Wednesday, June 08, 2011

My Response to the WSJ

So on Monday I mentioned the WSJ article that came out last week, and I told you that I wanted to take some time to put my thoughts together before I wrote a response. If you haven't read the article, do so now so you're not lost. Done? Great, let's continue.

First of all, the bloggosphere, and YA authors (aspiring and otherwise) seem to have responded with a resounding "Eff you, WSJ!" That's quite an overreaction, and I'll tell you why: this is an opinion piece meant to inform readers of what the author thinks about the YA book world. It's not a "news story" or a "call to arms" for parents, it's simply one person spelling out her concerns to her readers. And as a parent (I think she's a parent) her concern is justified, though unjustifiably ill-informed (I'll get to that in a moment).

The fact is, there are a lot of books out there (for all age groups) that some parents don't want their children to read. Many of those books get the most press as "the book everyone must read." So when a parent who wants to be involved in their offspring's entertainment choices is faced with a wall of books that they don't particularly like, it can get overwhelming. (I'm not excusing a lack of ignorance, I'm simply bringing perspective to the table.) The flip side of this coin can be seen most clearly in the video game debate. When a kid steals his teacher's car, bowls over a ton of pedestrians, and then wrecks, the kid's lawyers blame Grand Theft Auto. Those of us with brains in our heads are smart enough to ask, "Where are the parents?"

The parents are trying to buy "appropriate" books, movies, video games, etc. for their kids. Because they care, because they want to be involved, and because (and I can't stress this enough) PARENTING IS NOT A SPECTATOR SPORT!

Now before you hate me, before you blast off an angry e-mail, scroll down to the comments and cuss me out, it's time to justify some of the anger the YA community expressed over the weekend.

Mrs. Gurdon got her facts wrong. Many, MANY young adult books are available for the parents to give to their kids, even if they're concern with what their kids read. On top of that, Gurdon mentioned and then dismissed the idea that YA books help readers deal with issues that they may not otherwise know how to deal with. Yes, all forms of media influence how we think (to what degree can't be debated because each person deals with and reacts to media in unique ways). But if Gurdon spent any time talking with the great people out in the YA industry, (like aspiring author Kate Haggard, authors Chuck Wendig, Kiersten White, even J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer), she would have discovered that the books we read when we're feeling depressed, lost, and outcast give us the encouragement and strength we need to face our troubles and fix our problems. Gurdon didn't bother to find out how people's lives have been changed for the better because they read a book about a character that faced the same problems as the reader.

It's one thing for a teen to read about a thirty-five-year-old woman who got assaulted in an alley. Maybe that book could help a fifteen-year-old girl find the strength to overcome an assault from a family member. But how much more effective is the message (it's not your fault, this doesn't have to define you, control you, etc.) if the protagonist of a novel is also a fifteen-year-old girl with the same abusive relative?

No, I don't think the book itself will completely fix a person's life. But it can inspire the reader to make changes, seek help, and stop hiding from an issue that may otherwise drive that reader to self-destructive life-choices.

I understand that many parents want to hide their children from the darkness of the real world. But by the time they're thirteen, chances are they're living in that darkness. Even if their parents desperately try to shelter them. They shouldn't waste time and energy griping and complaining about the "inappropriate" books on store shelves. Instead they need to look for the books that they DO approve of. And if their kids want to read something they don't like, they should read it anyway and use it as a teaching opportunity.

And bloggosphere needs to calm down. The WSJ wasn't attacking them, and neither was Gurdon. Gurdon is paid for her opinion, which she's entitled to. Those of us with brains in our heads know that she's wrong. And spewing venom on a blog will not change how she writes. A concise argument with valid examples of WHY she's wrong may change her point of view, but vitriol will not. (For an example of a good response, read Kate Haggard's blog.) Bloggers shouldn't give Gurdon the power to make them angry. She is not going change their opinions or keep them from reading their favorite books. Instead, bloggers should use her article as a conversation-starter with people they know who share her view. And then prove THOSE people wrong by recommending great YA novels.


  1. I agree. It's an opinion, which everyone is entitled. I haven't become heated over it at all. My daughter and I read all types of YA, and there are some great ones out there with important lessons.

  2. Just read the article today and took it for what it was: a rant, ahem, sorry, an OPINION. :)

    At the beginning, the author does make some valid points. Unfortunately her points then degenerate into a "protecting smut is not the same thing as speaking out against censorship" argument, which always seems to me like wanting to have your cake and eat it too.

    Since I don't read YA, I was a little surprised at how much depravity she was able to cite in a single post. However, she did so by mentioning only one author I've ever heard of, so I'm loath to claim that her point about their being an inexorable tide of depraved fiction is completely valid.

    My stance is two-fold: it's a miracle these days that teenagers even still read books, and an earth-shattering-windfall that their parents do. If parents would, actually, put in the time necessary to read the books before passing them along to their children, this entire argument would become moot.

    Finally, I think it's important to note that this exact same argument could be made without the "Y" in "YA." I read a lot of fantasy novels with graphic depictions of horrible acts ... I've even written a few. Is the YA version of this "trend" a product of us adults being bombarded with savage imagery? Perhaps, perhaps not, but it doesn't change the fact that these are books we're talking about. Not movies and not video games. I'd take a description over a scene of CSI anytime, when it came to the distance between my child and the gruesomeness of their entertainment.

    So, is it fair to be upset about how much violence and depravity is in teen literature? Sure. Is it fair to demonize the authors, publishers, and industry? Never. And that's why everyone got so bent.

  3. "Is it fair to demonize the authors, publishers, and industry? Never."

    I agree. But in my opinion, getting upset over this woman's demonization of the industry is as much a waste of energy as getting upset over a five-year-old telling me my haircut looks stupid.

    As for adult books, I think Gurdon focuses on YA because of who it's marketed to. When someone reaches a certain age, it's assumed that they're capable of making their own decisions. So many people believe (incorrectly) that young adults aren't responsible enough to make wise choices, even with the things they read. It's stupid, but I think that's the biggest reason why YA is focused on more than adult (though that does get a lot of scrutiny now and then).

  4. I don't feel either this article or the other is nearly as controvercial as some people might think. They're both opinions.

    WSJ is sad because YA is kind of dark. To this, I shrug. Not all of it is dark. Just off the top of my head: What about Howl's Moving Castle? It's fun and light but still deals with finding one's place in the world.

    I don't get why anyone's upset. YA IS dark. Some of it. And some of it isn't.

  5. I think you said everything I could possibly say in response to this. I know not all parents want to take the time to read a book prior to letting their child read it (I went through books at a far greater pace than my father and I would have been waiting quite a while if I had to go through that process). But my father did look at the dust cover of every book I brought home and leaf through it and read a passage here and there to make sure he was ok with me reading it. It doesn't take much more than that to weed out ones you might not agree with as a parent. Don't blame the industry, don't blame the writers, and don't blame the bookstores - blame parents that are too lazy to actually monitor their children and ensure they are only getting access to what the parent deems appropriate.