Monday, June 6, 2011

Overreacting parents and YA fiction

The interwebs, at least the book section of it, seems to be up-in-arms over a recent WSJ piece Darkness Too Visible by Meghan Cox Gurdon about how YA is too dark and disturbing for little cherub teenagers and they're minds are being corrupted if they read this stuff and they'll all become serial killers and whatnot. Won't somebody please think of the children. The usual complaints that pop up every few years. I'm not going to worry about that argument or even get into the #YASaves hashtag that popped up on Twitter. Plenty of other people have taken this up and written in defense of YA. I don't think I have too much to add to that argument. I don't really read YA now and when I was 13 I read a weird mix of Alexander Dumas and Stephen King, so I won't be able to share a story about how YA saved me.

Here's the part that I do want to share and why I'm having trouble getting worked up over this latest call for censorship: Gurdon seems to be going off a knee-jerk reaction to the main YA titles represented in bookstores. Here's a line from the opening of the piece:
[Amy Freeman] had popped into the bookstore to pick up a welcome-home gift for her 13-year-old, who had been away. Hundreds of lurid and dramatic covers stood on the racks before her, and there was, she felt, "nothing, not a thing, that I could imagine giving my daughter. It was all vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff." She left the store empty-handed.
Granted, this is not Gurdon's own experience, but rather her telling of a different mother's failed journey to find a book for her teen. Freeman walks into a bookstore, looks around and see books she doesn't like for her daughter and leaves. Without buying anything. Again, she wants to buy a book for her daughter, sees some YA books she doesn't want for her daughter and she leaves without getting her any books. I'm pretty sure had Freeman looked slightly to the left, she probably would have seen some non-vampire, self-mutilation books that would have made a fine gift. I'm often able to go into a bookstore and avoid the shelves of books I don't want. Part of that freewill thing I try to make use of. So she didn't like the YA book options that make up the majority of that section. I don't either. Welcome to the club. Find something else for your daughter if you don't want her reading it. Plenty of other options available. Hell, I'm sure there are other options within the YA shelf. But she looked at the shelves, freaked out over a couple titles and left.

Again, I know this isn't Gurdon's experience, but she chose it to open her story and thus I'm applying the Freeman's reaction to what Gurdon sees as a reasonable reaction to the state of YA publishing. And that alone is keeping me from taking this seriously. In the end I'm against general censorship, but if you don't want your kid reading something, it's your kid. Go ahead and keep it from them. That's your choice as a parent. Hopefully you're taking the time to really understand what the books you're banning around about (sadly I doubt this happens very often) but if not, well, just don't get in the way of me reading what I want.