At the very beginning of Meghan Cox Gurdon’s Wall Street Journal’s June 4th piece, “Darkness Too Visible” Gurdon mentions a woman attempting to purchase a book for a 13-year-old at a Barnes & Noble bookstore. She found nothing appropriate – everything too dark.
She certainly doesn’t go to any bookstore I’ve visited. I routinely take my ten-year-old granddaughter to our local Barnes & Noble and the number and selection of books for 12-18 year olds boggles the mind. My granddaughter often spends an hour looking at the vast selection before deciding what she wants to read next.
And large selections are certainly not limited to chain stores. While promoting my YA series (“The Shamra Chronicles”) I recently had the privilege of being on a panel at Books of Wonder in New York City (an independent bookstore). Gary Schmidt and Maryrose Wood were my fellow panelists and they certainly can’t be accused of writing the type of books Gurdon says dominate YA sections of bookstores. Yes, there is dark literature, as well there should be, but there is so much more. To make a blanket statement that almost all YA literature is offensive is ludicrous. Gurdon suffers from tunnel vision. She sees what she wants in YA sections and ignores the wonderful diversity available. Anyone could find something appropriate to give to a tween or teen.
I look at the YA section of a bookstore like a music store. There’s something for everyone and an awful lot many won’t find appealing. I favor R&B over rap, classic rock over punk rock and reggae over dancehall. I check out the sections I find appealing. But there is no way I would begrudge others from disagreeing with my tastes. And no way I would ask a store to ban music that doesn’t appeal to me.
I won’t argue that more than a few YA novels are grim. But to deny them shelf space because they are offensive to some makes as much sense as demanding the Harry Potter series be removed because it deals with witchcraft. The value of the titles Gurdon abhors is that they validate the fact that abuse, rape and gay-bashing is a fact of life. Too many victims of abuse and prejudice have felt they were alone. To read fictional or semi-autobiographical accounts of others who have suffered the same abuse lets victims of abuse know they aren’t alone. These books offer hope just by being there for those who have suffered in silence. They aren’t for everyone and nobody is attempting to force feed such books to anyone. They sit on bookshelves along with hundreds of other titles that are more than appropriate for a 13-year old.
Gurdon’s most revealing statement was paraphrasing children’s bookseller Jewell Stoddard that “many teenagers do not read young-adult books at all. Near the end of the school year, when she and a colleague entertained students from a nearby private school, only three of the visiting 18 juniors said that they read YA books.” It’s a sad fact—and far more significant than the content of YA books—that far too many teens are no longer reading. There is too much texting, posting on Facebook and Twitter (and whatever will follow Twitter) and just so many hours in the day. Schools and parents have a responsibility to their children to monitor their social networking. It’s time for schools and parents to encourage reading. There are books for every reader, just one reason why none should be banned as Gurdon suggests.