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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.

Sincerely,
Zane Spraggins
The Catcher Gone Awry

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Think of your favorite food.
Do you have it in mind?
Well, I don’t like it, so you can never eat it again.

Does that make sense? Is it okay for me to tell you that you can’t consume something because of my personal feelings about it? Would it be okay if it were a book you were consuming? The answer should be no, but not everyone sees that yet. For some reason, people still think that banning books is a justifiable activity.

Throughout the history of mankind, there have been instances upon instances of book banning, burning, or censoring to prove without a shadow of doubt that it does not work. Book banners have been vilified, parodied, dismissed, and denounced and yet there are those who still believe that it is worth their time to tell others what is fit for them.

Tell me, book banner, what would you say to a book that contained the following: murder, drinking, repeated use of ‘damn,’ ‘hell,’ and ‘bastard,’ violence, and it vilifies the church. Would you say that it is not appropriate to be read? Would you want to ban it? If so, congratulations you just banned the Bible. Does this prove to you that book banning based on content is wrong? It should.

This is not to say that censoring what children read is a bad thing. By all means, censor what your children read. But there is an important difference in censoring for your family and censoring for the world. There has to be a distinction there. You can tell your child not to read something, but when you tell someone else’s child not to read something, you have crossed the line.
Who are you to tell them what is fit for them? Do you know what they are going through? Maybe they need to read about a suicide survivor because they are battling thoughts of suicide. Maybe they need to read about a drug abuser because they are toying with the idea of taking drugs. Maybe they need to read about a rape survivor because they have been raped and don’t know how to deal with it.

Books save lives. It may sound ridiculous to you, but I guarantee I can explain it to you.

Let’s have pretend time now. Pretend you are 15 years old. Since you were twelve, you have been ritually molested every night by your step-father, who is supposed to be your provider, protector, and all-around life-guide. That equals out to being molested over 1000 times. You don’t understand why it has happened. You don’t know what to do about it. You don’t know who to tell. You don’t think you could even talk about it if you had someone. You see your only option is to bear the burden, to live with the pain. Maybe in three years you can move off to college and get away from it all and pretend it never happened. Of course, maybe in three years when you move off to college you will find that your psyche is so messed up that you can’t maintain a healthy relationship. Maybe you develop a complex where you have a crippling fear of middle-aged men. Maybe you find someone who loves you, but you can’t love them because you are so worried that they will hurt you like your step-father did and you couldn’t bear that so you push them away. Maybe you find yourself so unbelievably swallowed up by your past, your fears, your hate that you decide to kill yourself. Maybe you succeed.

Now what if you were supposed to read Speak in high school? What if some bigot decided you shouldn’t read that because you don’t need to know anything about surviving rape? Maybe if you had read Speak you would have been empowered to change your own circumstance. Maybe you would have gotten to live. Maybe by reading about a survivor, you would have become one. What if that is all it takes? What if all some people need is to know that it is possible? They just need to know that somewhere, someplace, some world, someone survived what they are going through. Someone lived. Even if that person is fictional, that person is there, which means those people who are suffering aren’t alone.

Books save lives. This is a fact. Book banning saves no one nothing. This too, is a fact. Speak loudly, speak many, and speak to those who need it most.

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