I apologize in advance if any of this is scattered or rambling, but it is 2:08 in the morning and I’ve had a rough day. For what it’s worth, my two cents.
Dear Wall Street Journal,
You, like so many other outside groups who pretend to know the first thing about Young Adult fiction, are wrong.
For starters, you mistakenly label YA Fiction as aimed “broadly speaking, at children from the ages of 12 to 18.” Now I think that was the most glaring mistake right off the bat. Hi, my name is Zane and I am 21 and I read YA fiction. There are entire groups of people dedicated to YA fiction novels who are full grown procreating adults (see: Twilight MOMS, but don’t use them as a 100% accurate representation). Young Adult fiction is, broadly speaking (if you’ll let me steal your terms), aimed at anyone who needs it. A lot of YA is not just about entertainment, it’s about growth as a person. It just so happens that ‘growth as a person’ is almost exclusively connected with being a teenager in our society. But if you can read a book like John Green’s “Looking for Alaska” at any age for the first time and not learn something about yourself or the world around you, then you need to re-read it because you missed something.
It seems to me that you wrote this article expecting it to be challenged. Almost like the publicity would be worth the bad press. That’s not an accusation, I just know good business (and this isn’t it). The argument you pointed out that us champions of YA give is that an abused person reading about an abused person gives the real person strength in the knowledge that someone, even a fictional someone, has felt what they’re feeling. I agree with that statement, but seeing as you don’t I’ll give you another argument.
I am a middle class white male from the near exact center of the great state of Alabama. Forty years ago in that golden age of literature you spoke so highly of, there’s a good chance I would have been a racist, sexist bigot by birthright. Today, I have the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be someone else. I can read from a female point of view, and a black person’s point of view, and a gay person’s point of view. It is this ability to BE someone else that lets us as humans see each other as humans.
I have never been black, and I never will be, but I can experience through books on a very basic level what it is like to be black. I have never been a drug addict, and I never will be, but through these books you so quickly condemn I can see what it’s like… I can understand the struggles. This understanding is what gives us compassion, lets us feel empathy. I can feel for that person who has a drug addiction because I’m not just guessing what it’s like to be a drug addict. I have read and I have learned what it means to be a drug addict. I can understand and sometimes that’s all it takes.
We are afraid of what we don’t understand. Racism, sexism, homophobia.. it all stems from something we don’t understand and our lashing out at it. But acting like things don’t exist is more hurt than help. It’s crippling a generation to protect them. It’s locking them in their own little bubble for their entire lives and still expecting them to know about the world.
We are not protecting the youth of our nation by trying to pretend our world is something that it is not. Our world is not a fairy tale. Good guys don’t always win. Bad things happen to good people. People die. People are abused by other people. People abuse themselves. And teenagers say ‘fuck.’ These are the flaws of our world, and ignoring them doesn’t make them go away. If our children only read stories that romanticize our world, they will be in for a cruel shock when the world shows them what it really is.
Teenagers are not stupid. They are emotional, they are misguided, and they are regularly insufferable, but teens are not stupid. And they should not be treated like they are. Soon if not already, your teen will be driving a car. Your teen will be going to college. Your teen will be trying to decide what they want to do with their life. Now do you really think if you can trust them with all of that… that you can’t trust them to decide what they are ready to read?
I am a better person because of Young Adult Fiction. I have grown as a man, an individual, and a human being because of YA. I have experienced cyber-bullying, eating disorders, rape, verbal abuse, physical abuse, addiction, persecution, and depression all between the covers of novels you argue I shouldn’t have read. Two years ago, my world fell apart. It’s going to sound cliche but when you’re a teenager a breakup is the end of the world. I now know I was depressed. I wasn’t eating. I was over-exercising out of frustration. I wasn’t sleeping enough. I was all-around a destroyed person. I spent two months in that state of half-life. I lost fifty pounds and my closest friends. I read “Looking for Alaska” then and it was the catalyst that turned it all around. I have no doubt that YA Fiction played a huge part in my being able to deal with that situation two years ago. And more importantly it helped me deal with it all over again this year. And I was stronger this time. YA saves lives, whether you admit it or not, whether you understand it or not. It may not save you and it may not save your kid, but don’t you dare try to take it away from someone it will save.
The Catcher Gone Awry