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Monday, June 6, 2011

My Two Cents

#YAsaves

So, the topic of the week seems to be the WSJ article condemning all YA.

BTW, in case you missed it, last week’s topic was plagiarism.  And the consensus is that plagiarism is not cool.  Don’t do it.  Ask for help if you need it.  Plagiarism is not the answer.


So, the WSJ article—great if you want to stir up a controversy or get a mob together.  Seriously, did this woman have nothing better to write about?  Actually, as readers, authors, and bloggers, I find we’re all very open to discussion.  If Ms. Gurdon wanted to open up a discussion on the age-appropriateness of some young adult books, that would have been perfectly acceptable—yeah, let’s talk about it.  But Ms. Gurdon instead talked about shutting down YA altogether.

Us don’t like censorship.  Ugg.  And actually, I find it very ironic that a contributor to a newspaper is in favor of any kind of censorship—Aren’t newspapers the bastion of the 1st amendment?  And yes, Ms. Gurdon is talking about censorship, even while she tries to downplay it when she says,
In the parenting trade, however, we call this "judgment" or "taste." It is a dereliction of duty not to make distinctions in every other aspect of a young person's life between more and less desirable options. Yet let a gatekeeper object to a book and the industry pulls up its petticoats and shrieks "censorship!"

Most people I know have no problem with parents taking an active role in what their children are reading.  However, I think a lot of us have a problem with someone else’s parents deciding what’s appropriate for other people’s children.  And I’m sorry, but librarians aren’t parents.  Librarians are custodians of the books and can be a wealth of information.  Librarians can make suggestions and help guide children and adults, alike, toward appropriate reading material.  But it is not a librarian’s role to stop someone from reading about something, nor to parent someone else’s children.  It’s the parent’s job.  Period.—Something Ms. Gurdon actually says, herself, at the end of her rally against YA, 
The book business exists to sell books; parents exist to rear children, and oughtn't be daunted by cries of censorship. No family is obliged to acquiesce when publishers use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children's lives.

Ok, fine…so parents should rear their children.  Ok, I have no problem with that.  So what’s your problem again Ms. Gurdon?—Do you know a child who was traumatized from reading young adult fiction—Exactly which children have been so irreparably harmed from the consumption of today’s YA? 

Ms. Gurdon seems to have plenty of ideas about the YA genre desensitizing children from violence, and posits a bit of a “monkey see/monkey do” hypothesis about self-mutilation and eating disorders.

If Ms. Gurdon does know of any children affected thusly, she does not mention the child in her rant article.  So how many children are being harmed?—Well, according to a source cited by Ms. Gurdon,
many teenagers do not read young-adult books at all. Near the end of the school year, when [the bookseller] and a colleague entertained students from a nearby private school, only three of the visiting 18 juniors said that they read YA books.


In fact, the inciting incident of Ms. Gurdon’s article begins, not with any literature induced violence, but on the contrary, with a parent who goes to a bookstore and, unable to find a book she feels is appropriate for her teenager, the parent leaves empty-handed.  Um.  Ok.  That kind of sounds like parenting to me.


I understand it’s disappointing to go into a store and not find what you’re looking for, but I’m not ranting about closing down stores because I can’t find a gift for my dad (who incidentally is REALLY hard to shop for).  It sucks.  And sometimes you have to go to a couple of places to find what you’re looking for.  And sometimes, you can ask for help from a sales associate, who might be able to guide you toward what you’re looking for.  Because, as an avid reader, and reader of YA, I happen to know that there are also plenty of  medium and lighter options in the young adult section:  Tera Lynn Childs, Meg Cabot, Ann Brashares, Tamora Pierce, Elizabeth ScottTina Ferraro, Wendy Toliver, Stephanie HaleHeather Davis, Marley Gibson—And, though many books may have

lurid and dramatic covers


you can’t always judge a book by its cover.  Just sayin’.

The second criticism of Ms. Gurdon’s article is that 40 years ago the young adult genre didn’t exist, 
there was no such thing. There was simply literature, some of it accessible to young readers and some not.

Ok, well, first of all, I don’t know how old Ms. Gurdon is (not that it really matters), but I hope Ms. Gurdon isn’t still trying to use her 46 year-old mother of three from her previous example as a model for the consumer of yesteryear.  Because 40 years ago, that mother would have been 6.  I don’t think any of us believe that a 6 year old would be at a young-adult reading-level, or perusing its shelves.  But my point is, that all the changes that Ms. Gurdon tries to present, really couldn’t be applied to the same 46 year old mother who would have grown up with them.

And as for literature being different 40 years ago.  I’m sure it was.  And it was probably different 200 and a thousand years ago, too.  Because things change as times change.

Is she really trying to say that there weren’t any young adult books before the 1960s?  I think it’s more accurate to say that the classification has changed.  Young adult books are generally differentiated by the age of the main characters; so if it were written today, we’d probably find Romeo and Juliet in the young adult section.

And my final argument over the article is the assumption that all YA is dark and moody.  Honestly, this feels like mudslinging and propaganda to me.  There are plenty of light and medium examples of young adult work, but Ms. Gurdon doesn’t mention any but the most extreme and controversial of today’s YA books.  So much for fair and unbiased.  And although, Ms. Gurdon gives very graphic and disturbing descriptions of these books (which we don’t have to read, because we can find them right there in her article)—Ms. Gurdon doesn’t ever tell us if she’s ever deigned to read any of these examples herself.

Because, that’s the thing about books; you can’t judge a book by its cover, its cover-art, or its cover-blurb.  Hers is an entirely one-sided argument that calls for the most extreme measures.  And yes, when you ask anyone besides a child’s parents to curtail their reading selection, that IS censorship. (It’s actually still censorship when the parent does it, too—But that is a perk of parenting.)


But that’s just my two cents worth.


Please check out these links to read a few of the incredibly thought-provoking posts discussing the matter (some even written by actual teens):






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