Sunday, 5 June 2011

YA Saves: WSJ thoughts...

My mantra in life is “the only way out is through”. You can’t avoid, you need to tackle your issues and wade through the mess until it’s left in your dust and you’re stronger.

We’ve all had rough roads. Some more than others. Those who have been blessed not to have suffered hardship are probably feeling guilty for having been let be. Whether upbringing or circumstance – life isn’t sunshine, puppies and roses. But we all aspire for it to be that. We want love. We want peace. We want to be happy.

But sometimes happiness can feel alien, or worse…impossible.

The Wall Street Journal published an article that branded YA as “… rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity.” Which it is not. That's like saying golf is a stick and a ball plus weird hats.  It removes storytelling from the equation, simplifying it to subject matter.  I can do that too - with a Nicholas Sparks novel (death, death, death, tears, death.)

Young adult literature isn’t about pigeonholing – dividing readers by gender, age or preparedness, it is about shining a light on the plight of others. Whether that is stewing over having red hair, suffering from unrequited love or living in the aftermath of tragedy – it allows the reader to sympathise, empathise and ultimately became more understanding and less judgemental.

I grew up in white bread country towns where there was little to no diversity. I don’t mean just cultural diversity either – everyone was the same. Everyone was white, everyone was straight, everyone believed in God, everyone played sport (whether they were proficient or not) and everyone saw life in the same way. But the secret is – not one of those statements was true. It just appeared to be. The perception was hurtful, a prison for teens wanted to discover their own identities. The pressure was too encompassing.

And yet there was an out.

Reading allowed me to see the world through many different eyes.

Their truth, their stories.

Reading Forever (Judy Blume) allowed me to make choices from my teen years onward about how I wanted to be treated by boys and more importantly, how I would allow myself to be treated. In reading the mistakes and misfortunes of others, I had a hand to hold through the treacherous obstacle course that are the young adult years.

Books can’t protect us from life, they aren’t a Kevlar vest that we can affix to our chests and la-la-la our way through life. But they are a buoy. They allowed us to feel less alone, relatable and understood.

I cannot know what it is like to be a minority. But in reading books that deal with the complexities of racism and cultural exclusion, I have a better idea. I am not making wild guesses, I am experiencing the world through those glasses.

I cannot know what it is like to be a mother. And yet I have read stories about teen mothers, stressful relationships between mothers/daughters and teens contemplating adoption/abortion that allow me to better understand.

I cannot know what it is like to be a teen boy. But I have a better idea now from reading YA.

I’ve read books that detail rape, murder and abuse but not one motivated me to replicate these actions. They didn’t make me murderous, or vengeful. They inspired love in me for those who suffered, for those who trudged through, for those who prevailed. What the WSJ fails to realise is that these stories aren’t about the violence, they are about the hope. They are about getting “through”.

In preventing teens from reading books with darker storylines we are doing them a major disservice. It feels like we’re judging those who have experienced profound tragedy and abuse. That their stories need to be shielded from the world. That they don’t belong to be heard. In hearing these stories, we support them. In reading these stories, we understand. In experiencing these stories, we value our humanity. It’s not about the aggression, the senseless cruelty. It’s about human connection.

Ultimately teens will read what they want to read. Readers, no matter their age, censor themselves. If a book makes them feel uncomfortable, they put it down. If they continue reading, it is for three purposes: 1) it is a class text and they have to, 2) it is so badly written that they need more chuckle-fodder or 3) it provokes thought. Choice is vital. Choice is universal, not solely for those with the largest or loudest (or most widely distributed) voice...but for all.


**Recommendation: if you are feeling alone the Post Secret is a fantastic addition to your blog reading - "PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard."


Ynysawdre Elderly Residents Association said...

Thank you for that truly wonderful post A. I was trying to get it all straight in my head and you have expressed how I feel perfectly.
Working in a school you see real life situations that are only helped by books that tackle difficult subjects. Teens can relate, sometimes it even gets them to seek the help they need.
#YASAVES quite literally

Unknown said...

What a fantastic response. I want to print this post out and hang it in our school teacher's lounge - home to more than a few YA skeptics.

Obviously the book blogging community is getting up in arms over the WSJ article, I hope that teens add their voices to the commentary as well. I plan to ask my teen readers for their own take on the subject.

We Heart YA said...

Holy crap this is amazing and beautiful and so well-said. Thank you.

This was my fave line: "Books can’t protect us from life, they aren’t a Kevlar vest that we can affix to our chests and la-la-la our way through life. But they are a buoy. They allowed us to feel less alone, relatable and understood."

(But really, all of your post was wonderful.)

I hope you don't mind but we're keeping a running link to #YAsaves responses on our FB page, and we included your post.

Thank you for writing it.


BookChic said...

Wonderful post! It pretty much says everything that needs to be said.

Tiffany said...


I just started following your blog after I saw this post tweeted by The Story Siren.

I completely agree with you, and want to say thank you for composing to such a well written response to the WSJ article. YA literature really does allow us to understand hardships that we haven't experienced and helps us to widen our perspective.

I also wrote a response about the positive messages that YA literature conveys if you're interested:

Fictitious Delicious said...

Fantastic, thought-provoking, inspiring post. Thank you for this! I just added myself as a follower and am excited to get to know your blog!


Lisa Schensted said...

so eloquent, you are!

and i wholeheartedly agree with your thoughts on reading these stories is an avenue to compassion and understanding and to know what people are going through. how else are we to know unless we hear their story?

Susanne Gervay said...

Love these thoughts - exactly what I feel and why I write.

Sue Lawson said...

Love it! Well done, and thank you!

karen tayleur said...

P, I notice Sue Lawson has left comment (hi S) which makes sense as a lot of what she writes is about the realities that kids face today. In her latest book, Dare You, there are some subjects that could hit a raw nerve with the gatekeepers, but which I would consider as a perfect starting point for class discussion or even personal reflection by a reader who may or may not find themselves in a similar situation. YA readers enjoy reading books that reflect their lives and the world they live in. It's a great way to make sense of the world and to engender empathy with other people.

Molly said...

Beautifully, beautifully said.

Thank you for pointing out that young adults are capable of deciding for themselves not to read a book if it makes them uncomfortable. One of the most disturbing aspects of the article was how little credit it gave young adult readers for having any autonomy or basic common sense.

"What the WSJ fails to realise is that these stories aren’t about the violence, they are about the hope."

This is the crux of the whole issue to me. Talk about missing the forest for the trees.