less socially conscious and educated. When a YA author writes about rape or self-injury, for example, I think the fact that it IS in that age group makes writers and editors at least moderately more conscientious, as opposed to just tossing it in as colorful detail or plot contrivance.

    Also, talk about nothing new under the sun. VC Andrews much?

    *the validity of those subdivisions is always kind of iffy, but there a useful tool for crude navigation.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Permalink
  23. alula wrote:

    although to be clear, I don’t think it’s wise or healthy for parents to be trying to control what their child reads through their adolescence, which is why it’s so important that teens have libary access to those books. Just as a function of my job (I was the unofficial YA specialist), I was supposed to engage with the parents on that stuff, so that they were less likely to come in three days later throwing a shit fit, if they were the type so inclined.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Permalink
  24. scrumby wrote:

    I have a pett theory that’s itt’s not so much the contet as the fact that it’s being activly marketed to kids/teens. When I was that age and I got tired of the serious “classic liturature” we got in school but wanted something challenging than Avi or Judy Blume I went to the light adult fiction and I’m hardly the only one. Steven King, V.C Andrews, Heinlin, and almost anything else in the thriller, mystery, and romance genres are techniically the right reaading levell for a precotious tween. My teachers didn’t blink when I was hauling Jean Auul around at 12 (not a sentiment my mother shared.) I guess tthey figure if it’s an adult book then we must have gotten it from our parents bookshelves with their approval. But YA is a kids genre which we could get on our own from any store or library. All the sex and violence is unapproved sex and violence, snuck in by ignorant orevil forces to corrupt the minds of children.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink
  25. Rosanna wrote:

    The generalisations about ‘dark’ books are rather strange. They seem to be conflating gritty realism, gothic novels, and dystopian science fiction. These are all dark but the tone is very different and will appeal to different audiances.
    I think the quality of YA literature available today is fantastic. In my early teens it was all Sweet Valley High and Point Horror.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 8:32 am | Permalink
  26. Crys T wrote:

    A lot of good points made above–most of them reflecting my own responses to the article.

    I just want to add on thing: I call bullshit on the idea that “this sort of thing” wasn’t around 40 years ago. 40 years ago–or at least 36 or so, I was reading books that included teen sex, drug taking, masturbation, nocturnal emissions, same-sex attraction, abortion, some things that would now be recognised as self-harm and of course physical violence and murder. And at that point, I hadn’t even reached the “young adult” stage. These were all books to be found in my grade school library.

    Anyone who thinks that the 70s was a time when kids were shielded from uglier realities is a person who either wasn’t there or who has a very selective memory. The main difference between then and now is that back then the far right wasn’t so strong and their values weren’t so dominant. The type of control over every aspect of their lives that most children and young people seem to face now would have been unthinkable back then.

    Friday, June 10, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink
  27. Carolyn wrote:

    You guys should all check out Sherman Alexie’s response at
    Also: some things I find baffling about this article. 1) It’s been remarked before, but perhaps not quite loudly enough – there is a LOT of schmaltzy safe YA lit. I mean, it isn’t safe from mental violence, but what about all the YA “chick” lit about cliques and whatnot? Frankly, I’d rather read the “dark” stuff but you can’t say there’s no non-(physically) violent YA lit. It’s there, in droves. Finding stuff “for boys” which is similarly non-violent might be a problem, but then the boy/girl division is just silly, as others have noted. 2) Why does she try so hard to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable violence? I mean, if you’re arguing that a 13-yr-old girl should only read the Babysitters Club, fine, that’s silly, but at least the BSC is actually non-violent (though on a second read, their morals, especially in the early books, are not great – some bullying, etc). But what is the point in distinguishing between Fahrenheit 451 and the Hunger Games? F451 is definitely dystopic, and if I recall correctly the protagonist was chased by dogs at the end. It was pretty grim. (Yes, I, a girl, read this and liked it). A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is also pretty dark. So I just don’t get saying – oh, this violence is okay, but here, you have gone over the LINE, mister! Also, is she not aware that teens READ ADULT BOOKS? I mean, in high school, we read Les Miserables (pulling out your own teeth to sell violent enough for you?), A Tale of Two Cities, Shakespeare plays(spoiler: DEATHS), etc.

    Friday, June 10, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink
  28. scrumby wrote:

    Carolyn, what you have is basically a rating shift in kid’s lit highlighting the more mature content. Film went through the same thing; Die Hard was rated PG because it didn’t warrent an R and Tigereyes was a kids’ book because it wasn’t sophisticated enough to be for adults. On the flip side you had some novels shuffled into adult lit because they were a little dvanced for

    Sunday, June 12, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Permalink
  29. Daria wrote:

    Like Sady, I read a lot of these “dark” books when I was a teenager. People like Megan Cox Gurdon seem unable to divorce themselves from the idea that children are innocent, pristine souls to whom evil thoughts and acts would never occur if it weren’t for the pernicious influence of adults.
    But childhood is a dark, uncertain time, and even the luckiest children (and I was one) suffer at the hands of their peers and other adults. To deny this pain, to pretend that there is no ugliness in the world or in our hearts is not only foolish, but destructive.
    I can only reiterate that reading books like “Go Ask Alice,” “When She Hollers,” and Norma Fox Mazer’s “When She Was Good,” not only taught be compassion, but ways to cope with my own difficulties. She can do it, the books say, and she is normal. If she–ordinary–can be endure this pain and fear and emerge unbroken, if she can SURVIVE, then so can you.

    Sunday, June 12, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Permalink
  30. Sady wrote:

    @Daria: Just a quick correction — this was written by s.e. smith, not me. Wouldn’t want to take credit for s.e.’s work!

    Monday, June 13, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink
  31. Lynn wrote:

    As an author of what may be considered “dark” material for Young Adults, I try to write to Y.A.’s where they are at experientially, and as has been stated by many here, it gives my young readers hope. They are not alone! My books are resources on the world’s largest anti-bullying site I feel it is important to write honestly and openly about what teens face every day. Unfortunately they do not live in a “peaches and creme” world or else I would write about that. No, the majority of my young readers have faced terrible trials in their lives. They want to read about hope in the face of heartache. I hope when they read my books they get that message loud and clear!

    Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Permalink
  32. Dawn. wrote:

    Rather than condemning the ‘depravity’ of young adult fiction, we should be talking about the real-world depravity that so many teens experience in a world with murderous bullying, sexual assault, and so many other things. We should be asking why the government is so bent on cutting the social services so critical to teens; why it is that so many children and teens are living with hunger and homelessness; why it is that the treatment of teen rape victims is dependent on the social status of their rapists; why it is that queer and trans teens experience suicidality and poverty at rates much higher than that of the general population; why it is, if our youth are so important, that we treat them like garbage. That is depraved. Books that help teens survive in a harsh world speak not to the need to censor books, but to the need to fix the world we live in.


    My favorite books when I was in 15/16: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, House of Leaves, Speak, Fight Club, Lolita, The Color Purple, and several Francesca Lia Block books, particularly Violet & Claire and Echo.

    Sunday, June 19, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Permalink