Monday, June 6, 2011

Random Musings: The Wall Street Journal Takes On the YA Genre

I considered not responding to the "incite-full" article in the Wall Street Journal regarding the YA genre.  It infuriates, exasperates, and exhausts me, not to mention saddens me.  It's inconceivable to me that such a well respected news outlet could present such a one-sided, ill-informed article that is so far off the mark. (If you haven't read it, here's the link.)

But how to respond?  Should I address the underlying assumption of the journalist's article, that teens are brainless?   I could, but it wouldn't be as well written as Nicole's post over at Word for Teens.  Her passionate response is well crafted and I love her message regarding the YA Saves campaign, --a must read (link).

Should I tell you about the first YA novel I connected with?  How relieved I was when I finally realized there were other kids in my situation?  I could, but it wouldn't be as eloquent or as relevant as Adam's post at Roof Beam Reader (another must read -link).

Should I make a broad blanket assessment assuming that the woman mentioned in the beginning of the article who couldn't find a book in the YA section was uneducated and a zealot?  No.  People would be outraged, and rightly so, because it's a ludicrous statement -the woman in question is a busy mom who was obviously overwhelmed.  But it's just as ludicrous to paint all of the paranormal, dystopian, and contemporary books in the Young Adult section with the same brush.  ("Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity." - Seriously?!?)

Should I refute Meghan Cox Gurdon's article and her aspersions on those who cry censorship? Not when this North Texas librarian has already done it so beautifully and succinctly (must read link).  So what's left for me to say?  I will address this article as a parent and avid reader (of YA and many other genres).

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, not every book is for everyone.  There are books out there on very serious topics of rape, abuse, etc. in both the YA and adult sections ...and I'm not reading any of them ...and that's okay.  How can you begrudge someone a book that helps them know that they aren't alone in their situation?  How can you begrudge teens the opportunity to explore serious situations that are blasted all over the news?  This is how we learn to problem solve, interpret, and cope.  (If you don't believe me try reading Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Popular Culture Is Making Us Smarter.)  Would you rather they experience it in person rather than on the page?

I'm not saying that a mature YA book is the right read for every 12 and 13 year old out there.  It may never be the right read.  But if my daughter comes to me and wants to explore these books that I don't want to read, I'm not going to stop her.  We read to understand the world around us, and last time I checked, it wasn't all unicorns, rainbows, and happy endings.

I honestly think there's an article buried in that editorial (I'm calling it an editorial because it is not factual reporting), but they missed the boat ...showed up on the wrong coastline for embarkation, in fact.  Ms. Gurdon finally touched on it at the end of her article as dose Adam at Roof Beam Reader in his post:  Parents need to guide and monitor their children's choices. While that may not be news (we monitor what they watch on TV, and where they hang out and with whom), it's something to be discussed.

It may seem an overwhelming task -goodness knows I love books, but even I find the rows of beautiful books in a bookstore overwhelming at times.  As a parent, there is so much to be aware of, you don't have time to read all the books your kids are reading too. But there is help out there:

  1. Ask a Librarian - There are no more Hairy Scary Librarians like in the Meathead Public library on the Isle of Berk... there may still be a few like Madam Pince, but for the most part they are a friendly lot ready and willing to help you.  If you need guidance in guiding your young reader, ask!  Whether it be the school's librarian or a public one, s/he will be thrilled to help you select books you feel are appropriate for your young teen.  
  2. Ask a Salesperson - If you arrive at the bookstore and you suddenly feel overwhelmed ask a sales person!  If they don't have an answer they will help you find someone who does have one.
  3. Read a Blog - We are filling up the web with our thoughts on books and we're here to help too!  A great one for guidance in the YA genre is Parental Book, and there are plenty more out there. And if you are lucky -or unlucky- enough to meet one of us book bloggers in a store, we may give you our opinion, whether you want it or not.
Like everything else to do with raising children, we can only guide them the best we can.  At a point, we stop holding their hand and let them go.  We take a leap of faith and trust their judgement.  If you are trusting you teen with your car keys, I hope you can trust them to choose their own reading material.



Magic_Of_Reading June 6, 2011 at 5:21 PM  

I've been reading YA for years, and I haven't felt the urge to copy anything from them nor have they made me depressed. If anything, they highlight important issues and can teach us a few valuable things in life.

As for the vampires etc, well thats just good plain fantasy escapism. :-) June 6, 2011 at 5:47 PM  

Very well said - and I am glad you did decide to say something. There are obviously quite a few opinions about this and we are all addressing it as pertains to our own beliefs about the importance and benefits of reading.

I think this:
"We read to understand the world around us, and last time I checked, it wasn't all unicorns, rainbows, and happy endings" - says it all.

Thanks for linking to me as well.

Julie June 6, 2011 at 10:27 PM  

Here's the thing..anyone who knows me via this blog or personally knows that I don't really read YA. Now that's really because I read a lot when I was younger and have now experienced life and don't want to read about teen angst. You know, been there done that.

But for someone to write that article means they don't understand the genre. I would have told that mom to pick up a book that she loved as a kid and give to her daughter. I mean surely there was something?!

All this being said, when my daughter is old enough for YA books; I will probably read them (aka skim them) before I let her pick them up.

I read V.C. Andrews in 7th grade. My mother was HORRIFIED by them, so I hide them from her. Maybe if she had an understanding what they were really about (not incest) she might have been ok.

I think it up to the parents to monitor what their kids are reading and to let them read what is appropriate for their emotional development, not just by age.

cleemckenzie June 8, 2011 at 11:39 AM  

I always read the books my kids were reading. It's important to know what they're experiencing in their books as well as everywhere else in their lives.

As a parent you're there to guide them until they have the experience to do the job themselves.

Anita June 9, 2011 at 1:10 PM  

So well said Jenn, I can't add anything else, but I can sing your praises for saying it so well!!

DL June 10, 2011 at 4:29 PM  

I agree, very well said. Taste is unique to everyone but because one person finds something offensive doesn't mean another will - and simply because a person doesn't find that thing offensive doesn't mean they have poor taste. Some of the books the journalist lambasted (Hunger Games and Diary of a Part Time Indian) were ones that I absolutely loved and look forward to reading with my teens in order to discuss the important social and political issues these books touch on. I also believe it is naive to think that dark issues are unique to this generation of youth.

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