Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Taste vs Censorship . . .

Oooo, my cookies are officially frosted.

You know it would be unusual for me to go a week without getting ticked off about something and posting about it, so here's my new rant: the "Darkness" of YA novels.

Megan Cox Gurden recently wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal discussing, in a very confrontrational way, her feelings on the current state of YA literature. For the uninitiated, YA refers to the "Young Adult" genre, generally covering readers from ages 12-17. I read YA novels quite a bit myself, and it's ironic that I tend to gravitate to them for the opposite reasons to the criticisms Gurden levels at the genre's writers: she feels YA writers get a free pass from publishers to push too much darkness down the throats of young readers. I read YA because I get horribly depressed reading Stieg Larrsen or Ian McEwan, and YA novels don't seem interested in making their characters miserable simply for more "realism".

Gurden devotes quite a bit of her piece to saying that YA authors these days inject their books with too much that she deems inappropriate: self-mutilation, swear words, blood, rape, incest, abuse, suicide, even sex. She heaps blame onto the authors for being less like the idyllic '70's, when a teen could pick up "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" (which I read when I was eight), and more like, well, real life. Does she honestly think that there was less rape, abuse, self-mutilation, or sex amoung teens in the '70's? Maybe there was; I don't have the figures. I sure know no one was writing about it for young adults back then. But, what's most troubling is the argument she tries to make that reading such things will make teens more apt to do them. It is the perennial argument that has been leveled at tv and video games for years too, and I guarantee you will find more violence in a game of Grand Theft Auto than in the pages of award-winning YA novels.

Gurden doesn't let publishers off the hook either, claiming that they publish such material not for its merit, but because to not publish it would smack of censorship. Having read a LOT of books in my time, quite a few of them YA novels, they are often better-written than a lot of the contemporary fiction out there. The characters are complex. The stories are driven and gripping. They do not pander or dumb down to an audience whose intelligence they respect and take for granted. And they are not being "given a pass" simply because a publisher is afraid of banning them.

Parents are ultimately responsible for censoring what their child ingests if they think that's required. If a parent feels they can't allow their thirteen-year-old to read about Katniss Everdeen being forced to compete to the death by a corrupt dystopian government, then they should take the book out of their child's hands and explain why they're doing it. If a parent thinks it could be dangerous to let their twelve-year-old read about the reasons why a young girl committed suicide, or why she chooses to cut herself, then they should talk to their child about it. But Gurden makes a serious error by claiming that it is the fault of authors and publishers trying to corrupt our innocent youth.

Do you remember being a teenager, Ms. Gurden? Sneaking into R-rated movies, making out in parked cars? Kids today are sophisticated and smarter than I'll admit to being at that age, and they don't need to read about getting their period. They watch R-rated movies on their tv's everyday. But, this doesn't make them hoodlums.

There's an inherent lack of respect for the age-group these novels are aimed at in this op-ed, an assumption that kids reading these books are going to rape and cut and become depraved because they cannot help themselves. These are Young Adults, Ms. Gurden. Maybe you ought to grow up, and treat them that way.

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