If you have an active weekend social life, you might have missed the twitter hubbub caused by a Wall Street Journal article about the Young Adult literature, “Darkness Too Visible. ”
In it, Meghan Cox Gurdon explains how YAlit is too dark, full of rape, self-injury, and other ooky things and because this stuff is in literature it’s giving teenagers crazy ideas*. For those of a certain age this might smell an awful lot like that Judas Priest controversy from when we were kids, whereby the band’s lyrics were encouraging or causing kids to kill themselves.
Some things never change.
What I love about these sorts of articles and outcries and the people who write and support such notions is their utter optimism. Do they believe that if we take the darkness, rape, mutilation, murder, violence, sex, drugs, and rock and roll out of Young Adult literature that those things don’t exist? Do they think that kids as young as 11 and 12 aren’t dealing with these issues? Did they not deal with that when they were teenagers? Because if not, I want to know what Candyland Unicorn Meadow they grew up in and then move all the children I know there.
If you read the piece, you’ll see that there’s a lot of emphasis on how dark the literature is “now.” I laughed when I read it because I was in the midst of watching the movie version of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. A book that I first read when I was eleven and then read again in 7th grade English. Perhaps you read it. It’s the one about classism and violence where three young men are dead by the end.
In eighth grade we read Diary of Anne Frank. Sunshine and cotton candy there. But maybe old tragedies aren’t as dark as the new tragedies that kids today might read about. Ninth grade was filled with “Romeo & Juliet,” The Lord of the Flies, and Greek Mythology.
There was darkness all up in there, and I went to school in suburban Minneapolis in the mid-80s not Sylvia Plath’s School for Sad Girls who Like Darkness.
And I thank my lucky stars for those books, for all books.
I grew up in poverty, in an unstable household prone to outbursts of violence. It was scary, and when you add the awkwardness of adolescence to that nightmare my life was nothing but darkness. Junior High was hell, and I can still cry over the bullying I suffered at home and at school.
But I made it through with books. Reading about kids who were also hit, yelled at, and bullied made me feel less alone. I said it about reading Beezus and Ramona, and it’s held up all these years, reading about characters who were similar to me has been a comfort throughout my life.
This makes me wonder why people who agree with the Wall Street Journal article would deny their children such a valuable resource for dealing with a tough time in life. It is cruel to take that away from them.
*for brevity’s sake I’m not discussing the obvious sexism in the article or the worry about “normalizing pathologies.”