Though normally I try to keep out of it, all the recent talk about Darkness in YA got me thinking and then yesterday I heard the Maureen Jonson/Megan Cox Gurdon radio interview discussing Gurdon's article (and it's follow up) that sort of sparked the whole controversy - and I want to give props to both women because they kept it together and actually had a dialogue!
Anyway, before we start, I recommend you read the articles and listen to the interview if you didn't have a chance to hear it yesterday.
Go, go. I'll wait *twiddles thumbs* *whistles*
You back? Okay! Let's start.
What does YA means?
YA is a relatively new genre in literature -and yes, I consider it a genre, though it encompasses a lot of other ones - and what it means in it's most barest terms is that the narrator is a younger person - usually ranging in age from about 13 years old to early 20's (though books focusing on people 19 and older and more rare).
That's sort of the parameter, but beyond that it can be anything: fantasy, horror, steampunk, contemporary, historical, paranormal, etc. It's a rich and evolving genre that has certainly been fulled by book phenomenons such as Harry Potter, Twilight and even the Hunger Games or The Princess Diaries.
And let me point out that just because the narrators are young or the narrative is aimed toward younger people it doesn't mean it's all sunshine, crushes and clothes, because being a Young Adult is not only about that - but more on that later.
As with any genre, in YA you'll find books that are good, books that are great, books that are Meh, and books that are seriously bad - and think of it as statistics, it just has to be that way.
I'm a Fluffist!
This whole controversy started by Gurdon pointing out that there is a current trend in YA literature toward the more dark, disturbing topics - including but not limited to things such as self mutilation, eating disorders, rape, incest, - and ask if that's such a good idea.
Her article, in fact, starts by mentioning the story of a mom who went to a bookstore to buy a book for her 13 year old daughter and was discouraged by the 'darkness' she saw on the titles offered ("It was all vampires and suicide and self mutilation" - the mom is quoted as saying).
This part really bothered me because I am a fluffist - my reading of choice revolves around the cute and the fluffy (and by that I DON'T mean superficial or banal) - and though I admit Paranormal is big right now, and there is a marked surplus of dystopian novels; I'm not hurting for things to read.
I rarely read books about vampires - though I'm not against paranormal as a genre, some of my favorite books are paranormal, just not vampire oriented - and I only read a dystopian a year because I have a very fragile psyche prone to freak outs and the whole dystopian thing gets to me (though I understand it, the way the world is going I think we are all a little afraid, deep down, of the future, and I love that there are books addressing that, even if they are not my reading of choice). Having said all that, I'm also going to say that I have a TBR pile over 50 books long.
Just because there is a trend, and there is an audience for those books, it doesn't mean that's all there is in the offering.
Now, lets talk about what it's considered dark: incest, self mutilation, eating disorders, rape, assault, etc. I agree that those subjects are not a walk in the part. But beeing a young adult is not a walk in the park either.
So long as you can't take out the dark out of the growing up experience, I don't think you can take it out of the books about people growing up. Even if you are not writing about such heavy topics, there are a lot of traumatic moments you have to go through as you go through life - it comes with the territory, and I just don't believe addressing such topics is bad.
More over, the books are there if you want to read them, no one is forcing anyone to read them. I have passed on wildly popular books -and disliked some too - just because they aren't the kind of books I read. I never finished Twilight, I only read the Hunger Games and I never went back for more. It's not my cup of tea, so I don't drink it.
There is a choice, and it's every reader's - and his or her parents - to make it.
We Are All A Little Bit Morbid
I think that a natural question to ask now is, why are dark books so popular?
There is a part, and it has been addressed (just look up the hash tag #YASaves on twitter), about how having books about these topics can help teens not to feel alone if they are dealing with similar issues, how to help a friend if they are the ones with the issue -that has been said and done, and I don't think I have much more to contribute to that discussion.
But there is also another part that I need to address: some people JUST LIKE IT. It's true, you can't tell me that it's not. That's why I sometimes call these books Trauma Porn - and I mean it descriptively, not derogatorily.
Just like there is people like me who love reading books with wedding/wedding planning on them (Wedding Porn) or who, also like me, will buy any book with a cupcake on the cover because they love to read about food (Food Porn), there are people who actively seek out stories about the darker side of human nature - and that it's their right.
Some people slow down to watch a car wreck, some people like their books 'dark', it doesn't make them bad people, it doesn't mean they go about life wishing for someone to crash their car or for bad things to happen to other people for their entrainment. But we all are a little bit morbid, it's part of being human. Deal with it.
And that's it for part one!
Let me know what you guys think!