Monday, June 6, 2011

I was reading Terrible Minds when I came across a link to this article in the Wall Street Journal, which made my blood a little boily.

For one thing, I think the author is getting confused about what a young adult is; she indiscriminately switch between the terms adolescents and children, as if authors of YA fiction are out there giving their books away to five year olds.

I'm not saying everything that's on the market labeled YA is good. Hell, a lot of it is awful, poorly-written crap that I wouldn't want to line a hamster cage with, for fear the hamster might read it and lose IQ points - but that usually has more to do with poor grammar and syntax and overused story lines than it does with the content being too dark or explicit.

One of the things that caught my eye is the assertion that 40 years ago, young adult fiction didn't exist. Heinlein's Red Planet came out in 1949, Have Spacesuit, Will Travel in 1958. Those are only two examples from one author - but I think Mrs. Gurdon is right in the sense that, 40+ years ago, young adults didn't have a great deal of special fiction - because they were considered mature enough to deal with the same ideas and themes as old adults.

What I find really funny is that, right after the bit that draws attention to the past (I'm honestly not sure if it is meant to point out the good old days, when controversial YA fiction wasn't available, or highlight a misguided past when young adults didn't have their own genre), there's a little sidebar thing with Books we can Recommend for Young Adult Readers - that, I get. If you're going to write something tearing down what you seem to be claiming is the vast majority of YA fiction, it only makes sense to point out where the wholesome stuff can be found. The funny bit is that the sidebar goes on to list Books for Young Men and Books for Young Women. I'm sorry, I thought we were done with the 40 years ago thing... is that still going on? And then, of course, if you read the descriptions of the books they're suggesting, the first one is described as gruelling and is set in a post-apocalyptic world, the next one is about WWII - I'm thinking neither of those are on the light and fluffy side.

My favourite part of the article (and by favourite, I mean the part that brought me the most joy through its sheer ridiculousness) is the very end :

... it may be that the book industry's ever-more-appalling offerings for adolescent readers spring from a desperate desire to keep books relevant for the young... The book business exists to sell books; parents exist to rear children, and oughtn't be daunted by cries of censorship. 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.

to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children's lives. Yeah. Publishers and their agents are out in the world right now, stopping kids on the streets and saying, "This is about freedom of expression. And you'd better read this, because if you don't, you're condoning censorship. In fact, anyone who doesn't read dark, gritty fiction is a Nazi. Read this book, or I'll beat you to death with it."

Alas, literary culture is not sympathetic to adults who object either to the words or story lines in young-adult books.
Here's a thought for parents who are anal about what their teenagers read/parents of actual children who read YA stuff: DO SOME RESEARCH. It is your job to take care of this stuff. If you have a kid who is allergic to peanuts, you don't demand that stores stop selling them, you teach your kid to avoid them. If you, for whatever reason, believe that certain writing is going to be somehow harmful to your offspring, you need to take care of that from your end.

I know, I know, I'm ranting. I just hate the idea of the next generation being wrapped in any more bubble wrap than it already has been.

I think I'll end it there. If I think of anything else, I'll add it - and I may go back and edit this when I'm a little calmer, but for right now, here it is, 100% censorship free.


Rhiannon said...

"children from the ages of 12 to 18"

Riiight. So, by her definition, I was a 'child' when I was in my second year of university.

Up yours, lady.

Anonymous said...

Athena, you’re a fool.

Athena said...

Anonymous, care to elaborate? I'm all for a healthy disucssion/argument/whatever, buy you're not giving me a lot to go on here, and I'm not going to get into a "No, *you're* a fool" kind of argument with you; that's not what this site is about.