Dear Ms. Meghan Cox Gurdon,
I was saddened to read your recent article, Darkness Too Visible. I felt that your portrayal of Young Adult literature was unfair and unrealistic. I would like to mention some of my thoughts in reading the article, to provide you with another perspective to view this issue. Although the article condemned the teen fiction for the amount of “explicit abuse, violence and depravity” held in its pages, some teens do live through these events and they deserve a voice.
You mentioned that you were concerned about the amount of violence contained in young adult books. I would answer that I am concerned about the amount of violence I see on the evening news. I think that authors react to what they see around them, and use words to paint situations they see in our society. They give words to those who have none, or who need to know that what they live through does not go unnoticed.
You described teen fiction as a “hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is.” I was frustrated with this statement. Please consider those who live in these “distorted” mirrors. I would like to believe different- that teens do not suffer abuse, incest, hazing, thoughts of suicide and self-mutilation, but I am sad to report that this is not the world we live in. There are teens who live in those halls of mirrors every day, and for some of them, these books are their only voice.
Some of the books that you mentioned as instances of violence in Young Adult Literature, are curious examples. Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, which was described in the article as “hyper violent” has always struck me as a book meant to show how society has become desensitized to violence. The members of the Capital city in the book, stand by and watch the Hunger Games on television idly, as countless young people are murdered in cold blood. It says a lot about our own relationship with violence, whether it’s okay to stand by and watch a violent act. It says something about the voyeuristic quality of reality television. I believe that Suzanne Collins asks the question of her readers, What would you do in the face of violence?
I also was concerned about singling out, The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton as launching “an industry” of these dark books you have condemned. After all, there are so many points in this book that S.E. Hinton points out the meaninglessness of the violence between the greasers and the Socs. By the end, the main character, Ponyboy, realizes how little difference there is between the greasers and socs. Ponyboy is also a laudable character, for his perseverance in school, when he lives in an environment that doesn’t normally value academic success. It’s for these reasons that I was frustrated to hear the book painted in such a bleak perspective.
I am not saying that there isn’t violence in young adult books, or that any teen should be forced to read these books. But I believe that every teen has a right to read a book that speaks to them. It’s true that sometimes finding the right book is tough. You mentioned a parent, Amy Freeman, was overwhelmed trying to find a book at the bookstore surrounded by “dark, dark stuff.” I will agree that sometimes the Young Adult section holds enough vampire titles to give Buffy the Vampire Slayer a heart attack. But there are other books there too. I firmly believe there’s a book out there for every teen. I could name a number of books which, to my knowledge, have never included a vampire in their pages. Sarah Dessen narrates the struggles of the teenage heart. Francisco Stork’s Marcelo and the Real World chronicles the experiences of a teen compelled to do the right thing. There are countless other examples of unique reads in the young adult department. Although it is overwhelming, there are several people to help navigate the seas of Young Adult titles. Librarians and staff members of bookstores often have great ideas of titles that will fit individual readers, all they simply need to do is ask.
You lamented a book being left on the shelves. But if we are to take books off of the shelves, who decides what books are left? Which individual would be entrusted with passing judgement on books? I feel this is a dangerous subject to broach. There are such a variety of life experiences. How can one person, or even a group of people choose for everyone? We need to have more respect for the teens, respect them for their ability to choose books that speak to them. The fact of the matter is that hiding a book will not change who a teen is or the world they live in.
Jess Stork, a writer and library worker