I’m new to young adult literature. That is, I’m new as an author. Of course I read YA books as a kid, pretty much picking and choosing at will from the school library. That’s how I ended up reading decidedly non-YA books like Kafka’s Metamophosis and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring when I was 14. Thank God for a mom who didn’t fear provocative literature.
Since I’m such a newbie on the block (my first YA, the dystopian Tankborn, comes out in September 2011), I’ve sat back a bit regarding the “kerfluffle” over an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by Meghan Cox Gurdon. In her editorial, Ms. Gurdon declares, among other things, that today’s young adult books are dark and depraved. I’ve been unsure how to respond since I’m still working hard to get up-to-speed in YA. I’m learning as fast as I can, reading almost exclusively YA at this point, looking for the best, but also picking and choosing the books that most appeal to me.
And here is my first quibble with Ms. Gurdon. Not every book is going to appeal to every reader. I’m okay with dark as long as there’s a wonderful character arc and there’s a sense of hopefulness at the end of the book. That’s why, although I voraciously read Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games and am half-way through Catching Fire, I’m thinking long and hard about whether I will read the third book or even finish the second. I can be an emotional wimp and based on what I’ve heard of book 3, I might not want to go there. It’s a fantastic series, and I’m sure I’ll miss a lot by not reading all three, but I might just exercise that freedom of choice I have and put the book aside. Does that mean the books should be banned from schools or that teens shouldn’t read them because I choose not to? Of course not. That would be silly.
Should a young adult have that same freedom to choose as I do as an adult? For the most part, yes. A teen reading is a wonderful thing. Yes, some books might not be age appropriate, depending on the teen. When I was writing romance, my love scenes were fairly explicit. If a mom at a signing asked if my books were suitable for her daughter, I usually suggested they might be okay for a mature 15 or 16 year old, but I made it clear how “fleshed out” the love scenes were. The mom and the teen could make a choice based on that.
That’s not to say the daughter might not find and decide to read my sexy books herself. Is that a problem? It might be if the son or daughter felt uncomfortable with what they read AND didn’t feel they could talk it over with their parent. But if a parent and child have an open and free flowing relationship, Mom or Dad can talk over the content of a book with their teen, both before he or she reads it and after.
The thing is, so many of the YA books I’ve been reading in my effort to become more educated in the genre are tremendously thought-provoking. Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series and the issues of beauty and obsession with fame that it raises. The Hunger Games‘s treatment of not only oppression and insurrection but our fascination with reality TV. Neal Shusterman’s Unwind‘s handling of the dichotomy between pro-life and pro-choice and where it could lead. These books are the Faranheit 451 and 1984 of our day.
Who wouldn’t want their teens reading these books, considering these issues, critically analyzing these metaphoric stories? Teens are already thinking about these and even weightier issues, considering the world they live in. A novel can be a safe place to explore the darker side because it is fiction.
Just my humble opinion.