You’ve probably seen the hashtag #YAsaves if you’ve been on Twitter lately.
Or seen the uproar over Meghan Cox Gurdon’s article which argues that YA lit should be nicer, because, well, it isn’t. And that we somehow need to protect our teens from the “increasing abuse, violence, and depravity” of young adult literature.
Sherman Alexie responded with a scathing blog post reminding Gurdon that it’s hard to protect kids and teens who are already living with that same violence and depravity. Meg Haston wrote a beautiful love letter to YA lit.
Ok, so I don’t want teens to be corrupted either, and some YA lit is really, really dark. But I still fall on the side of Sherman Alexie and #YAsaves.
Why? Well, it’s simple, really. Those are the books teens like. I pushed the envelope with some of the reading we did in my classes, I’ll freely admit it, with books on AIDS and teen memoirs about drugs. Students could opt out if they or their parents so chose, of course, but I only had a few do so, and most didn’t do it happily.
Those were the units where students would tell me, “Miss, that’s the first book I ever finished.” Or, “Miss, that book was crazy. Can I read that other one, the one I didn’t pick last time?” If you love reading, and you’re fierce about the value of books, you can imagine the intermingled pain and joy of hearing a 16 year-old tell you that a certain book was the first one they ever read all the way through.
Why do many teens love those dark and depraved books? Sherman Alexie gives us a moving and heartbreaking reason why. But I think it’s also about measuring the world, seeing the beauty and the evil. And it’s about seeing the dark so you can see the light.
One last note. Most of my students wanted books with happy endings. They might want to read about the darkness, but they want everything to end well. That tells me teenagers are reading about the violence and abuse and depravity to find a road map for a way out, because they know they’ll need that in this world.
So I say keep the darkness in the YA section.