I finally read the WSJ article that criticizes the YA publishing market. The article makes me a little angry, but mostly it makes me sad. Once again an industry is getting beaten up by clueless parents.
In case you missed it, the article opens with a woman, Amy Freedman, searching for a YA book in the bookstore as a "welcome home" gift for her 13-year-old daughter. Revolted by all the "vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff," she left the store empty-handed. The article went on to criticize the state of the YA market and questioned the validity of an industry that exposes just too much of the dark stuff to teenagers.
But really, I think what the article reveals is that some people are just not involved parents. How is it that this woman missed her daughter's reading habits for 13 years? If you're a parent involved in your kids' reading habits, trends in the YA market shouldn't come as a surprise. Also. I suppose Freeman has never heard of Amazon, where you can search for books to your taste. Big market out there, you know. And then there are the classics, such as Little Women (one of the most innocent books ever written) and the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, and Jane Austen, and . . . well, you get the point. Plenty of stuff out there from which to choose. If one stop off at a Barnes & Noble was enough for her to start railing about the publishing industry, I'd hate to know what she gets out of the evening news. Or maybe she doesn't watch that, because it's just too much real world.
That's to say nothing of the article's author, Megan Cox Gurdon, who was equally clueless.
YA books about abuse, vampires, and self-mutilation may get published because that's what sells. But those books probably sell because—at least in the cases of abuse and self-mutilation—that's what is. (I'm not so sure about the vampires.) There are kids out there with very real, gut-wrenching problems, problems too big for them to deal with but they're dealing with them, anyway—and guess what? YA literature, just like all literature, can help them make sense of the senseless things that happen to them. That's what story does. I think what Gurdon would like is to pretend that the dark stuff doesn't exist, or even if it does, it should be swept into the sewage system as easily as what we flush down the toilet. And maybe for her life, she's right.
But for many kids and teenagers, that's not the way it goes. Even kids raised in a safe environment have problems. Kids raised in the foster care system or by unstable parents get knocked around by life far too soon. Should we ignore them? Teenagers get ignored enough. By the time a kid gets to middle school, all that creative research that goes into childhood education drops off a cliff, leaving many kids to wander in an educational no man's land until they graduate. Fiction—yes, even YA fiction—can help them make sense of the senseless things that happen to them. That's what story does. Even the dark stuff. I know because I have a teenaged niece who told me so.
Kyle Cassidy weighs in here.