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You’ve got to take the Dark with the Light

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.

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10 Responses to You’ve got to take the Dark with the Light

  1. Katie Caldwell says:

    Very well said! It’s so unfortunate that more young adults aren’t reading. They are missing out on so many great novels – and in my experience, you are absolutely right that most are not grim. And even if they are, they shouldn’t be banned. It’s up to their parents (or if they’re old enough, themselves) to decide what is or isn’t too grim to read.

    • I completely agree. As a teacher of 30 years I noted that parents have become more irresponsible over the years. It’s up to parents to decide what they kids can read, what movies are appropriate and what TV shows they should view. It’s called parenting. It should be left to the parent and not a librarian or anyone else.

  2. Amy says:

    I have to agree with Katie. There is so much out there that is offered to read and they aren’t taking advantage of the offerings. What they read is a choice. How they make that choice is determined by upbringing and interests. The YA books aren’t out to wreck havoc. They aren’t out there to create petulance. They are there to teach and to enhance the imagination. Unfortunately, Ms Gurdon didn’t bother to mention what she would consider a “good YA read” either. She just pointed fingers. Books don’t make people do things. Not having read and learned of the alternatives does. Young people don’t read anymore. It’s a fact. In the age of video games, computers and cell phones, they don’t have time. We as parents and society as a whole are to blame for this. NOT the books.

    • I agree with all you say. I found it really unfortunate that Gurdon quoted the woman who couldn’t find an appropriate book at a B&N store. As I said in my blog I’ve spent well over an hour at a typical B&N with my granddaughter and the choice of books was incredible. And it’s up to parents to limit the amount of time their children spend on social media and encourage reading. It’s called parenting.

  3. Megan says:

    My favorite time of year was summer when the library had summer reading contests, and I had an excuse to read whatever I wanted rather than what was assigned. Agreed that there is something for everyone!

    • Most definitely. Again, it’s up to parents to encourage their children to read over the summer. Especially at that time of the year the term “responsibility” rests fully with parents.

  4. Boots MB says:

    It’s an art and should be boundless and free in order to prop up interest and growth. Besides, darkness is relative.

  5. Well said. My granddaughter (and many others) is afraid of clowns. There are dozens of light-hearted books featuring clowns. Tyler would find them horrifying.

  6. Pingback: Young Adult Books | Sally Apokedak

  7. Thanks for entering this post in the Carnival of YA Literature. I love discussing this kind of thing.

    I agree with you that the books shouldn’t be denied shelf space, but I didn’t think Gurdon was doing that. I thought she was asking us to think about how much darkness we should be giving our children. I didn’t think she was advocating book banning at all.

    But thanks for submitting this. I was glad to find your blog and to hear what you think of this about this issue.

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