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."