this is my delayed response to Meghan Cox Gurdon's article "Darkness Too Visible" and YA in the Wall Street Journal.
Dear Wall Street Journal,
I am a young adult. I read young adult fiction. As I was reading “Darkness Too Visible” I found myself wondering where Meghan Cox Gurdon had been book shopping. It seemed laughable to me that she was claiming that YA was all about self-harm, rape, drugs or incest. It was been proposed on this piece of ‘journalism’ that all teen fiction is dark, and that it is harming young adults. Not one book that fitted this description came to mind. As I thought about the books I read I had to admit that they had some serious or mature themes, but nothing I would call “ a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is.” Adolescence is a time of creating who you are, becoming an adult. This is why young adult books are about people fighting to become the person they want to be in a scary world. this is what we want and Need to read as we step out of our protected childhoods, or realise that other people have gone through bad things like we have.
Books are one of the best things in my life, and I have a very good life. Nothing bad has ever really happened to me. They allow me to enter a world of experiences I know nothing about. A good book awakes my every nerve in my body and sets it alight. It leaves me feeling charged and actually changed me. These books with there themes which ‘are too scary for teenage girls’, allow me to connect with a character who is going through something I don’t understand, and I come out of it a better person. These books are teachers. They talk to me in a way that the adults me my life don’t. At 13 I read Forever by Judy Bloom, and I will admit that is was confronting. No one had ever really talked me about Sex, I knew what it was and how it worked, but this book taught me the pressures and confusions.
The reason I look to books is because they can often explain what I’m going through. Whether they’re struggling after a horrific event or just struggling with school they sometimes know what it is that I can’t explain and help me to understand. If these books were banned young adults would lose one of the things that really helps them to express themselves and cope in a good way. When I read a good book, like If I Stay about a girl in a coma or Wintergirls about anorexia, it holds me tight as it introduces me to a scary world, it lets me experience it and then it stays with me while I gather the information and leads me to see the beauty in the ending, because both these books have life affirming endings. I now understand life a little better. I am intelligent young woman, I know when I’m reading crap. All teenagers are capable of thinking and forming an opinion; if every little thing that happens around us traumatised us then all girls who played with Barbies would end up with self-confidence issues. If I don’t agree with what a character does it just helps me to realize I don’t want to live like that.
This article really shows the fear Meghan Cox Gurdon has of the world. The problems teenagers are facing cannot be blamed on literature. These dark issue need to be discussed by parents and other people who Really influence their lives. Literature for young adults is better than it has ever been before, with more variety, good quality writing, and significant issues. Books educate, they help us to understand others and ourselves. We relate to them. They are a brilliant form of communication that can be spread globally. Articles like this are discouraging teenagers from reading, and parents from encouraging them to, which would be even more damaging. One day I want to write a book which makes a young person go “she understands me, I now know” this is my aim, to help a person by writing an uplifting book about a serious issue to show the light. The world is a dark place, and adolescence is when we discover this. YA novels just show us how to find the light.
Reviewer for Australian YA blog Cherry Banana Split.