Why YA Matters

Yesterday, the WSJ published a (lazy, badly-written) article on how young adult fiction (YA), by virtue of addressing topics such as rape, incest, violence directed towards gay people, and swearing is gratuitous and bad. Why, asks the pearl-clutching author, should we be allowing kids to read this? Why do librarians celebrate banned books?

Amy Freeman, a 46-year-old mother of three, stood recently in the young-adult section of her local Barnes & Noble, in Bethesda, Md., feeling thwarted and disheartened.

She had popped into the bookstore to pick up a welcome-home gift for her 13-year-old, who had been away. Hundreds of lurid and dramatic covers stood on the racks before her, and there was, she felt, “nothing, not a thing, that I could imagine giving my daughter. It was all vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff.” She left the store empty-handed.

How dark is contemporary fiction for teens? Darker than when you were a child, my dear: So dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things in novels directed, broadly speaking, at children from the ages of 12 to 18.

Librarians celebrate banned books, and teens read things that are violent or sexual, because parents like the woman who was apparently so stupefied that that she could not flag down a sales associate to help her and authors so pearl-clutchy and condescending that they address their (presumably adult) audience as “dear” exist.

Because those people? Those people are not helping their children when their friends start cutting or they are sexually assaulted and have no one to talk to because their parents are judgmental or because they don’t know how to deal with their friends who are coming out or having sex or being mean to them.

Those people are the reason that their kids are unable to talk to adults about these sorts of things, and I know that because I was the sort of kid who these peoples’ kids came to when that shit happened. I got to read.

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