Sunday, June 5, 2011
As you probably have seen by now, the entire YA community is in an uproar over an op-ed piece some idiot (Meghan Cox Gurdon) wrote for the Wall Street Journal yesterday. Here the link if you want to read the insanity yourself.
And here's my problem with Gurdon's piece: she's wrong. Here's a quote from her article that basically sums up her entire opinion, "If books show us the world, teen fiction can be like a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is. There are of course exceptions, but a careless young reader—or one who seeks out depravity—will find himself surrounded by images not of joy or beauty but of damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds."
"...reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is." Not true. For one, these books she's discussing are fiction and as such have a right to distort things... because they are fiction. By definition fiction is meant to describe imaginary events and people, so if the YA books she's read (and she damn well better have read every single book she attacks) don't seem like an accurate portrayal of life, it doesn't matter. They needn't be because they are fiction.
But what's more, some of these YA books do represent what life is. She attacks books that include swearing and self-mutilation. Teenagers swear every day. Every day at school. Let's put Ms. Gurdon in a high school lunchroom and watch her implode over the language. Self-mutilation happens, too. Teenagers get depressed and it's a part of growing up. Some deal with it better than others. She didn't mention it by name, but she would probably be appalled by Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why, a book that every young woman can identify with in some way. I could quote you a bunch of stats on self-mutilation and suicide, but we all know it happens and it happens to more children than we would car to admit. If just one of these depressed youth read a book or two, realized they weren't alone, and decided to keep their life then #yasaves. I don't doubt it's happened; there are examples all over Twitter today under the hash tag #yasaves.
She goes on to say, "a careless young reader...will find himself surrounded by images not of joy or beauty but of damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds." Young readers don't need to read a book to find this. Teenagers get molested and raped. They get bullied because the look different, because they're gay, or just because. They get depressed and cut themselves. They shoot up schools and one another. This is reality, not a "distorted portrayal of what life is." Ms. Gurdon, stop living under a rock.
She later writes, "Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures." No ma'am. For the average Joe and Jane in high school, this cannot be true. They are not unaware of self-mutilation and certainly reading about it will not make them cut themselves if they haven't already. None of them reads a book about suicide and then suddenly thinks it's a good idea just because they read it in a book. These things are serious issues youth think about and one who commits suicide has thought about it at length. It's not a spur of the moment decision based on the reading of a YA novel. On the same token, reading about a murderer doesn't make one a murderer. Where have I heard that before? Oh yes, Ms. Gurdon writes this in the same article, "Reading about homicide doesn't turn a man into a murderer; reading about cheating on exams won't make a kid break the honor code." Stop contradicting yourself, Ms. Gurdon!
I want to remind Ms. Gurdon that bad situations do not a bad book make. Just because a book contains violence and swearing does not mean it's not worth reading. We cannot shelter our youth from real life situations by censoring their reading. If we did that we would also have to censor the television, newspapers, Internet, and their own conversations at school. And that's a world that would fit right in with the books Ms. Gurdon doesn't want us to read.
There's more I could say, but I'm tired of dealing with this woman. I'm hungry and I'm going to get some lunch, and then I'm going to read a YA novel where love is a bad thing and society tries to eradicate it. Ms. Gurdon would hate that book, too.
*PS: That graph is not mine, but I'm sure whoever created it wouldn't mind my borrowing it.