Monday, June 6, 2011

YA Saves, Books Save, People Save

First it was the New York Times, and now the Wall Street Journal has decided to take a passive-aggressive approach to book banning. Because that's what their stance is perpetuating--the need to "protect" our children from this kind of writing.

Yes, there are many "issue" books in YA lit these days that deal with sex, drugs, mental health, death, sexual abuse, crime, violence, dysfunctional families. There is also a lot of "dark" YA fiction featuring the supernatural, dystopian societies, alternate realities, mystical folklore. And while they might not always be realistic, these books do reflect real-life.

While every teen may not feel the urge to cut themselves and they may go their entire lives without witnessing a violent crime, it happens. And it happens to a lot more teens than you might think. I have worked with and known teens who had been victims of kidnappings and other violent crimes, gone through rehab before they could drive, seen a family member murdered in front of them, succumbed to terminal illness, suffered sexual and physical abuse at the hands of a parent, attempted or succeeded at suicide, and so many other atrocities that my heart aches just thinking about these children. Even I experienced some of these things in my adolescence.

Miraculously, most of these children go on to lead full, happy lives. They turn into adults who are productive members of society. They attend college, find jobs, experience love. Then they share the path they took to overcome their trauma with the teenagers they come in contact with. They write books about what happened to them, they love their own children, they talk about it in quiet conversations behind closed doors.

Books about these subjects aren't an instruction manual on how to be unhappy. They don't encourage children to turn to a life of crime. And they certainly don't turn them into teens with a false view of the world. Instead, they make teens more accepting and understanding of other people, they prepare them to deal with challenges, they help them overcome the past. They make children believe they are not alone--because they aren't alone.

You don't have to fight to the death to learn something from Katniss Everdeen. You don't have to be dated raped to feel compassion for Melinda Sordino. And you don't have to run away from home to want something more than Holden Caulfield. But if you read Hunger Games and Speak and Catcher in the Rye, you just might be a better person in the end.

However, there are other options available to children who don't want a steady diet of these weighty topics. Meg Cabot, Jerry Spinelli, Ally Carter, Eion Colfer, Shannon Hale, Gordon Korman and many more authors write lighthearted books for teens. So yes, Lisa Belkin, people do still read Anne of Green Gables. Which means, Meghan Cox Gurdon, there is no reason for a parent to go empty-handed because they can't find a book "appropriate" for their child.

Maybe it's time we stop worrying so much about what teens read and start showing a little more concern for why a lot of them aren't reading. I can guarantee it has nothing to do with a lack of lighter books on the market.

Show your support for YA lit by following #YASaves on twitter.

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