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This time in our regularly scheduled idiocy re: YA fiction, we get bonus erasure of... well, PRETTY MUCH EVERYONE LIVING OVER HERE IN REALITY LAND.

"Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?"

Oh my GOD, shut your FUCKING MOUTH. Sorry if that's too "coarse" for you, but that's really all the response this article deserves, and I am way too enraged to clearly enumerate all the ways in which you are dangerously and harmfully wrong. (A choice quote that pretty much sums up this whole article: "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." Because as we all know, nobody in real life ever experiences anything truly awful. To suggest otherwise is distorting the truth, y'all.)

I was actually thinking of this exact attitude recently wrt the skirt clutching and fluttering over the ~inappropriate~ material in Holly Black's Modern Faerie Tale series, and in the reviews for a load of different YA books I was browsing. Basically what the argument comes down to is this: if you're a teen in a bad situation, if you're being abused, molested, or neglected; if you're poor and living in slums or trailer parks or on the streets with bums and addicts; if you're depressed, self-harming, if you have an eating disorder or any other serious mental illness; if you've made bad choices, if you're dealing with addictions and consequences and pain and misery; even if you're just an average kid who curses a lot and smokes pot and drinks and parties and has sex and sometimes acts like an obnoxious asshole - if you are any of these things, you aren't real. You don't get to have your own narrative. You don't get to be a hero, you don't get to have adventures. Heroes are good clean Christian folk, whitebread, middle class, and would never have the audacity to come face to face with the "ugly" parts of life, either by choice or otherwise. We don't want to hear about you of all people, we don't want to have to see you, read about you, think about you. You're just trash.

In our fiction, our proper fiction, you do not exist.

...Welp, I guess I did have something to say about that article, after all.

eta: Maureen Johnson apparently started a twitter hashtag in response: #YASaves

eta #2: THE SIDEBAR. I had not even fucking NOTICED the sidebar. A recommended reading list... divided into books that are "for young men" and "for young women." I CAN'T. I SERIOUSLY JUST CANNOT DEAL. MY FACE IS ON FIREEEEEE.

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Comments

( 44 truths — lie to me )
reddwarfer
Jun. 5th, 2011 05:36 am (UTC)
Rage for that article. Also, quit banning books. If you don't want your kid to read something, be a fucking parent and do your job.

What should kids read? In their stead? I can't imagine what a book these people approve of looks like or what sort of power it would have. Books that say nothing aren't memorable or worth reading.
woodburner
Jun. 5th, 2011 06:09 am (UTC)
l;askdfja;lkj ikr. I mean, it's not like a book has to contain ~issues~ to be a good book, but I always get the impression that THEY think kids should be reading pure mushmilk.
halcyonjazz
Jun. 5th, 2011 06:02 am (UTC)
I love you so much I wish to sweep you into a dipkiss and elope with you into the sunset.
woodburner
Jun. 5th, 2011 06:08 am (UTC)
Oh... Oh my. *swoons*
princeliness
Jun. 5th, 2011 06:17 am (UTC)
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.

HIDEOUSLY DISTORTED PORTRAYALS really? oh yeah, i forgot that any teenager who goes through tough shit in real life just ceases to exist, my bad.
woodburner
Jun. 5th, 2011 06:19 am (UTC)
SD:LFKJSDLFKJSDf it was pretty much that point at which I started frothing at the mouth and I'm afraid I may have missed chunks of text due to blacking out from rage

actually I think I'll add that quote to my post!

Edited at 2011-06-05 06:21 am (UTC)
radiophile
Jun. 5th, 2011 06:25 am (UTC)
Sent here via halcyonjazz. Just wanted to say thank you. You've expressed my sentiments perfectly with a good deal more eloquence than I ever could have managed. Also, I'd like to point out that the article only added insult to injury by including a list of recommended books for young readers. I read the list and thought "Okay, yes, these are good books-- wait, what the FUCK?!" because they actually separated the lists into books for young men and books for young women.

... WHAT

WHAT

WHAT THE FUCK

UGHHHHH RAAAAAGE


See? Trust me, you're wayyy more coherent than I ever could be.
princeliness
Jun. 5th, 2011 06:29 am (UTC)
I'm sorry for threadjumping but I just saw that too. GOD WTF D:
radiophile
Jun. 5th, 2011 06:31 am (UTC)
YOUNG LADIES SHOULDN'T READ BOOKS ABOUT MANLY THINGS, OBVIOUSLY
woodburner
Jun. 5th, 2011 06:29 am (UTC)
"books for young men and books for young women."

D:SFLKJSD:LFKJDS FROTHING I DID NOT EVEN NOTICE THAT

FLAMESSSSSSSSS MY FACE IS IN FLAMESSSSSSSSS
radiophile
Jun. 5th, 2011 06:34 am (UTC)
GIRLS SHOULD READ ABOUT GIRLS
BOYS SHOULD READ ABOUT BOYS

GOD FORBID A YOUNG LADY SHOULD EVER READ ABOUT MANLY THINGS LIKE WAR
OR A YOUNG MAN READ ABOUT SOMETHING FEMININE LIKE SHAKESPEARE
woodburner
Jun. 5th, 2011 06:36 am (UTC)
THAT MIGHT TURN THEM GAY OR SOMETHING AND WOULDN'T THAT BE HORRIBLE
sanada
Jun. 5th, 2011 06:35 am (UTC)
Ugh, the article is shit, but I do kinda worry about the way abusive, controlling relationships get glorified as "true love" in so much teen fiction. Of course, the same thing happens in "adult" fiction. We don't exactly do a great job of teaching kids to be savvy, socially conscious readers.
woodburner
Jun. 5th, 2011 06:44 am (UTC)
Well, I worry about that too, but somehow I don't think that article is talking about Twilight. Some people say pshaw to all that worry over Twilight and similar books, that kids know the boundaries between fantasy and reality. On one hand I think they're underplaying its importance - our art does affect the way we think, otherwise why would we be trying to spread ideas through art? Otoh, I doubt it's going to be responsible for an upswing in abusive relationships - I think it's more a symptom.
reddwarfer
Jun. 5th, 2011 10:37 am (UTC)
I think, though, it's up to the parents to know what their kid is up to. I know what my kid reads. I know what I buy for her. We read stuff together. (she's twelve) and so, banning books is not the answer. Being active in your kid's life is. I'm so tired of stuff getting banned and blocked and censored and watered down because someone can't be arsed to do their jobs as parents and want the government to do it for them.
crystalwren_fic
Jun. 6th, 2011 02:15 am (UTC)
Heh, you sound pretty cool. My parents were kind of distracted when I was growing up and I read pretty much whatever the hell I liked, provided the cover looked innocent enough. This lead to me getting Anne Rice's 'Exit to Eden' out of the library at the age of 12- and I should probably add that the librarian didn't bat an eyelash- without my parents having a clue that I was reading a hardcore BDSM book. I kind of wish I hadn't done that; it gave me all sorts of weird ideas about sex that took YEARS to clear up.
quaedam
Jun. 5th, 2011 06:40 am (UTC)
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.

Bah. So this person's worried about young people being "damaged" by reading the wrong books, or something? And sure, sometimes reading sweet positive things can make a person in a bad place feel better. I'm not knocking happy little stories, I mean, Chi's Sweet Home is great stuff (...course, it's a lot greater because Chi sometimes gets lost and isn't sure if she'll be found, or makes a friend whom she knows she won't see again).

But whose "beauty" and whose "truth" are we talking about, here? Everyone has their own happy place--I suspect a lot of the books which this particular author finds scary and disturbing (or "coarse"--hilarious word, there) aren't meant to be so, and aren't so to most of the people who read them. Seems this author is less afraid that kids are being made unhappy and dysfunctional by sad stories, than that they're being allowed to think that people can be perfectly, blissfully happy and highly functional doing things this author would rather people not be allowed to do--that every book doesn't endorse the same singular vision of what ought to make every person everywhere happy.

If anything's 'damaging' to a young person, surely it's to feel alienated by every single book they read, because neither the happinesses nor the sadnesses they read about there look in the least bit like anything that person has ever experienced or even dreamed about for her or himself.
woodburner
Jun. 5th, 2011 06:52 am (UTC)
"Seems this author is less afraid that kids are being made unhappy and dysfunctional by sad stories, than that they're being allowed to think that people can be perfectly, blissfully happy and highly functional doing things this author would rather people not be allowed to do--that every book doesn't endorse the same singular vision of what ought to make every person everywhere happy."

Well, that, definitely, but the author also seems to think that nobody should read about ~icky things~ like abuse or mental illness, and victims shouldn't be heroes. Both things turn my head into a flaming torch, but I think the latter even more so, since nobody chooses that shit.

"If anything's 'damaging' to a young person, surely it's to feel alienated by every single book they read, because neither the happinesses nor the sadnesses they read about there look in the least bit like anything that person has ever experienced or even dreamed about for her or himself."

THIS. So much.
quaedam
Jun. 5th, 2011 07:29 am (UTC)
the author also seems to think that nobody should read about ~icky things~ like abuse or mental illness, and victims shouldn't be heroes

Blech. Good point. And it's nonsense to say that you shouldn't show kids that even people who've had absolutely horrible things done to them can go on to be epic and amazing. It would be one thing if the author of this article were taking issue with these stories for somehow fetishizing rape and pederasty and abuse, but what she actually says is that writing about crimes like these 'normalizes' them. Which I can only read as an argument against erasing the stigma attached to the victim of such crimes, not just to the crime and the perpetrator--because if you rule all mention of sex offenses and bigotry and abuse out of bounds in polite society, that falls hardest on people looking for justice and redress.
quaedam
Jun. 17th, 2011 04:40 pm (UTC)
http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2011/06/09/why-the-best-kids-books-are-written-in-blood/

Hey. :D I thought you might be interested in an article that was written in response to that WSJ article on YA lit. I haven't read 'Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian' (don't read much fiction these days, for some reason), though I have heard some of Sherman Alexie's short stories read on public radio. But I like this essay he wrote to answer that other, and I'm glad he took the time to write it.
spiderstars
Jun. 5th, 2011 07:37 am (UTC)
Sorry for being a stranger commenting, but I found this post via twitter (I believe Chira RT'd it) and just wanted to comment and say thank you for saying this. I've been frothing over that article pretty much all evening. Nearly every teen I know/knew went through at least one of the things the article writer rails against; it isn't just erasure of teens who go through tough times, it's ignoring basically the whole teen experience.

Also, ugh, the sidebar. It was the vomit cherry on top of the whole hot mess.
woodburner
Jun. 5th, 2011 07:48 am (UTC)
No need to apologize, strangers and lurkers both welcome! :D

"Nearly every teen I know/knew went through at least one of the things the article writer rails against; it isn't just erasure of teens who go through tough times, it's ignoring basically the whole teen experience."

Exactly! EXACTLY. The willful ignorance is astounding.
cerine
Jun. 5th, 2011 08:17 am (UTC)
That article makes my blood pressure rise. Also, don't read the comments if you have not. W-T-F.

Something feels wrong in trying to deny everything isn't sunshine-and-rainbows in YA. The fact these people are talking about teenagers (up to 18yo) is just weird to me, too? There's a lot of abuse that happens to people before they're teenagers. Hiding it away like they're suggesting kind of feels like it reinforces the idea: "This doesn't happen to 'good kids', so what did I do wrong?" It might be fiction, but having something that reflects what you're going through can make a difference, no matter how ~icky~ the subject is, explicit or subtle in its telling.

Also, I couldn't have been the only kid who read oddly detailed historical fiction books about such things like being on a slaver ship in the third grade, right? Or went through a lot of books about the Holocaust (including non-fiction with 'nice' photos) before elementary ended? Maybe my parents were horrible for letting me learn that reality wasn't as nice as I knew it within my own family. 8D /sarcasm
woodburner
Jun. 5th, 2011 10:39 pm (UTC)
"Hiding it away like they're suggesting kind of feels like it reinforces the idea: 'This doesn't happen to 'good kids', so what did I do wrong?'"

Yes, this! THIS.

windbourne
Jun. 5th, 2011 09:29 am (UTC)
This, goddamnit, this. I read it that article in the car thanks to twitter, and my Brain Leaked From My Ears with WRATH.
pseudonymeter
Jun. 5th, 2011 01:51 pm (UTC)
Full of bleeps. Non stop bleeping.
Also, someone STOP THOSE PEOPLE FROM BLEATING.
kleenexwoman
Jun. 5th, 2011 02:46 pm (UTC)
fuck, you know, I was a fairly privileged kid with some problems I was very whiny about, and reading YA fiction with kids with real problems--abuse, seriously broken homes, neglect, gangs, suicide and accidental pregnancies, and if you get into the historical stuff kids who went through wars, famine, plague, genocide, all that...actually gave me a sense of perspective and a realization that people my age did have to deal with some serious problems. it took me outside of my own head and my own problems. it didn't lead me into "depravity," it made me a little more aware of what other people were going through.

so, fuck her and her little bubble of privilege. reading things that reflect problems people actually go through is good for everyone.
the_sun_is_up
Jun. 5th, 2011 04:58 pm (UTC)
Oh for fuck's sake. Yes we can't have our pwecious children reading about cutting or rape or abuse or, y'know, shit they might actually experience in real life. Or maybe it's that she doesn't want to acknowledge that those kinds of things happen to teens on a regular basis. Or maybe she just doesn't want her privileged little spawn to be exposed to the "damaging" horrors of, y'know, reality. Or all of the above.

BARF BARF BARF

I remember a woman in one of my recent English classes saying that as a teen, she liked to read really dark stuff because she liked to see characters suffer lots of horrible traumas... and then survive them. She liked reading about characters who were strong enough to endure and persevere through all kinds of crap, and I'm guessing it's because it made her feel strong by association, and capable of surviving the crap that was in her life.
illianaka
Jun. 5th, 2011 08:28 pm (UTC)
Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them . . .

.... WHAT.

WHAT THE FUCK.

NO.

NO.

Why?

It's not the books. IT'S YOUR GODDAMN LACK OF PARENTING.

I just. UGH.
unspeakablevorn
Jun. 6th, 2011 03:06 am (UTC)
Meh. She's complaining about degree.

YA literature's primary genre has always been unrelenting angst-fest, and the schools' required reading is always the most angst-ridden of the lot. I spent every english class from 6th grade onward railing against the unrealistic and gratuitous levels of suffering the authors put their characters through. It very nearly destroyed my love of reading.

Why does acknowledging this fact cause so much ire?
woodburner
Jun. 6th, 2011 03:50 am (UTC)
Omg, no.

No, YA's primary genre is not an unrelenting angst-fest, and if you think this then you're not a YA reader. You're talking to someone whose reading is divided almost equally between YA and adult, and who really doesn't like reading sad and angsty shit. It's not like I wouldn't know.

And no, that is not what she is complaining about. Overly melodramatic YA does exist, and it often has a totally gross exploitative vibe, and I don't like it either, but that's NOT what she's got a problem with. She's complaining that the poor little children are being warped by smoking and drugs and cursing and violence and the acknowledgement that bad shit can happen to people. She calls it "aesthetic coarseness," for god's sake. The Sherman Alexie book she's complaining about (although she's entirely unclear on what's wrong with it), for instance, from what I've heard, is not at all an "angst-fest". It does, however, contain curse-words and an acknowledgement that teenagers masturbate.

She's not calling for lighter fare in schools, oh no - I trust she's all for teaching To Kill A Mockingbird. It's not the death that has her all in a flutter, it's the fact that modern YA acknowledges that rape exists, that glbt folk are discriminated against, that average kids have sex and smoke and curse, that some kids live in abusive households, or next door to addicts. (And no, these settings have nothing to do whatsoever with whether the book is an "angst-fest" or not.) She just thinks the little kiddies shouldn't be allowed to read things where kids act like kids or live in the real world. The fact that you are confused on this makes me think you didn't actually READ the article.

And also, I sincerely doubt you were reading modern YA in your English classes (and indeed, I doubt you were reading many actual YA novels at all, since there are really only a very few YA titles teachers don't turn their noses up at). The "classics" taught in schools are absurd because of the long-standing misconception that somebody being miserable or dying automatically = Art. Of course, it's the fact that many of the "classics" are ridiculously and gratuitously dark that makes her article ironically hilarious.

People are angry because we are being erased. People are angry because she wants to control what kids can read. People are angry because she's an obnoxious prude. And people are angry because she had the AUDACITY to separate her "recommended reading list" into "books for girls" and "books for boys." Seriously, if that doesn't make you explode in rage, I don't know what possibly can.
unspeakablevorn
Jun. 6th, 2011 04:33 am (UTC)
No, YA's primary genre is not an unrelenting angst-fest, and if you think this then you're not a YA reader

Of course not. Why would I be? Every single example of "YA literature" I have ever had the displeasure of reading - usually because it was required by school - was in that genre. The sample size is something like 30 books. It included The Homecoming and its myriad sequels, to give you some sense.

things where kids act like kids or live in the real world.

There are books like this? Man. News to me.

As for the woman, well. She's a troll. It's not supposed to be sensible. It's like reading the letters section of The Daily Mail, composed entirely of outraged (and you can tell they're outraged because they sign off as "outraged in Kent") shutins. Just don't do it.
woodburner
Jun. 6th, 2011 05:04 am (UTC)
"usually because it was required by school"

I'm not arguing on the point of required reading. School required reading is, generally speaking, utter shit seemingly specifically devised to make children grow into a hatred of reading. Of course you hated whatever YA you read in school. You read it in school. But that author is not talking about school required reading.

Anyway, YA is where most of the gleefully and wantonly fun stuff is. Try Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan, or just about anything from Diana Wynne Jones.

"There are books like this? Man. News to me."

Holly Black's Tithe would be an example, imo. It's flawed and a bit cheeseball, but the kids act exactly like what I remember kids acting like from when I was in HS. The kids curse, party, drink, smoke, act like assholes, etc., etc. The heroine is not exempt.

Mind you, I'm not saying a YA book has to have kids who smoke and drink and curse and act like assholes to be relevant, but I think it's important that books where kids do those things do exist.

Anyway, of course those books exist. Hand-wringing nitwits just don't think they should, because they like to pretend if that if books only depict children who are their idea of perfect little angels, then their own children will grow up perfect little angels irl. Unfortunately (fortunately), it doesn't work that way.

"As for the woman, well. She's a troll. It's not supposed to be sensible."

This woman is a regular - I think the primary - contributor of articles on kidlit for the WSJ. Of course people are paying attention. You can't just say "just ignore it" to people. For one thing, it invalidates their very valid anger, suggesting that the original offense isn't all that bad, and that that their upset feelings are their own fault for paying attention to the offense in the first place. For another, if people don't read this shit and raise a stink and slap it down whenever it happens, how do you expect attitudes to ever change?

Edited at 2011-06-06 05:05 am (UTC)
unspeakablevorn
Jun. 6th, 2011 05:13 am (UTC)
Yeah on my planet WSJ is synonymous with "trolls".
woodburner
Jun. 6th, 2011 05:18 am (UTC)
Whether WSJ are trolls are not, the YA community's anger is perfectly valid, and the WSJ is a huge and influential publication, and they need to be rebutted.
woodburner
Jun. 6th, 2011 03:58 am (UTC)
You are, btw, probably talking about this kind of book, which most of us in YA fandom make fun of.

(eta: Which is not to say that depressing issues can't be dealt with and make a good book at all, just to be clear. Depressing issues don't even necessarily make for a depressing book, for that matter.)

Edited at 2011-06-06 04:04 am (UTC)
the_sun_is_up
Jun. 7th, 2011 02:26 am (UTC)
I'll have to second woodburner in saying that my reading material consists almost entirely of YA books and I am someone who detests angst-fest stuff, and I always found plenty of books in the YA section to satisfy my tastes. The YA section is not just limited to crap like Twilight, fyi. Characterizing all of it as "unrelenting angst-fest" is wildly inaccurate.

And I'd be very surprised if you were reading YA in your English classes. Which books specifically were you referring to?
unspeakablevorn
Jun. 7th, 2011 03:38 am (UTC)
The big ones, the ones that are most likely to show up in the "YA" section, are the Tillerman series by Cynthia Voigt - The Homecoming, that crowd.

Then there's Zlata's Diary by Zlata Filipovic et al, which seems like the diary contest judges chose it because of its angst; even Anne Frank's Diary is more upbeat.

Then a couple years back i had another lit course -- this time in college -- and needed to pick up Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and so I went to the library. It, too, was categorized in the YA section. Not entirely sure why on that one, though.

High school was 12-16 years ago, so this isn't by any means exhaustive, and a lot of the ones I remember I'm not sure whether they count as YA or not. Watership Down. Animal Farm. Romeo and Juliet. You get the idea.
woodburner
Jun. 7th, 2011 04:12 am (UTC)
Watership Down I think does. Animal Farm, not really, although it's written in the style of a children's book. Romeo and Juliet, no, although it's often taught to younger students b/c it's one of his most simplistic works. Brave New World, otoh, is just a TOTAL wtf. On no planet is that YA.

Afaik, most schools they don't even teach much YA, award-winning or not. They mostly just go with the standard adult classics. They DO, however, like to teach nothing but depressing crap, because y'know, it's not Art if it's not depressing.
unspeakablevorn
Jun. 7th, 2011 05:23 am (UTC)
It was on planet Vorn's Local Public Library. I don't get it either.

And R&J is rather about Teen Angst. Which is why I wasn't, you know. Certain. The stupid thing is I love Shakespeare, except for, well, that one.
unspeakablevorn
Jun. 7th, 2011 05:58 am (UTC)
I should explain Homecoming, if you've never seen it. Well, the first book anyway.

So this girl and her three younger siblings get abandoned in a car in a mall parking lot in Rhode Island. They decide to, instead of doing something sensible like, I don't know, find a cop, walk to southwestern Connecticut where they know their aunt lives. Aunt happens to be an OCD hypochondriac. So the first third of the book is this grand struggle to cross Connecticut. Then the second is living with this awful woman who insists that the windows must be washed daily. Then in the third the kids catch a bus or something down to Maryland where their grandmother lives, and that seems to work better but, well, there's seven books in this series and it doesn't get any less angsty, let me tell you.
woodburner
Jun. 7th, 2011 04:03 am (UTC)
When he talks about angst-fests I think he's more talking the "AND THEN THE DOG/FRIEND/PARENT/WHOEVER DIED" crap that wins Newberry awards - the kind of books that adults think are awesome b/c suffering automatically = Art, and kids think suck because they are boring and depressing and vitally lacking in swords and dragons.

(I'd bet anything the author of that article also thinks these books are just totally awesome, as long as they don't have any sex or cursing. Relatedly, a hilarious and spot-on tweet from Paolo Bacigalupi: "Reading #yasaves. @wsj doesn't like dark books, recs Ship Breaker. Hm. I think it's because there's no sex in Ship Breaker. Just killing.")
demonichate
Jun. 7th, 2011 06:50 pm (UTC)
I'm not even going to finish reading that article. Half-way through was all I needed to know it's bullshit.

But seriously, omg. Sometimes I wonder what world people like this live in. BEING A TEENAGER IN HIGH SCHOOL IS THE FARTHEST THING FROM HAPPY LAND EVER, I WOULD LIKE TO HAVE A WORD WITH THESE PEOPLE!

This article makes me wonder what they'd have to say about my novel(s).
dreamofasoul
Dec. 26th, 2011 12:29 am (UTC)
FOR YOUNG MEN.
FOR YOUNG WOMEN.

WHERE IS MY BLOWTORCH. I WANT TO DESTROY THAT ARTICLE.

FAHRENHEIT 451 IS FOR MEN HUH.
WHOOPS GUESS I HAVE A DICK I DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT.

Sorry about that. But all my RAGE is directed at that sidebar and the general stupidity of the article.

Of course we shouldn't expose our teenager's pristine, innocent mind to that filth because there is nothing wrong in the world what are you talking about.

Ugh.
( 44 truths — lie to me )