Jun 29, 2011

My Take on the Wall Street Journal Article craziness

I usually reserve my opinion until things cool down, but I must admit that I kept an eye on the Wall Street Journal article situation. In case you've missed out on all the fun, Meghan Cox Gurdon wrote an inflammatory opinion piece about YA book content in the Wall Street Journal. This launched a reaction from the YA community (including the #YAsaves on Twitter) & several authors writing in to voice their opinions on their works' importance & validity. Well Ms. Gurdon is at it again writing in response to the reaction her piece drew. You can read that response here. And now it's my turn.

While I do understand Ms. Gurdon’s opinion, I can’t believe that she was so naive to think that the YA community would not be upset by her generalizations of a very diverse genre. It is very true that right now the more popular books do include sensitive subject material. Ms Gurdon maintains that, "It is true that so-called problem novels may be helpful to children in anguished circumstances. The larger question is whether books about rape, incest, eating disorders and 'cutting' (self-mutilation) help to normalize such behaviors for the vast majority of children who are merely living through the routine ordeals of adolescence.”

I would have to state that (in my opinion) these books are not normalizing these experiences, but rather validating the experiences that young adults are facing today. An easier way to say that is that the books are NOT causing these issues, the issues are giving rise to the books.Young adults are narcissistic & they want to read about people like themselves. That being said, with the age of the first sexual encounter getting younger & younger & with teens experimenting with a variety of “activities” (for lack of a better word), these books shed some realism on these taboo subjects. There are not always happy endings in these books & sometimes the reality that everything won’t be okay is enough to get through to these young adults.

Another thing to note here is that Young Adult DOES NOT only include teens. Young Adult books are meant for high school through probably mid-twenties. Granted, the majority of the readership is about 14, but I honestly can’t think of a better age to approach these subjects because I think they also serve as cautionary tales. They provide a glimpse into what could be, not what should be. Also, I don’t think there is anything worse in these books than a young adult could read in the newspaper or see on the evening news.

My main complaint would be, where does it end? If these subjects are too touchy for teen books, where do they belong? What are you going to take out of video games & music? When do I need to line up for the chip implantation? Seriously, just because the books are not as “innocent” & “pure” as some would like them to be does not mean they are not valid & worthwhile. They have an audience & a place & that place is on the shelf. There are still a plethora of books for more sensitive readers & I’ll be the first to show them to you in my library, but don’t generalize YA books in such a negative light.

And now I will leave you with a favorite quote of mine. It's from the movie American President with Michael Douglas:
“You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”

Sound off below. What do you think of Ms. Gurdon's opinion? What do you think of my opinion? What are your thoughts on the situation?


Cait said...

Great post, really well put across and thoughtful. I totally agree with your opinion, and I think the woman who wrote these articles (and all the people who posted comments agreeing with her) clearly do not understand and have never read YA.

Jeanmarie Anaya said...

Really great post! I, too, was frustrated by the WSJ article...BOTH times. I feel she dug herself in an even deeper hole with the second one, but I'm sure she doesn't see it that way. ;)

I think her argument that reading about certain behaviors/incidents (i.e., rape, incest, drug use, sex) "normalizes" those behaviors is ridiculous. It reminds me of the classic argument over whether teens should be taught sex ed in high school...or given free condoms in health education class. Having a free condom in your pocket isn't going to make a teen run out and drop his/her pants any more than reading a book involving rape is going to make a reader run out and rape someone. It's such a misinformed way of thinking.