Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Books About Bad Things

by Raelene Gorlinsky

I used to complain about how so much of the currently popular YA fiction is dark, depressing, violent, frightening. It's either disturbingly dystopian or about the worst aspects of contemporary life. Why would we want to expose our children to that, and what is it doing to them emotionally? Then a librarian friend who specializes in YA books and really seems to understand the teenage mentality explained how these books help today's kids cope with the real fears in their world.

Now Janet Reid, a literary agent, has very eloquently defended this literature for our children.

"I think it is incredibly important that people who are learning how to live in the world get to read about people like themselves.

And very bad things can happen to people.

Let me be specific: I think it's incredibly important that books for teenagers about horrible subjects - rape, incest, school shootings, death - get published. And even more important that those books are available in libraries so kids can read them even if they can't afford to buy them, or don't want anyone to know they are reading them.

If I had my way, if YOU had your way, no kid would ever need to hear or see or know anything about rape, incest, school shootings, death. Not the kids we love. Not even the kids we don't.

But we live in the real world. A world we wish was different. But it's not. It is what it is."

I still don't enjoy reading these types of books myself--I read for escapism--but I no longer worry about those who do. Janet's right, we can't and shouldn't shield teenagers from reality. That would only lead them to think that if one of these awful things happens to them, they are alone in their experience, have nowhere to find support, and should feel guilty and ashamed for being the victim. Instead, much as we want to protect them, we have to give them the opportunity to face the bad things that can happen in life and learn to cope and survive. And if fiction about others in such a situation can do that, then I'm now all for it.

1 comment:

Liz said...

Good post -- you've made me think, which would be the point, wouldn't it? I did read a blog entry earlier today that opined that she'd like to see incest as a trend in YA -- consensual incest, to which I say, no thanks. I'm close to someone for whom incest was a reality and the idea of celebrating consensual sex between a parent and child makes me vomit. Literally.

All that sad, I do think YA fiction needs to represent the world teens live in -- but I also think that yes, while teens experience these things, some of them are a bit more outside the bounds of reality than others. Statistically, I'm pretty sure more teens are victims of sexual abuse than rape or shootings or death (at least death of a parent).

I myself also tend more to read for escapism, which is probably one of the reasons the vampire theme is so strong at all levels. Talk about escapism! And I often think, how about some realism in YA fiction? How about a book like "A Wind in Montana" by Mitch Davies which is, at its heart about teen-agers' lives as they actually live them? Teens making decisions, about school work, extra-curriculars, their future, about relationships, about sex. The book parallels what kids are currently experiencing, and it also shows them that adults will help them, if they let them, if they're open in discussing why you want to do things a certain way. Eye-opening for both teens and parents.