The Twitter feeds have been buzzing over the #YASaves subject since the Wall Street Journal published the article called “Darkness Too Visible”. Written by Meghan Cox Gurdon, it is her belief that the YA market of today is rife with material that is dark more for sensationalism than viable purpose. Gurdon is entitled to her opinions: that exposing impressionable young adults to content rife with suicide or other controversial themes will put a dark spot of rough permanence on a developing psyche. Yes, life has its dark aspects, but it is her argument that exposure to certain materials patterns tastes in future entertainment selections. The exposure may also enforce the opposite message the writing may have such as SI (self injury) is a viable outlet for mental stress, that drugs are indeed worth trying, and other suggestions.
It is no mystery that modern times swings between complete freedom and the need for intense practices of censorship. There is yet to be a balanced achieved in the mainstream, for some, between what is necessary relevance versus what is merely shock value. Thoughts on moral value follow consumers when reading choices are selected, most certainly, but for many the necessary relevance comes first. One of the core powers of YA literature is that it puts in the hands of its audience story experiences that relate to the timeline where the reader stands. The sophistication of today’s youth can’t be ignored. While the inevitable actions of the set mark them as unlearned, it is unwise to consider them incapable of grasping the point. Through reaching out in their vernacular on topics that matter the most such as identity searching, peer pressure, psychological development, and romance, YA readers are able to take the intimate in themselves and turn it towards powerful justification through another character’s shell.
In addition to worrying over the potential jagged edges such literature can cause, Gurdon also suggests the difference between censorship and guided reading. An example from the article reads: “In a letter excerpted by the industry magazine, the Horn Book, several years ago, an editor bemoaned the need, in order to get the book into schools, to strip expletives from Chris Lynch’s 2005 novel, “Inexcusable,” which revolves around a thuggish jock and the rape he commits. “I don’t, as a rule, like to do this on young adult books,” the editor grumbled, “I don’t want to compromise on how kids really talk. I don’t want to acknowledge those f—ing gatekeepers.” By f—ing gatekeepers (the letter-writing editor spelled it out), she meant those who think it’s appropriate to guide what young people read. In the book trade, this is known as “banning.” 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!” (Gurdon, Darkness Too Visible)
The industry’s “petticoats” as she calls them are ruffled because that is exactly what censorship is. The slipper slope of editing book language for library use while selling unedited copies in mainstream stores makes no sense in considering the editing of books for languages no doubt is both a loss of money for the publisher while going against the grain of both artistic and intellectual integrity as well. In a counter example, remember when so many were riled up in arms over the use of the word “nigger” word in context with Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn? Here, the word is not used for shock value, but indicative of a narrative revealing the social attitudes of the time in speech. What happened to reading content as presented and offering up a teachable moment afterwards? Where do you draw the line between editing for protection against blatant revoking of the truth in context? The world of being young is as course as it is beautiful. Be it for identity sake or merely adapting the vernacular of the times, youth have a very colorful vocabulary. The job of the adult is to teach them the values placed inside of their words, what is and is not appropriate, and to see proper decisions made from there. Editing the “courseness” out of a book is editing out the complete intention of a scene or concept, and just as it wasn’t appropriate to do in editions of Huckleberry Finn, it isn’t appropriate to do in other books. Let alone, banning them all together is also not appropriate.
Society in its aspects may help the public make informed decisions by including rating systems, guide lines, or other tools to assist parents in what they feel is appropriate in their homes. Yet there is the rub. While parents by no means have to accept what their children are reading, it is not the job of the publishers to outwardly omit items from their offerings or revise their genres based on the fact that there are razorblades, blood, and the word fuck in the literature. It is the parent’s place to guide their children based on what values they elect to instill. If a parent objects to a title being in house, that can be respected. If a parent expects other areas of life to do their job, that is just foolishness. If a parent does not take the chance to find the teachable moments, encourage free thought, the asking of questions, and open dialogue they are letting opportunities slip away before their eyes. People relate to examples in literature just as they would in other outlets such as music or art. The truly guided child will understand with parental help why it is okay to relate and where to draw the line.
Censorship is a slippery hill that has an all or nothing quality about it that either side of the debate would roar about if their voice was cut short. YA Literature needs no censorship, but advocates to help spread the voice of many genres to many more future readers! If Gurdon is worried about the darkness in YA, also, then I hope she has no intentions of exposing young people to the classics. Those can be pretty gory and are frought controversial, complex writers too! Shakespeare was bisexual, Poe was a drug addict, and Greek Mythology…well let’s not get started. Hide Zeus stories and tuck away the Percy Jackson! Harry Potter is ruining the world as we know it.
If there is a darkness anywhere it is ignorance, and dispelling the false cures that. Controversial ideas are nothing new in the world. Opinions are formed when the full context is presented and people are taught to seek it out. YA presents many narratives that can help do just that.