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by Laura McCarthy Benson

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10 June 2011

Darkness in Young Adult Books

There has been a lot of discussion about a Wall Street Journal article that states that young adult books are "so dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things".


The article starts with a mother looking for a book for her 13 year old child.  First of all, said mother really was in the wrong aisle.  She should've been looking in the middle grade/children's aisle.  The books that she was looking at are specifically targeted to 14+, 15+ and 16+.  When I think of young adult, I think of a teen about the age of sixteen to roughly around 22/23 years of age.  I would never consider a 12, 13, or even a 14 and some  15 year olds as young adult.  Now obviously some children are able to handle the darker books and I would never say they shouldn't read it.  However, this is also a great time for parents to be proactive and read what their children are reading.


When my daughter was 13, she came home with the book Cut by Patricia McCormick.  I read the book after she did so I had an idea as to what she was reading.  Now this wasn't a school book, but one she got from the school library and read on her own.  This story is a hard, tough story about a teen who has is so stressed they she starts cutting herself.  The main character in the book is 15.  But the book is written for older teens.  Even I could figure that out when I read it.


A parent at the library was upset that her 12 year old daughter took out The Duff.  Thankfully the librarian informed the mom that the room where she took the book was the young adult room and not intended for 12 year olds.  That it is up to the mom to see what she is requesting from library.


I'm also one that is not so fond of labels.  Shouldn't all books be available to all? But I think as parents, we need to be proactive in parenting our children and not let books, tv, videogames do the job that we took on when we had our children.  There is a plethora of great books out there for age appropriate children.  All we have to point them in the right direction.  If my 7 yo (and I'm hypothetically aging her to 12 for my purpose), brought a book home (she's 12 now), say The Hunger Games.  I would first ask myself if she's ready to read a book like this.  Would she benefit by waiting on reading it when she was 16/17?  Able to understand the world that Suzanne Collins created. 


There are thousands of kids out there that lead dark, dark lives and perhaps when they read a book about cutting or eating disorders, they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Realize that there is someone out there that feels the same way they do.  A lot of these book also have resources at the back of the book for those same teens to find the help they need.


I understand that Meghan Cox Gurdon has a right to discuss her unhappiness with the state of YA books, but she should also realize that she was opening a can of worms for people who are for and against the genre.


The young adult world came out in protest of the Wall Street Journal on twitter with the hashtag #yasaves and let me tell you, some of the stories by teens, adults and just fans of reading was amazing.

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