Monday, June 6, 2011

Darkness Too Real

Before I get started I have to apologize to Alex Cavanaugh. I owe him a post for his Fun & Games blogfest, and I promise I will put it up tomorrow, but something happened over the weekend that pissed me off. I have to write about it, because that's what I do.

If you're here for the blogfest, please come back tomorrow!

I'm sure most of you are familiar with the highly opinionated, poorly informed WSJ article about YA books that came out on Friday, but if you aren't please read Darkness Too Visible, by Meghan Cox Gurdon. I'll wait.

Now, I would like to react to this article in three parts. The first one might piss some of my friends off, but even though I hope it doesn't, I'm okay with it if it does. I can only be myself, and I don't know how to do anything but tell the truth.

My first point is that in my reading of this article, the main point the author tries to convey is that it's up to parents to determine what they're children read. I'm not going to say the logic she uses to make this argument is sound, because it isn't, but as a father I have to agree that parents ought to have the right to decide what they're children are exposed to, whether it be TV, Video Games, Books, or even Ads.

It's the law. It's not always the best thing for the child, because parents can just as morally corrupt as anyone, but in most cases parents do know what is best, and even if they don't, they have the right to decide, when it comes to their own children.

You have to keep an open mind as you read the article to realize that's the authors real point, because she tosses out a lot of hyperbole and ignorance that unfortunately (for her) really deflates any valid argument she might have had.

And here I must digress. There was one specific piece of this article that really pissed me off.  I'll quote it for you:
Grim though these novels are, they seem positively tame in comparison with what’s on shelves now. In Andrew Smith’s 2010 novel, “The Marbury Lens,” for example, young Jack is drugged, abducted and nearly raped by a male captor. After escaping, he encounters a curious pair of glasses that transport him into an alternate world of almost unimaginable gore and cruelty. Moments after arriving he finds himself facing a wall of horrors, “covered with impaled heads and other dripping, black-rot body parts: hands, hearts, feet, ears, penises. Where the f— was this?” No happy ending to this one, either.
Andrew Smith is a good friend of mine, and I consider his writing some of the most powerful art I've come across in my life. The above paragraph that describes Andrew's novel, The Marbury Lens, takes an admittedly harsh passage out of context, and then makes a weak attempt at using that passage to claim that his book is depraved. Yep, depraved is the word she used. Not dark, not brutal, not violent, not terrifying, not visceral, not disturbing, not too honest to handle ... no, none of those things. If she had said any of those things I would have been okay with it, because it would have been true. Andrew doesn't write easy books. He takes a hard look at things that are ... damn hard to look at, for lack of a better term. But it's important work, and it touches people (at least it does me) on a level that is exactly what makes art great. It should also be pointed out that in the end Jack's story is a happy one. He survives, and the love that he and his best friend have for each other is one of the main reasons he is able to. There's your happy ending. What's so wicked about that?

Now it's time for another interjection. I made a point before about parents not always knowing what is best. And there's been an awesome hashtag #YAsaves trending on Twitter lately, so I'm going to jump in and do something that I don't often do right now.

My mom died when I was 11 years old. My dad was out of the picture. I went to live with an aunt and uncle when she died, and they started shipping me off to boarding schools pretty much right away. I got into a lot of trouble, ending up getting kicked out, and had been a runaway, as in a serious, halfway across the country runaway, three times before I turned 16. Now there are a lot more details to this story, and I may share them someday, but for now I just want to give my own #YAsaves to you readers.

I wasn't reading much at the time. Life, anger, and my own short-sightedness getting in the way as it will do, but if I'd had the opportunity to read Andrew Smith's STICK when I was at that age, it would have given me more hope that any piece of useless adult advice did. What Ms. Gurdon doesn't realize, I think, is that most kids in trouble don't have a nuclear, all American family to tell them what's right and wrong, and if they do, chances are pretty good that one of the parents is a piece of shit who abuses the kid or kids on a regular basis.

Another point I would like to make is that this article used some strange novels to recommend as comparisons to the dark YA they were complaining about. One that I loved when I read it was Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi. I even emailed Andrew the other day and expressed my love for that book. The thing is though, Ship Breaker touches on some very harsh and scary topics itself: substance abuse by a parent, physical abuse by a parent, dead parents, disparity among different levels of socio-economic status, genetic engineering, slavery, oppression of child members of the working and poverty class by the rich and powerful bourgeoisie. Admittedly, Ship Breaker is not quite as brutal, raw or honest as The Marbury Lens, but it's not a book that shies away from telling the truth through fiction, either.

I'm not even going to get into how ironic it is to recommend Ray Bradbury's classic Fahrenheit 451, a book about burning banned books, in an article that is essentially against honesty and reality in fiction. Hypocrisy much?

Okay, so admittedly I sort of lost track of my three parts idea, but I'm a little passionate about all this, so please forgive me.

I guess the last point that I will make is this: even if every kid out there had a loving family to take care of them, and decide what they ought to be reading, I still think books that reflect the reality of the darker side of life would be important. I mean we can send our teenagers off to war on foreign soil, in the name of ending terror, but we can't let them read about drug abuse, sexual abuse, depression, suicide, or self mutilation?

Ms. Gurdon tries to argue at one point in her article that a young woman who is already depressed might theoretically pick up a book about self mutilation, and then start cutting on herself. I'm no phsycologist, like my friend Sarah Fine, who's post this morning should be very interesting, but I find that scenario highly unlikely. You know what I think is much more likely to happen?

A young woman who has never heard of self mutilation, happens across a book that covers the topic, and then is actually prepared to be supportive when she discovers a friend of hers is so depressed that she is cutting herself.

I think I've probably said enough.


Ted Cross said...

The experience I have had throughout my life is that most adults underestimate their kids and try to overprotect them. I believe that more reading and more education is always a good thing.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I so agree with your post. I don't have any problems with my daughter, a middle schooler who will be in high school next year, reading about the things this author found so objectionable. I want her to know about these things so she can protect herself from them.

And she wouldn't be bothered by anything in the blurb you posted from The Marbury Lens. In fact, she's old enough that she doesn't want to read books without some of these "darker" themes. Nor do her friends. Guess this article pissed me off too.

FYI I'm interviewing Elana Johnson today and doing a big giveaway to support the debut of her book tomorrow at Literary Rambles. I hope you'll stop by.

Jessica Bell said...

I'm completely on your side. I have a rough adolescence too and I would have loved to have access to books like this to get me through.

I wish I could voice my whole opinion here, but I'm typing with one hand, as I've injured my left one. One day maybe we can bash it out over email.

I think teens should be exposed to AS much dark stuff a possible. I think it would prepare them for life. Again, I have so much to say, but maybe another time ...

li said...

Bravo. I retweeted the link to the article by request last night. As for the woman in Barnes and Noble who couldn't find anything, she didn't look. There's a TON of YA lit that is suitably tame for teens. I know; I worked at Borders for some years, and we employees made it our business to know the books and be able to recommend titles for parents who wanted to steer clear of "honest, gritty" stuff. Perhaps parents should ask for help or do their own online research FIRST before parading into a bookstore and throwing up their hands at the selection.
In the meantime, teens are faced with some dark stuff and good lit can, indeed, help guide them through and offer responsible choices...and hope.
(Sorry I ranted on your time.)

Jessica Bell said...

*had a rough adolescence :-/

Heather Kelly said...

I think you're right on with parents picking books for children--some children are not emotionally mature for some subject matter.

But when I was growing up, I went straight from Judy Blume to Stephen King. And the book that haunted me? Flowers for Algernon. Which was required reading for a class.

We could let advanced readers read truly inappropriate adult fiction, or we could figure out what YA is written for the emotional maturity level of our kids. And that's my job as a parent. I have come across books that I won't let my 11-year-old read YET. But I haven't come across any YA that I would "ban" him from reading.

This always get my heckles up.

Talli Roland said...

VERY well said, Matthew. I had a very protected childhood in an idyllic kind of place, but I did read a ton of gritty books while growing up that I can only say helped my transition into the 'real' world. They certainly didn't harm me in any way!

Sarah said...

I absolutely agree with your post about parental engagement and supervision of kid reading matter. Parents just have to gradually promote the kid's independence along the way--because by the time that kid is 16-18, he/she should be deciding much of that him- or herself.

With regard to the self-mutilation social learning argument, yes, it theoretically could happen, but it's really important to remember that it wouldn't be the sole precipitating reason, and there would be many other, more important factors that should be addressed in terms of preventing it. And yes, research on this topic indicates that the more accurate knowledge kids have about mental illness (and its treatment), the more healthy and helpful their attitudes about it are. In other words, a kid who is educated about self-harm would probably less likely to reject or bully another kid who engaged in this behavior--and they could be more likely to help the peer get some assistance. We know empathy is the antidote to bullying, and knowledge of different perspectives/experiences promotes empathy. Great post, Matt.

Kelly Lyman said...

Well said. In total agreement with you.

Old Kitty said...

I read about this controversial article over at Justine Dell's blog too!

All I can say is: dear adult people. Please trust children more. They're not silly!

Take care

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I would like to punch the b**** in the face about her cutting comment. As a former cutter, I would have LOVED to know I wasn't alone. I'd never heard of the term until a few years ago. I thought I was the only one doing it. If I had read a YA book about it when I was a teen, it would have helped me HUGE time.

Laura Pauling said...

As a parent, I played an active role in knowing what my kids were reading and making sure they were ready for the emotional content in a book. I might've said, you might want to wait a couple years. Or I might ask them to stay away from the horror books (and I don't mean books like the Marbury Lens, which I loved.) But I've never said, you can't read that.

I'm glad there are dark and light books out there. And I really don't think kids will do something just b/c they read about it. Kids are smarter than that.

Anne Gallagher said...

My daughter, who is 6, asked me the other day, the difference between a fiction and non-fiction book.

I don't think I'll steer her away from honest, gritty books, however, I will make sure they are age appropriate. And I will make sure she knows they are FICTION, no matter how life like and graphic and honest they truly are.

I really don't care what she reads, only THAT she reads.

Shaun Hutchinson said...

I think you're spot on by insisting that parents have the right to decide what their children read. Everyone grows up differently. I'm always reticent to recommend books directly to kids that I don't personally know, preferring instead to recommend them to their parents, who can vet them beforehand.

Sadly, I think "articles" like this one, are an attempt to crowdsource parenting. They whip up the mob mentality. I would hazard a guess that the author didn't even finish The Marbury Lens. Rather, she probably flipped around until she found a quote that suited her purposes.

But I don't think imploring parents be involved will piss anyone off.

salarsenッ said...

I agree that parents must take an active role in considering the reads for their children; however, they are not the all and all when it comes to the availability of books to tweens/teens. Kids can get books anywhere--public library, one of course. But I'm also talking about their friends and the choices they are allowed to make in reading. It's just like when we were younger and your friend's parents let him/her watch a certain TV show that your parents wouldn't let you watch.

Schools also play a big role in what tweens/teens read or are exposed to reading. Take my 8th grader for instance. This year, his reading teacher chose to spend the majority of their class time reading and examining the Holocaust. I won't give my opinion here, but most of the books she chose to share with them were rather graphic. Should I shelter him from that reality? As a parent, that's what we face in all children's literature and it is our place to pay attention. But this article was so bias and, in my opinion, quite unfair to YA writers. It implies that the plight of growing up is exploded. Not so. Most YA fiction stories examine the layers of growing and present thought-provoking questions as how to deal with them--thus dealing with life. You can also go full-circle and see that those books that are available to kids' friends and shared can now be discussed among them, getting them to talk about issues they might not want to mention out loud.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

I love a smart rant.

Sommer Leigh said...

You and me, Matthew, have been thinking the very same things this weekend. I was glued to the YASaves hashtag. There was a point where I was in tears saturday night.

I felt the same way about The Marbury Lens when I read what she said about it. I loved reading The Marbury Lens, it blew me away. But I thought the ending was pretty positive. I got the impression, based on her comments about the books, that she hadn't actually read most or any of these books.

It was also interesting that she put Judy Blume up on a pedastal as what good YA should be, but when Judy Blume's books were newly published, she was facing censorship and book banning all over the place because her stories were too graphic and controversial.

Pk Hrezo said...

I concur. Kids need to relate to issues they deal with, not be sheltered from them. And parents should read what their kids are reading and open up a discussion on these subjects.

Slamdunk said...

Well argued Matthew.

The issue for me is like the overly protected young people that I met as freshman in college. These guys/gals had helicopter parents who controlled every aspect of their lives. Then they go off to college and are turned loose--and whoa look out indulgence and bad-decision making.

Is there a better way to guide children then put them in a room and lock the door? I think so.

Michael G-G said...

Your rants are the best, bro. You were flying with all those adjectives in the Marbury paragraph!!

What I love about all this is the indisputable fact that reading evokes passion, on both sides, and that it's way too soon to pronounce an R.I.P. for BOOKS.

(And I totally agree with you that parents have a responsibility to guide their child's choices. I'm in the thick of this right now.)

Clarissa Draper said...

I haven't read the article but I don't agree with banning books. If the content of that book bothers parents, they they shouldn't allow their own children to read it but I would like to be able to choose what my child reads until he's an adult. Great post.

Janet Johnson said...

I love a good, well-argued rant, too!

These "dark" YA books definitely serve a purpose. We can't assume that all youth are going through an idyllic childhood. And even if they are, knowing what others face can only increase their empathy.

That said, there are definitely books I won't let my kids read until I think they are ready. It's hard to let go as parents, but we all have to face that they will and SHOULD make their own reading choices as they get older.

Andrew Smith said...

Way to go, Matthew. I wanted to go even farther with my rip at being part of the axis of literary evil, but I actually held back (saving some pretty funny and offensive shit for the future).

Thanks for the praise of my books. What can I say? I honestly haven't slept in 2 days because of this article -- things like this really bother me -- but I can't make an academic response because I don't want my argument against this writer to deteriorate into personal attacks and name-calling, which I think she started by posting this erroneous bit of (oops... almost name-called) writing.

Jeffrey Beesler said...

Well said, Matthew! As a fast food worker, I see teenagers getting into all sorts of stuff because the parents either just don't care, or are too busy to care, or just want to be buddy-buddy with their kids. So when it comes to this article, I can see how the author believes the parents have the right to monitor their children's habits.

The question, however, is will the parents do such a thing? You can advocate for parental rights all you want, but if the parents are too lazy to exercise the power, or are pieces of garbage like you've described, Matthew, none of this will matter, and the teens will turn to whatever they need to turn to in order to run away from the pain.

Teens need safe havens. They need comfort. Are the parents aware of what's motivating their kids to do whatever it is the kids are doing? Maybe the parents need to take a higher interest in those sorts of things.

Oh, and to the mom who walked out of Barnes & Noble with nada? They do sell puzzle books in the Games section. Or Garfield books in the Humor section. There's more out there. Open your eyes to the light instead of just the dark.

Thanks for the rant, Matthew! (And like I've said before, it's next to impossible for you to lose me as a friend!)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It's all about balance. Most kids are smart enough to know right and wrong and reality vs fantasy, but then, I think there's things kids shouldn't be exposed to until they are ready.
I don't think my reading of fantasy and science fiction corrupted me...

Lisa Gail Green said...

Bravo! Wonderfully put. I got the sense from the article that the woman never actually read most (if not any) of the books she trashed or even used as "good" examples. I just want to also point out that I agree that parents should be able to decide how to handle their own children, HOWEVER, the idea that those making choices different were not doing a good job, and therefore it should be done for them by banning these books... that's what I have the biggest problem with.

Anonymous said...

What he said. Period. Exclamation point.

Lydia K said...

Rant away, Matthew. And thank you for sharing the details of your life. I think many of us have had dark moments in our growing up (some more than others) and I don't think the YA out there could ever be the "cause" of it, rather a place to seek solace that we were not alone.

Sarah's post was excellent too.

Marbury lens, I have heard, is very dark, but I'm rereading A Brave New World right now, standard literature for high school.

There are children having sex in the first chapter.

I mean, if the writer had it her way, she'd ban all the classics from her kids for the "edgy" material in them. Whatever.

Creepy Query Girl said...

boy, this article sure did get a lot of attention this weekend! I understand why it would make you and sarah so angry along with so many other YA authors.

Charlie Pulsipher said...

I agree with you on every point. I was watching tv this morning and it was mentioned that people are 40% less empathetic today than 10 years ago. They also said that fiction helps us be more empathetic. These dark stories transport us into a world we do not understand and prepare us to empathize with the those who live in such worlds. Shared pain and sorrow finish the effects by spreading it among us all.

Brent Wescott said...

This really isn't anything new. It's pretty typical backlash to something becoming popular. You used to hear about people saying Harry Potter was evil. Or Twilight. But I haven't heard anything more about those series being evil for years.

YA lit seems to be more popular than ever. We should expect this kind of response. More irony is that I'd never heard of The Marbury Lens, and now I'm really interested in reading it.

Michael Offutt said...

WSJ is a conservative newspaper run by the owner of FOX News.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

i didn't read the article because i knew it would piss me off. One of the main reasons i liked Marbury Lens is because of the darkness and the reality of it. If there hadn't been the threat of rape when he's kidnapped, i would have called bullshit on it. Because let's get serious here, that's pretty much the main reason kids are kidnapped. It sucks, but that's life, and Andrew Smith's book was excellent because he didn't try to pretend it away

Hektor Karl said...

Andrew and Matthew -- if it helps ease the frustration, everyone I've mentioned the article to has specifically sought out the criticized books.

Hart Johnson said...

I completely agree with you, Matthew. I think there is a (large, possibly majority) subset of teens SEEKING dark stuff even when it isn't in their lives. It is why as a teen i left younger literature at age 11 in favor of Stephen King--the teen stuff was NOT intriguing or interesting. But your point on HELPING teens who ARE in dark places, and in preparing peers to be supportive (and in opening dialog between teens and parents who are open-minded and paying attention) are critical. And I think in MOST cases, even dark books have messages of resilience or survival... that things get better... that there is another approach. Talk about a lifeline.

(thank you for the personal sharing, too--pretty amazing where you've come and it sure gives you street cred on a topic like this)

Cynthia Lee said...

I hate it that Andrew Smith was upset by this abysmally stupid article.

I am, in all seriousness, going to go to my local bookstore and buy The Marbury Lens. Today.

Christina Lee said...

Here, here Matt!!!! Well said and your own experiences add an even deeeper layer of awareness and understanding. (hugs)

I was so pissed after I read the article that I marched up to hubs and said, "I will never, NEVER censor books from my child, do you hear me?"

He stared at me, said, "Um... I'm prety sure you know that I agree with you in that area," and then we both burst out laughing!

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

This is definitely a very controversial topic with YA, where the readership is often in a stage of burgeoning self awareness on a journey towards identity. I agree that even though parents should have a right to decide what their children are exposed to, parents/guardians don't always make the best decisions regarding their children, if they're even around. Although this can be and argument for why children need more than just their parents to monitor what they're reading--oh the slippery slope. While I think it's okay that publishers indicate that certain YA are recommended for 14 and up, any more than that is entering into dangerous censorship territory--and not the point of your blog so I'll stop there. :P

I don't think that reading about a subject can really cause a person to take that subject on as her own (ie. I won't read about serial killers and decide I want to be one), but there is the matter of triggering to contend with. A girl who has overcome anorexia, for example, could read a book about anorexia and be triggered into a relapse. This is something that does happen--and why the matter is suddenly so complicated. The question here, though, is that the author is bashing a book as depraved for its content which, while definitely more mature and unsettling, can benefit those who have been in difficult situations such as Jack's in the Marbury Lens. No, I don't think children can put on glasses and travel into another world, but I do think that there are children who face horrific abuses and struggle to comprehend and make sense of what they have suffered. Ultimately, this is what Jack's story shows us--one boy's journey in overcoming a reality of Hell. It's a powerful, moving story that can help a teen who has faced abuse like Jack's, but it can also help the friends and family of a boy like Jack to perhaps understand what he's going through. I think we need to be careful to whom we recommend books with mature content, but to write off such a book as depraved is obtuse and ridiculous and demeaning to those who have benefited from such books. Teenagers are much smarter, more aware, and capable of handling far more than we often give them credit for.

Colene Murphy said...

Writing is art. The end. This, to me, is enough argument for any fiction ever written. The artists of novels have a gift to create worlds and make the worlds believable. Sunshine and fairy farts can't be everywhere. They sure as hell aren't in the real world, so why would an artist choose to be blind and write blindly? I agree with you.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I've felt very back and forth about this topic myself. I have to support honesty in literature, YA included - I simply have to, it's an innate, unchangeable part of myself - but I've also seen the darker part of this.
One of my best friends in 11th grade was depressed, and read 13 Reasons Why. Two weeks later, she tried to commit suicide - and admitted that the book was a huge part of why she'd tried. This isn't me bashing the book, this is just what happened.
But I also read the book. My friend, as a matter of fact, gave it to me to read. I read it, and since we'd been friends for years, I read her. I told her I knew what she was planning, and I tried to stop her. In the end, it was enough - she didn't go through with it all the way. She almost did. But she didn't.
Would she still have tried to commit suicide if she hadn't read the book? Quite possible. Would I still have been able to read her intentions if I hadn't? I think so, but not as clearly. So did the book help, or hurt?
I don't know. But Roger Zelazny put it this way, "Sometimes it's damned hard to tell the dancer from the dance." And that's how I feel about it. I'm just... torn.

Ciara said...

I'm a new follower from Alex's blogfest. I'll try to return tomorrow for your answers.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Well said!

The world we live in is not always a happy and safe place for children to grow up in. Why shouldn't there be stories that focus on the horrors and evils of life? The point of literature and stories is to escape. Why not read then a story about overcoming those hardships and becoming all the stronger for it?

That mom must not have looked hard enough for a book. Not all YA stories are dark.

L.C. Frost said...

I definitely laughed about the Ray Bradbury thing. Good post, dude. I second it all the way.

Jemi Fraser said...

GREAT post! I was one of the lucky ones who grew up in a loving household. I had friends who weren't so lucky. I've taught many, many, MANY kids who aren't so lucky.

Kids need books showing them all aspects of life as they know it, and as others know it. I don't think a lot of adults give kids & teens enough credit as readers. They are incredibly smart, intuitive and discerning. They have more empathy than many adults as well.

When kids & teens start reading a book that is too much for them in any way, they stop. In my many years of teaching I've never had a kid read a book inappropriate for his/her emotional level. They're just not interested in it.

Whew! I think I started my own rant... sorry! Anyway - I agree! :)

Elizabeth Twist said...

Thanks for this. Gurdon's article basically reproduces the argument against dark literature of any kind for the YA set. As a horror writer, I look at it this way: life is hard and often nightmarish. Exploring that fact in fiction allows people of all ages to get the space they need in order to reframe, confront, or even defeat their demons.

M Pax said...

Kids aren't stupid and they know what goes on out there. I've never believed in censorship and I'm darn glad no one ever tried it on me. We didn't all go join gangs just because we loved the Outsiders. That's silly. I believe we underestimate young people, too. There's plenty of them out there exposed to darkness I've never met.

Oh, and I'm a big Paolo fan.

Marsha Sigman said...

Testify, my brother. I love this and you said it all so well.

I went through a seriously rough childhood and if I hadn't had books to escape into, I might be a completely different person than the sunny, optimistic soul I am

I don't have to worry about censoring my boys, I'd let them read anything if I could get them to put down the game controllers.

Kelly said...

Well put, Matthew, and thank you for sharing about your rough childhood.
I think this article will actually promote book sales of any books mentioned and also has promoted wonderful discussions about ya books. So I believe lots of positive things will come from this negative WSJ article!

Carolyn Abiad said...

All I can say is I hope Andrew Smith sells a load of books because of this.

Steve C said...

Never piss off a Jedi. His words are full of Force.

Abby Minard said...

Well said, Matt. As a parent I should be able to censor what my child reads/watches etc, but I sure as hell don't have the right to censor anyone else's child. I don't know what she's trying to accomplish with this article. It's yet another adult thinking teens are really stupid. Sure there are stupid teens out there- there are stupid adults out there. But most teens aren't and they shouldn't have things sugar-coated because things like what she mentions in all these books DO happen. And you are right- they are more likely help a teen to recognize something in their own lives, or their friends lives rather than persuade them to go cut themselves or whatever. I hope my daughter develops the same love for YA that I have, and I can't wait to be able to discuss these books with her.

aspiring_x said...


Donna Hole said...

Matt, that picture is totally, completely bizarre. Really freaky.

Happy endings mean different things to people (IMO). Maybe Ms. Gurdon thinks of happy endings as fluffy things, where the world is smiling and perfect. My idea of a happy ending is that the original plot idea ends satisfactorily for the MC. From what you've written Matt, the plot goal seems to be about trust and standing up for yourself. Yep, happy ending in my view.

Forty years ago, the world was a more sheltered place for kids. You didn't want your kids knowing bad things happened to children; and you didn't want your kids thinking there was any other way of life except your own teachings.

Nowdays, kids don't need parents (or other adults) to bring the world to them. They go out and find it. The often used "if you can't figure something out on your computer or the webs, ask a 13 year old" cuts both ways.

I also found the reference "a young woman who is already depressed might theoretically pick up a book about self mutilation, and then start cutting on herself" hipocritical in Ms. Gurdon's article. Her opening remarks stated that watching homicide programs doesn't make a man a murder and reading about cheating on exams doesn't entice a kid to cheat. Disclosing sensitive issues that plague teens can't possible manifest the diagnosis spontaneously. Perhaps the kid was already dealing with these issues, or knows someone who is, and if the book is written well enough, it will expose the person to some resources.

She does have a valid point about not being able to separate out all this "darkness" in YA from something less sinister, and I'm an advocate for labeling better so sensitive teens do not have to always shop the religeous/spiritual section. But again, I'll fall back on the info era, and perhaps parents/teens need to spend more time researching subcategories in the YA genre, and make an informed choice. Nothing wrong with asking a clerk for recommendations of less traumatic content either.


Charmaine Clancy said...

Kids already know about these issues (issues, not depravities) and for the most part, the adults around them don't like to talk about it. Finding places in books where they can escape and explore the issue fully seems to me to be rather safe place. Almost all fiction I've read that deals with intense themes or issues also reveals the consequences.

My kids aren't even YA and I don't monitor their reading. My eldest will ask me if I think she'll like it because I know her personal threshold and I advise. I'll let her read Stephen King (very dark themes) but I suggest to her Steig Larsson is beyond her comfort zone. Kids are not idiots, if they come across something they're not comfortable with they'll put it down.

Anyway, I agree each parent can choose their level of control, I'd rather see that than people controlling novel content.

Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

L'Aussie said...

Tis all said and done. Good discussion point. I think Elliot Grace's newly released book 'South of Charm' which deals with a lot of issues would be a good choice for YA.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Just an FYI, someone who is struggling and hasn't heard about self mutilation and hears about it from a book could then do it. I speak from experience.

However, the person could also hear about it from another person and start doing it--or try to help as you mentioned. Ignorance can be bliss.

Or not.

Matthew MacNish said...

Well I am not going to deny that possibility exists, Donna, but I still think in that scenario it is the job of the parents to be aware of their child's emotional state.

It is never the job of some crackpot journalist to decide what someone else's children should or shouldn't be reading.

Ghenet Myrthil said...

Thank you for being so honest in this post! I completely agree with you and was equally outraged at the article. I guess the one positive is that it's brought all YA writers and readers together to discuss why it matters. :)

Ishta Mercurio said...

This is an excellent response, Matt.

As I read Ms. Gurdon's paragraph about the mother who left the bookstore empty-handed after going in for a book to give her 13-year-old, my thought was, "Did she not consider the MG section? Or the classics? Did she read the backs of any of these books?"

I have two young sons. I think carefully about what I let them watch and read. But much of the time, my parental instinct to "protect and shield" is tempered by my own memories of what I was reading and watching when I was young. And I vividly remember my eighth grade English teacher showing us the entire Eyes on the Prize series (images of beaten men and corpses interspersed with those of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks) and introducing us to LORD OF THE FLIES and FAHRENHEIT 451. Those moments shaped me for the better. Learning that there are people who think that way, and thinking about how that made me feel and what I would do in similar situations, is how I became the adult that I am.

My father gave me his Dean Koontz' and Stephen Kings when I was 13. It didn't turn me into a psychopath or a sociopath, but it did broaden my perspective and open me to new ideas.

Sure, parents should have a hand in what their kids are reading. Of course. And I do not subscribe to the notion that "more and sooner is better," in terms of exposure. I do not expose my 4-year-old to movies and TV shows that are violent. I do not ask my sons to empathize with characters - real or imagined, animated or not - who will then be raped, shot, or blown up. They're too young; they're not ready. But I accept that at some point, they will be ready, and they will need that kind o fliterature. And that is okay. I hope that books like SCARS and THE MARBURY LENS continue to exist, to give my sons hope, someone they can understand and relate to, and a light to see by as they navigate life's problems.