Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Darkness In YA: It All Comes Down To A Choice (Part 2)

So far this week we've had two awesome viewpoints on the "darkness in YA debate." Now it's my turn. 
Like Amparo said, "dark" is a very subjective term. There has been so much talk about '"dark" books, but I wanted to look back to a "dark" book from 1950, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis: 
"At the time it was fashionable for children’s stories to be realistic: fantasy and fairy tales were seen as indulgent, appropriate only for very young readers, and potentially harmful to older children, even hindering their ability to relate to everyday life. Some reviewers thought the tale overtly moralistic, or the Christian elements over-stated — attempts to indoctrinate children. Others were concerned that the many violent incidents might frighten children." Gene Veith (2008)
I can imagine many reacted in the same way to this book in 1950 as they may with one of the modern "dark" books. Today this book is a classic. I don't hear many people debating its so-called 'moralistic' tone. As a child, I wasn't told by my parents not to read it. It wasn't as much of an issue. And I never heard about anyone knocking themselves unconscious trying to walk through their wardrobe into Narnia either. Things change. Times change. The line moves all the time. 
"We used to believe the Sun revolved around the Earth. We don't anymore. Let's look at each book. Let's look at each kid, each situation, and see where the line should be." Lauren Myracle 

Do I believe YA fiction is too dark? No. I believe there are a wealth of stories out there, dark or not, that are waiting to be read/told. We all know there are teens who don't drink, do drugs, have sex etc. Some teens don't want/feel the need to read "dark/issue" related books. What the WSJ article seemed to forget is that there are books out there for them. Authors like Sarah Dessen, Ally CarterMandy Hubbard, Maureen JohnsonSara ShephardLisi Harrison, and Louise Rennison have written/write books that aren't "dark." 
But we can't forget there are those who don't have an easy time. There needs to be books that address the issues they face. Even just books that show teens a different side of life to theirs. Because, even if they aren't going through cutting/sex/abuse/eating disorders etc., someone they know may be. And the book can serve as an education, warning, create empathy... the list goes on. 
So where does it leave us? It all comes down to choice. Not every YA will reads/wants to read the happy, light-hearted books anymore than they will the "dark," issue-driven ones. But to say all YA books are too "dark" is ignoring the rich world of YA fiction. In the end there should always be a choice to read the books we want to read. To write the books we want to write. Times change. But, in the end, the freedom to choose is forever.
Links: npr interview with Meghan Cox Gurdon and author Lauren MyracleScott Westerfield wrote a fantastic post on the subject, Think About The has an post talking the subject:Seeing Teenagers As We Wish They Were


Katrina L. Lantz said...

Cool! Three different perspectives from one blog! We are the party place!

I feel like I've said quite a bit (sorry) in this important conversation, so I just want to add one more thought for people who think parents are being condescending about their teens. (in response to Scott Westerfield's post)

Third person media effect. It's something I learned about in a communications class and it stuck with me. It means that people acknowledge the things they read, see, and listen to affect other people. But they don't see how media affects them personally. Truth is it (the entertainment we choose) affects all of us. That's the very valid concern of parents. We can be as smart as we want to be, but if we watch horror movies every day, we're going to be affected by them. That's the argument against violent video games, and it's the same argument against "edgy" content in books.

Teens are SO smart. Agreed. They're not immune to influence.

Amparo Ortiz said...

Lindsay, great post! Choice, people. That's all that matters. There's something for everybody.

Katrina, I totally see your point, and I agree that this is a valid concern for parents. But I think Sarah Fine said exactly what I want to say, only better :) Here's the link to her post on influence:

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Thanks for the link!

I agree with Sarah when she said, "Part of me sort of wants to scream WHY ARE WE WASTING TIME TALKING ABOUT THIS instead of supporting parents to really engage with their kids, become educated and empowered consumers of both research and literature, and make good decisions about how to guide their teens? How about we talk about how to get more teens to read? Oh, heck, why don't we all go and work on our WIPs?"

Hee hee. That's my shtick. I'm recoiling from some authors who have chosen to be snarky toward concerned parents rather than truly engaging them in the conversation about YA issues books. My friend and I want to start a non-profit to put a family library in every home. Imagine how much better the world would be if every mom or dad read with their kids and talked with them about the story. I hope more author types make that their focus instead of Scott Westerfield's quite condescending post about reactionary parents and how their teens know better than them. That doesn't build the kind of relationship between teens and their parents needed for a worthwhile discussion.

Kristal Shaff said...

Soooo true, Katrina!

Becky Mahoney said...

Hi Operation Awesome ladies! Sorry to go off topic in such a great post, but I didn't know where else to put this. I entered the Mystery Agent contest this month - my entry was THE HUNGRY GROUND. Well, I have had a bit of progress on the agent front, and I have to make certain decisions by the weekend, so the MS probably won't be available for much longer.

Anyway! That was a very vague and roundabout way of saying that I should withdraw from the contest. But thank you all so much for doing these, as always!

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Thank you, Becky! How exciting for you! Congratulations! I'll let our Mystery Agent know.