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There will be a post

I promise, there will be a post later today. At least I hope there will be. I even read the article I plan to base my post around. But let’s just say it has caused me to think harder than my poor early morning brain is ready to do. Maybe it’s because I’m so used to tilting at windmills on this particular topic, especially when trying to discuss it with too many folks in our industry. But it is refreshing to see someone who agrees that there does need to be a gatekeeper when it comes to YA literature. It doesn’t have to be as dark and explicit as novels written for adults. After all, the YA market isn’t a market for adults. Heck, it’s not even a market for young adults. No, it is aimed for readers between the ages of 12 – 18. You know, those hormone ridden, not yet mature (in most instances) young humans who should still be guided and protected to some extent from the hardships of life. Anyway, I’m going to link to the article and let you guys read it while I put together a post on it.

http://www.hillsdale.edu/images/userImages/mvanderwei/Page_6907/Imprimis_July-August13.pdf

Edited to add:

Sorry, guys, but this is going to take more thought and effort than I have time for today. I’m up to my eyes in edits for NRP and need to get them finished. So I will do this post over the weekend. In the meantime, keep on commenting.

18 Comments
  1. TXRed #

    I read the article this weekend. My parents did, too, and they were horrified by the examples she used. I’m inclined to agree with them. The YA I read in the late 1980s seemed grim, but nothing like some of this.

    August 27, 2013
  2. LOVED that article. Particularly the line about most teenagers not living in hell, so the fact that some do isn’t carte blanche to take the rest of them there.

    August 27, 2013
  3. Dan Lane #

    Mornings are such a waste of good sleep.

    I’m also a child of the 80s, and I agree, nothing like this. Of course, I was reading YA kind of early, got bored and skipped over to fantasy. The “adult” concepts I was reading involved things like, oh, keeping your word. Working to earn the things you desired. Accepting the consequences of your own actions.

    I know. Terribly corrupting influences on the mind of a child. Amazing how it happened I turned out okay, without dripping gore and sex and abuse in that literature. Well, Odd, but a rather laid back kind of odd.

    August 27, 2013
  4. Eamon #

    I went into the article with reservations, because I think our culture shields aspects of reality from teenagers (older teens, I suppose) to the detriment of the teen and society.

    But the samples the author excerpted? Wow. What we might call in a different time an exploration of the baser nature of our being. To what end?

    Like others above, I skimmed through the young adult selection pretty quickly and moved on to adult fair at an early age. Part of it was the writing, much of it was written simplistically from grammar to theme to resolution, and I found that condescending. But, I also wanted something bigger. I read science fiction, fantasy, even horror and Western novels because they focused on bigger ideas. If I wanted acne, teen angst, authority problems, and on, well I had that around me daily.

    There’s the congruency I found in the article, and particularly in the snippets from Roger Scruton (and now I have another tangent down the rabbit hole to explore). The idea behind the YA quoted in the article seems to be ‘focus on the basest nature of our realities with exquisite detail, ignore our higher thought.’ With the consequent presentation of such baser behaviors as ‘normal’ and the dismissal of higher faculties and reasoning as irrelevant. From that? Yep. We need to shield teenagers from that.

    There’s a larger idea bubbling in my head about base humanism and transcendence relative to progressive philosophies, but it’s not fully gelled.

    Anyroad, thanks for the link. It’s given me some thoughts to explore.

    August 27, 2013
    • Eamon, I agree that too much sheltering can leave a child very vulnerable. But an awareness of [insert your favorite problem here] doesn’t require giving the child nightmares. The young reader needs enough information and nomenclature to recognize it, to know it’s not condoned by society as a whole, nor the majority of adults around them. They need to know to whom to report it, They need to know how to act, what to say, how to recognize a situation, and when to run.

      A writer who can’t _help_ kids needs to go write adult horror.

      August 27, 2013
      • Eamon #

        Pam Uphoff, I absolutely agree. I went into the article with a (known) bias against controlling YA themes based on my own experiences with reading as a teenager. And from the perspective of the sheltering I see around me today, wherein it seems to be fashionable to ‘protect’ them from any realization that there’s a larger world that doesn’t hold their every whim and base drive as paramount.

        And then I ran smack into the author’s examples of dark, explicit and base material and had to resolve my bias. I haven’t read or read about much YA lately, and hadn’t realized just how depressing and broken it seems to be.

        You’re right, an author who wants to write about the deplorable state of [insert…here] needs to target the adult market. Especially if they want to write from the perspective of the damaged individual. One of the key stages in maturity is _detached_ empathy. Teenagers can suffer from an excess of the empathy and a total lack of the detached.

        August 27, 2013
  5. Kids without a role model need one desperately. Real is better than fictional, but fictional is better than nothing. Kids in dysfunctional families need to see how a healthy family functions. How foster care ought to work, how adoptions ought to work.

    They do not need to be retraumatized. They need to see a way out. A way to deal with it.

    No. Not _a_ way. *Several* *legal*, *workable* ways.

    I’m not saying books ought to avoid hurt or abused Characters. Just . . . don’t drag already damaged kids back through it. Show the characters dealing with it, learning how to avoid/defend/defeat whatever it is.

    That’s one reason I like SF/F. The problem can be weird enough to not be a replay, not give them nightmares. The solutions can be relevant.

    August 27, 2013
  6. lelnet #

    I will concede…she has a point. She really does. With regard to YA books, Sturgeon’s Law has _always_ been too generous, and if her examples are representative of the current state of things, the field is in desperate need of a shake-up.

    But I have a very difficult time trusting anyone who wants to give _more_ authority to self-appointed adults over the inner lives of young people in and past puberty. They have more now than ever before, and as a group they’ve proven spectacularly bad at exercising it well.

    On the 6th page she invokes Beowulf, and on the 7th, Caravaggio’s David and Goliath, to exemplify the sort of material she’s _not_ trying to talk about — that is, material that depicts the ugliness of the world, but in a normatively useful context. She even invokes the classical Sin of Gluttony, displaying a better understanding of what it really means than almost anyone I’ve ever seen use the word in print.

    But I have to wonder where, in this world she sees all about her, where the raising of children has been surrendered to the tools of utter depravity, she expects to find “gatekeepers” sufficiently moral, sufficiently deep, sufficiently motivated, and sufficiently intelligent to draw that sort of distinction consistently in practice.

    I, for one, am not holding my breath.

    August 27, 2013
    • I didn’t get any sense that she was calling for someone to run the YA market. It sounded like she was appealing to the writers to stop themselves, and telling parents that they needed to pay better attention to what their children were reading, and why.

      August 27, 2013
      • TXRed #

        Pam, that’s the sense I got as well. Not regulation but self moderation, applying the style of YA books to less depressing and potentially-hazardous topics. There needs to be something at the end of the tunnel besides an onrushing train or a cesspit.

        August 27, 2013
  7. I read that article too, and I was hoping it would come up here.

    August 27, 2013
  8. I wonder how much of current depressing YA crop is meant for YA’s, and how much for HS English teachers?

    August 27, 2013
    • That is it precisely.

      August 27, 2013
  9. BobtheRegisterredFool #

    One of my notions, more or less dating back to childhood, is that such content and values in YA is more about quashing contrary opinions, and related propaganda than anything in my interest as a reader or a child.

    I tended to avoid books with too many indicators of sex, drugs, and rock and roll (or, more accuracy and less idiom, suicide).

    The descriptions seem to me different in degree, not in kind, from some of my expectations of YA formed from experience. The difference in degree gets corrected when I keep in mind the internet, and Dave’s comment about the folks that wanted to do some sort of fetish YA, and saw a pressing need for it.

    If this is a correct application of Bujold’s term, molesters, but mind molesters rather than physical.

    I’m not terribly wound up over it, probably because most of my interest at the moment is tied up in worrying about ATT uverse. What exactly is going on at the premises?

    August 27, 2013
  10. katabatic #

    I think part of the problem is that YA is defined as books for ages 12-18. Kids should be reading at an adult level by seventeen and some might even crave the darker themes at that age. But I wouldn’t want my 14 yr old niece reading any of the books quoted in the article.

    It’s a matter of fitting the book to the level a child can handle. I was a chicken about anything gross when I was in my teens, be it horror or gross sexuality. Lord of the Flies made me ill. But I launched myself at adult books of a different nature.

    So long as there is a warning label or age recommendation and none of these types of books are mandatory I don’t see it as a problem. Perhaps I was odd but I never had trouble self regulating my literary intake as a kid. If it was too scary or icky it went to the used bookstore in exchange for something better. It’s the age of the internet. If a book is too icky there are a thousand others at your fingertips. If a kid wants gross he can get it. If he wants uplifting he can get that too. As long as he isn’t forced to read the icky I don’t see a problem

    August 28, 2013
  11. 'nother Mike #

    I’ve been trying to figure out just what Meghan Cox Gurdon is actually recommending, as opposed to what people seem to think she is recommending. I think the key might be this quote:

    “But I do not, in fact, wish to ban any books or frighten any authors. What I do wish is that people in the book business would exercise better taste; that adult authors would not simply validate every spasm of the teen experience; and that our culture was not marching toward ever-greater explicitness in depictions of sex and violence.”

    We can do better. Books influence children, and we need to look at what we are doing. I think that’s the core of her essay.

    I do think Meghan poses a challenge, a call to arms, a flag waving that calls us to excel. She is saying that we can do better than the looming wave of black disaster, pain, and shock, but she leaves it to us as to how to achieve that, even as she cries, “Charge!”

    The question, of course, is who will take up that challenge, who will write books that fit her description of “a rare few filled with wisdom and beauty and answers to important questions.” The ones where you and I can find something transcendant in them.

    Sounds almost like something the Human Wave would say, doesn’t it?

    August 29, 2013

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