The YA world has been up in arms since this article appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday:
The author of this article feels that the YA genre has gotten too dark of late, with a spate of books out about rape, incest, cutting, eating disorders, and abuse. You know, all those things that older generations just didn't have to deal with.
Actually, they did. They just weren't talking about it.
Jay Asher is an acquaintance of mine. His moving and emotional bestseller 13 REASONS WHY is about a young man dealing with the aftermath of a classmate's suicide. Jay gets countless letters from teens telling him that his book literally saved them from committing suicide. Likewise, if you read Laurie Halse Anderson's blog, you know that she, too, gets countless letters from girls saying they finally garnered the courage to report being raped after reading her book SPEAK. (Incidentally, LHA has a terrific post up about this article over at her blog, too.)
These books have changed lives. Should they be kept off the shelf (and SPEAK is regularly banned from libraries) simply because someone thinks teens shouldn't be reading about "dark" topics like rape and suicide? Well, then maybe we should keep teens from reading the newspaper. Or watching the news. Or walking the halls of their schools where they have to deal with these issues every day.
Authors such as Asher and Halse Anderson have given voice to a generation of teens who previously didn't have one. That might make some older readers uncomfortable. I suspect the parents who are uncomfortable with their teens reading these books are the parents who can't bring themselves to talk about these subjects, either.
But just because it makes us uncomfortable doesn't make it wrong. Or too dark. We live in a dark world. A good writer is influenced by the world they live in, and their stories reflect that. The very best stories are the ones that change us and become part of who we are forever. I remember reading GO ASK ALICE as a teen. That book scared the hell out of me. I never, ever wanted to do drugs after reading it.
I think that even the dystopian trend in YA is a reflection of the world around us. We are uncertain of our future. There are a lot of forces moving in this world, some of them bad, some of them good. Writers are feeling those shifts, and it's coming out in their stories. And I bet that if you were to urge teens to put pen to paper, it would come out in their stories, too.
And the bottom line is, if you don't like a book, simply put it down and pick up something else. We all have that power. But don't take away someone else's power to make that decision for themselves.