Saturday, June 11, 2011

Do young adult novels go too far?

After reading the article "Kid Lit World Responds to WSJ Attack on YA Fiction", I paused and thought, "what's my honest opinion on whether or not contemporary young adult fiction goes too far to expose the dark sides of life?"

In a nutshell, Wall Street Journal's June 4 article, "Darkness Too Visible" by Meghan Cox Gurdon, questions the reason that YA fiction need be filled with such explicit violence and detailed darkness, such as abuse, rape, and suicide. A revolt by authors, librarians, publishers and teens screaming free, creative expression and ban censorship literally happened the same day the article published thanks to Twitter and the internet.

I disagree with Gurdon's view, but now as an adult, and despite not being a parent, sometimes I agree (gulp - is this what grey hairs do to my brain?). To me, it comes down to intention. If the author is conveying an "uncomfortable" situation that they or someone close to them went through and their hope is that they can help a teen in a similar situation no longer feel so alone or to reach out and get help, then this is authentic writing and the reason I want to be a young adult author.  Case in point, Laurie Halse Anderson's amazing novels, Speak and Wintergirls.

The truth is that teen years are filled with darkness, pain and despair, for some more than others; and it doesn't matter whether you grew up in the '60's, '80's or today. Every generation has it's own unique characteristics, but EVERY person encounters dramatic downturns. And for every dark story (eating disorders, date rape, physical abuse, bullying, etc.), there's an author with a different point of view to share with the masses.

But, what about the intention to just make big bucks? You know the movies, video games and literature that continue to top itself with more violence, gore, sex, and profanity. When the only point to the darkness is pure shock value or to spark curiosity within the dark side in all of us, this is when I believe that the author (and publisher, distributor, etc.) may have gone too far.  The author has sacrificed art and authentic voice for a well padded bank account. But shouldn't every person have a right to expression, regardless of opinion?

I would never in a zillion years advocate censorship or take away someone's right to read, write, watch, paint or listen to what they want. But, every parent does have a right to police and dictate what's allowed for their own child. I feel this is a great opportunity for parents and guardians to open a dialogue on some of the distasteful occurrences in our society. But this also means that publishers need to let the public know what the content contains (like the movies rating system from G to NC-17). 

But even I admit that it's hard to determine when one has crossed that line of art to shock value, which is different for every individual.  I personally enjoy scary flicks, not so much the gory ones, but rather psychological thrillers. My mom would argue that (some) of these films go too far. So, who's opinion is right? And who makes that determination?

Your guess is as good as mine...


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