Sunday, June 5, 2011

YA books: good or evil?

This article in the Wall Street Journal has gained a lot of attention today.

There are many things I want to address here:
1. YA lit didn't START with "The Outsiders" by S.E. Hinton. The idea of teen culture developed in the middle of the last century, that much is true. However, the genre of YA literature started as early as the 1942 publication of Maureen Daily's "Seventeenth Summer", a novel of sexuality and the challenges of growing up told from the first person point of view of the seventeen year old protagonist.

2. I've worked at Barnes and Noble. There is NO WAY that a parent with even the most conservative tastes wouldn't be able to find at least ten wonderful books. Bookstore employees are generally well-read individuals, and highly capable of pointing people toward the types of books that will suite their values.

3. Teens today are dealing with so much more than when I was a teen, ten short years ago. If literature doesn't grow with an audience, it is not serving any purpose. There is no denying that our adolescents are exposed to harsher realities today than ever before, due in part to the instant availability of information provided by technology. Teen readers need to see their reality reflected in literature: readers want to connect with the books they read, and the more teens we can keep reading, the more literate our future will be. No one would argue that stronger global literacy is a bad thing.

4. The article attacks YA literature, then suggests titles under the dubious subheading "Books we can recommend for young adult readers". Among these suggestions are adult classics like "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury and "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" by Betty Smith. These are wonderful books, but teens need to take pleasure in reading, not just read for the benefit of enriching their academic standing. Suggesting books that are written for adults to teens in an article bashing the concept of the YA genre seems incredibly twisted to me.

5. As a teacher and a librarian, I have seen young men and women read "tough" books and walk away changed. Girls continue to find strength in the pages of novels like "Speak" by Laurie Halse Anderson, and I have seen books like "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins and "Darkness Before Dawn" by Sharon Draper go viral among my most reluctant readers. Any book that can turn a child from a non-reader to a reader will ALWAYS find a place on my bookshelf.

6. I am an author. I write YA. I long to see my books listed on the ALA "Banned Books" list some day. I will not stop writing about darkness and I will not stop recommending "real" books to my students.

That is all.

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