Must Read OTD: Darkness and diversity in fiction helps kids/teens #YAsaves

s.e. smith at Global Comment: Silence is the problem: the darkness of young adult fiction and why #YAsaves

The persistent belief that childhood is a rosy, happy time where nothing bad ever happens is directly damaging to children who are, in fact, not having a rosy and happy time. The rise in dark YA isn’t about feeding the depraved tastes of children who enjoy violent videogames. It is about addressing the very real pain and marginalisation experienced by children across the United States who find that the ‘responsible adults’ in their lives fail to act, and it is through young adult fiction that they may find the words to express themselves, to describe their experiences, and the courage to keep going even though no one around them offers support.

Furthermore, many children also grow up with the idea that they are wrong in some way; because their gender doesn’t match the one assigned to them, because they are disabled and surrounded by nondisabled people, because their skin is the wrong colour. Gurdon claims that YA is damaging because it ‘normalises.’ On the contrary, that normalisation is one of the greatest gifts young adult authors can give to their readers, to tell children that, no, they are not freaks for being who they are. That there is nothing wrong with being a gay teen, that you are not irreparably damaged if you are mentally ill. If YA celebrating diverse identities is ‘dark’ and ‘depraved,’ what does that say about the lives of young adults who actually inhabit those identities, and experience constant social pressure to be ‘normal’?

Read the whole thing.

Categories: arts & entertainment, ethics & philosophy, parenting, relationships

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9 replies

  1. It doesn’t hurt kids who don’t experience those things to read about kids who do either. A little privilege check when you are young can make a big difference.

  2. G’day Tigtog, I think that it beggar’s belief that after exposing infants to “fairy stories” where children are abandoned by their parents, traded to beasts and rumplestiltskins by their parents, eaten alive by wolves, mistreated to the point of murder by step parents; where conscious cookies are betrayed and eaten by those they trust; and where night-gowned vigilantes police children’s bed times a little bit of coming out action is going to scar them for life. I don’t even want to go near The lives of the saints, various bible stories and the sorts of tracts Mr Brocklhurst used to press on his students.
    as a homeless teen in early eighties Darlo, i could have done with a few more books that made sense of what i was going thro. I’m not suggesting that ACDC, the Bronte’s, Alan Garner, AD&D and Space Invaders didn’t help, but there was a lot going on that was not covered in those texts.
    the more variety in fiction the more enriched the environment. The more enriched the environment the greater the number of synapses in the brain, and thus greater resilience of the brain to a bucket load of different types of dementia.
    In short the argument ignores multiple contexts of human upbringing and cherry picks its offence, it ignores the central place of story telling in making sense of the diversity of our experiences and it seeks to dull our environment and brains.

  3. I started experiencing my chronic endogenous depression about the time I was fourteen. Among the few counterweights to the growing pressure of suicidal thoughts in my head at the time was the existence of books by writers like Judy Blume, Paula Danziger, S E Hinton, and Paul Zindel (as well as the biblical book of Ecclesiastes – now there’s an expression of depressive thought for the ages!), because the thought kept running through my head: if grown-up writers were writing about it, then I wasn’t completely alone. I wasn’t the only person who’d ever felt like this. I could live through it.
    It helped. It helped get me through high school. YA writing did more than just save my life: in giving me enough hope to overcome my suicidal thoughts and feelings, it saved the sanity of any number of train drivers, bus drivers, truck drivers and similar in the Perth metro area. It can’t be nice to be scraping suicidal teenager out of your grille, after all – and really, given Australia’s lack of a gun culture, stepping in front of a train, bus or truck was the best option I could think of for killing myself.

  4. s. e. smith has another good post on this at Tiger Beatdownas well, and I really should have explained the #YAsaves hashtag as ou did:

    Almost as soon as this appalling piece of ‘journalism’ went live, people started pushing back on it. Authors Maureen Johnson and Libba Bray both had rather a lot to say about the topic, and Ms. Johnson even started a hashtag, #YAsaves, asking readers to testify about what this ‘depraved’ literary genre has done for them. The results were stunning; within half an hour, it was among the top trending topics in the United States, and the testimonials are varied and eloquent. (Gosh, it’s almost like regular reading makes people better writers and communicators.)

  5. YA was so important to me growing up. For starters it’s nice to known that the shit I was dealing with was real, that I wasn’t imagining things. It actually helped me deal, and still does in many cases. #YAsaves.

  6. Sorry for the double post but I just wanted to add:
    According to the Wall Street Journal article, YA didn’t exist 40 years ago. 40 years ago was 1971. Heinlein published his Juveniles between 1947 and 1958.
    Clearly they didn’t do the research.

    • What about Nancy Drew and the Hardy boys? Those stories started being published in the 1930s! Trixie Belden made her first outing in 1948.
      Anne of Green Gables?
      Every second “Western” story?
      The Bobbsey twins?
      All those boarding school adventure stories?
      I could probably go on (and on).

  7. I hate the idea that people have that teenagers are supposed to be unhappy, moody, depressed and anxious. In other cultures, people are able to have perfectly happy, well adjusted teenagehoods. I really think thing should change for teens – it’s not a stage that everyone has to go through, it’s awful and dangerous and unfair. I really think schools have a lot to do with it, but also society in general.

  8. Tigtog,
    Yes of course, I can’t believe I missed that! Not to mention the Little House series, or The Hobbit!
    The idea itself was first given a distinct term in the 1800s (literature for young persons).

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