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YA Fiction Accused of Making the ‘Darkness Too Visible’

Recently, I read two articles about teen and young adult fiction which highlight the deep divide between an industry’s direction and parents’ expectations.

An informed opinion by a parent is the best influence a teen or young adult can experience.

The first article, “Darkness Too Visible” by Meghan Cox Gurdon, published on 6/4/11 in the Wall Street Journal, has incited a firestorm of defensive comments by YA authors and readers alike.  At the beginning of her article, Ms. Gurdon relates the story of a mother standing in the young adult section of Barnes & Noble; she leaves empty-handed because she can’t find even one book suitable for her 13-year-old daughter.  Kudos to a mom who cares about the material her child reads! I have been in her shoes, but I would counsel her that not all YA fiction is ‘dark, dark stuff’, although at first glance, there seems to be more darkness than light on the shelves at our local bookstores and libraries.  I would also counsel that mom to begin reading those books.

Ouch!  That mother’s daughter may (and probably will) be reading those “dark” books (sooner rather than later) because those are the books that are available.  At the bookstore.  At the library.  At school.  At her friend’s house.  Parents could say to their teenager, “You can’t read that because it’s terrible, dark stuff.” Or, if a parent has read that book, he or she can say, “I’ve read that book, and I would prefer that you avoid reading it, for now, because it:  is too adult; has too much foul language; is too violent; is too explicit.”  Who’s more credible to their teenager?

Library Stacks

Photo by JanneM

The second article, written in direct response to the first, was “Teen fiction accused of being ‘rife with depravity’” by Alison Flood, published by Guardian News and Media on 6/7/11.  Ms. Flood mounts a spirited (and no less biased) defense of YA fiction against the charges brought by Ms. Gurdon, getting quotes from  YA authors, some of whom were cited in Ms. Gurdon’s piece.  Interestingly, the authors quoted make no bones about writing “dark” material since they believe bringing those matters out into the open helps young adults deal with their real-life issues. The authors support their beliefs with anecdotal evidence from supportive fans.

There’s truth on both sides of the issue, but aside from the issue of YA fiction’s “darkness”, perhaps the most challenging comment I read was written by young adult author, Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak and Wintergirls), “It’s tough being a parent. But it’s tougher being a kid who has clueless parents.”

Clueless?  Sometimes. There’s no excuse to remain clueless, though. Parents don’t have the time to read every YA books, of course, but we can read some of the books our daughters and sons want to read. Many of the comments by parents who read YA titles sound something like, “I read (and enjoy) YA literature because it gives me a platform to begin the difficult discussions I need to have with my son or daughter.”  An informed opinion by a parent is the best influence a teen or young adult can experience.

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About the Author

Kathrese McKee started life as a Systems Engineer at EDS, spent time in real estate, taught middle grade Reading and ESL in Texas, and settled down to blog and write speculative fiction for Young Adults.

As a teacher, she fell in love with books written for Teens and Young Adults. Her favorite books are “coming of age” stories about young people on the difficult road of self-discovery.

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