Sunday, July 10, 2011

Darkness In YA, Part I: The Voldemort Effect

You may or may not have heard about Meghan Cox Gurdon's article in the Wall Street Journal, "Darkness Too Visible". You may or may not have heard Meghan defend her argument in an interview with YA authors Maureen Johnson and Cheryl Rainfeld

You may or may not have read countless blog posts, Tweets, or Facebook statuses rallying against Meghan's article. Or maybe you read responses from sources like Publisher's Weekly, YA authors Laurie Halse Anderson, Jackie Morse Kessler, Sherman Alexie, and YA author/psychologist/blogger extraordinaire Sarah Fine

But you haven't heard from us here at Operation Awesome.

Which leads me to...

Harry Potter.

You see, according to Meghan Cox Gurdon, contemporary YA fiction is too dark. Bookstores are swamped with books about the bad stuff in life. With books about the brutal, ugly side of reality. 

So, in that sense, dark YA books are a bit like this dude:

"I am so evil I DON'T HAVE A PROPER NOSE!"--Dark YA Books/Voldemort

And this is what dark YA books look like when they're purchased:

"What's this? A teenager? LET ME TOUCH YOU AND SCAR YOU FOR LIFE!!!"--Dark YA Books/Voldemort

And this is what a dark YA book author looks like when they spread the darkness:

"ROFL!"--Dark YA Book Authors/Voldemort's Death Eaters



Folks, the Voldemort Effect has been ascribed to YA fiction. Dark books are The Big Bad. It-Which-Must-Not-Be-Read. They are ruining teenagers' lives, filling their heads with thoughts of suicide, homicide, eating disorders, and sex. These dark books glamorize dangerous behaviors and threaten the emotional/psychological well-being of teens. (SPOILER: in Meghan's interview with the aforementioned YA authors, Meghan failed to provide a single shred of evidence that supports her argument). 

Honestly? That's all bullpoopy to me, but what I have trouble with is this: what is dark? I just think it's a subjective term, as is every other term ever invented. So that's why I'm leaving it up to you, folks. What is dark in YA to you? If you read contemporary YA, do you think Voldemort's Death Eaters contemporary YA authors should cut back on the realistic topics? Or do you enjoy their work regardless? Leave your (awesome) opinions in the comments! :)


Janice Sperry said...

It does seem that YA is getting darker and edgier but I think it's a trend like vampires and evil governments. There are some I'd rather my kids not read but I haven't had any trouble finding books that are appropriate for my kids (12, 10, and 6). I have suggested to my 12yr that he read Hunger Games but I don't know if he will because he has his own tastes in books. I think there are books out there for every taste. The first part of the article that said there wasn't anything available for a 13 year old bothers me. There are plenty of books that are appropriate for a 13 year old. The parent just has to know the market. They should also be reading some of the books their kids read so they can talk about them. Or, in the case of my son and me, fight over who gets the book first. (I read faster so I always win lol)

Magan said...

I guess you have to look at each title differantly. There are some edgier topics in YA literature and then there are fantasy books with things like vampires, but dark is kind of a relative term. One of the things that bothered me about the article was that she said there wasn't a choice for anything other than vampire books in YA fiction or fantasy. Um, hello? Sarah Dessen! I have never read about a single vampire in any of her books.

When I was of the YA age (around 12-14) I was actually reading VC Andrews books and not books of the YA market since there really wasn't much out there. It's good to see that there are books actually marketed at the young adult age. And if parents have a problem with what their kids are reading, then they should read the books for themselves, or just be thankful that their kids are reading in the first place!

*down from the soap box*

Emily R. King said...

I like dark in YA. I think life is full of light and darkness. To write, you must incorporate both. When I was a teen, I'd read adult fiction because YA was boring. It's gotten much better. If you don't like it, don't read it!

Christa Desir said...

I am a big fan of dark YA and my current WIP is very dark. I was sort of a dark teenager. Angst-y, I guess. I don't think I was alone in this. I find solace in dark contemporary YA. And I love all the publicity because I think more teenagers will want to buy my book:)

Misha Gerrick said...

At first I was angry, but after her second article, I somehow failed to take her seriously. See the way I see it, I react to most people like her like this:

*lifts middle finger and goes on with my life*

Giving her more attention than that just leads to more people paying more attention, leading to more people... you get the point. And in the end, she wins, because we can't make her stop saying what she's saying and... she, the controversial journalist (and I use the term lightly) will just get more opportunities to write, because she attracts the hits.

So how to smother a flame? Take away the air.

Katrina L. Lantz said...

I think "dark" is subjective, like you said. So what I want to continue to say in this discussion is that we as authors need to be mindful of our power, and the power of words. We need to decide for ourselves if we're including something that's for sensational value or something that's actually adding to the important generational discussion. We need to feel the sense of responsibility about what we write. The thing that bothers me, as a writer, reader, and parent, is when authors proclaim that they write whatever they want and nobody should say anything about it. Nobody makes a film and says that. It's understood that certain content earns a certain rating, and filmmakers expect mixed reviews based on the content. Based. on. the. content. So it's unrealistic to me when writers think they're exempt from this.

As always, consumers will choose what they will, no matter how old they are. And there are consumer reviews that discuss the content and whether or not consumers feel it's appropriate for the target audience. There shouldn't be all this hullabaloo about it from the artists. Every artist knows they're going to get mixed reviews. As others here have said, read what you're going to read.

There is such a thing as too dark. The question for us as writers is, where is that line for us?

Jessi R. Webb said...

I think that every parent needs to judge for themselves which books are too dark for their children to read. Having someone dictate what is "too dark" for my child is like having the government tell me what I should and shouldn't censor when it comes to what my kid views on the telly.

Personally, the only thing I censor in regard to what my child reads is sexual material and gratuitous swearing. He benefits from it as well, I believe, because as a 3rd grader he has the reading level of a 6th grader with near-perfect comprehensive skills. He's 8 years old, reading the Harry Potter series. I consider that awesome because I know 8 year olds that don't want to read at all!

As someone above me said, it helps when parents read the books that their children want to read. The best way to figure out if something is "too dark" for your child is by reviewing it first. If you have set standards for your children and watch their behavior carefully, it shouldn't matter if they read about murder in a YA novel.

To me all of this comes down to the age-old censorship debate and I'll always stand by my opinion that a parent knows what their child can handle in regard to reality versus fantasy - it is up to the parents to dictate the restrictions on their children, not another group of people (or one person) to set the standard of what our children read.

Besides, if a violent, dark, and ugly book were to be put on a regular fiction shelf instead of a YA fiction shelf, whose to say that a parent wouldn't go "Oh, my son/daughter would love this based on their reading preferences."

I think it's wonderful that this woman wants to keep kids safe and duct tape the rainbow colored glasses to their heads, but it comes down to parental choice not mass dictatorship on what is good and what is bad.

Angela Townsend Author said...

As an author of YA and MG I work very hard to always instill some kind of positive energy into my manuscripts even though I often write very dark material. But dark doesn't have to be unnecessarily offensive, or graphic. I don't agree with censorship, but at the same time I like to see a few roses in the fertilizer pile. Mix the dark with the light. I like to give messages of faith, hope and courage to young readers by showing growth in my fictional characters. I often mix history into my horror to show kids cause and effect. One of my novels deals with ghosts from the War of 1812. Its a scary, dark dark novel, in fact I first wrote it for the adult market when I was agented in a different genre. But I felt kids should know about the men who died for our country while it was being founded and what became of their bodies on foreign soil. But they also learned how those bodies when given a proper burial some two hundred years later. I received loads of positive reviews from both parents and kids. Writing for kids is very rewarding and I do find that I write with more care and caution in that market than I do for adults.

Lindsay said...

Dark is so subjective. The article focused on certain books, but totally sidestepped others in the YA genre, like Ally Carter etc.
Do I believe books are too dark? No.
And I shall continue wednesday ;D

Anonymous said...

Honestly, if I read a book that was all happiness and sunshine and rainbows coming out of a puppy's ass I'd be bored to death. Literal, clutch-at-your-throat, eyes-in-the-middle-distance death.

Conflict drives a novel. Without it, you've got a whole lot of happy inside the book, and NOT a whole lot of happy outside the book. Wouldn't you agree?

I do believe that authors can reach an extreme of darkness in their writing but most of them maintain a balance; otherwise, they wouldn't be down in paper and ink, right? The books nowadays are all about conflict and its implications/offshoots. Even TV series (PLL, Gossip Girl, Lying Game) follow this mini-plot. Complicated webs of lies and love are woven, causing [relatively] huge consequences. If you're not into this type of action, then I totally understand your viewpoint.

But even in general, today's culture is centered around instant access and fast action. Technology, movies, TV shows, books... the whole she-bang. So today's YA fiction is [generally] no exception.

As a "young adult", I can testify that those books have no effect on my actual life whatsoever. They affect my writing style, yes, but the actions that drive my life are totally and completely detached from what I read.

Okay, so I enjoy theatrics and all, but that, in my opinion, is a different event and only hereditary. It's a writer's trait.

Sorry to be a buzzkill, but that's just my opinion (and BOY, does it feel good to voice it!).