Sunday, June 5

An Open Letter to the Wall Street Journal

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal's Megan Cox Gurdon posted an opinion piece regarding Young Adult Literature entitled Darkness Too Visible: Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea? When I first read the article, I didn't know whether I wanted to scream, throw something, or laugh because it must have been some kind of joke.  When I go to a bookstore today, I see a vast array of books available to all age children on a variety of topics and I am jealous.  The example of a mother who could not find something for her 13 year old daughter in the bookstore leads me to ask two questions.  First, was the vast selection just overwhelming?  I realize that too many choices can be daunting.  Second, were there no sales person who could help this mother find something she is comfortable with for her daughter?  I could give her about a dozen titles right off the top of my head.

While I have read Ms. Gurdon's post several times, I am still not sure whether she believes that the lack of children's reading material forty years ago is better than the supposed array of dark, realistic fiction available today.  Yes, the so-called YA literature that was released 40 years ago may seem tame; however,  her point doesn't take into consideration that most of what teens were reading then was written for an adult audience.  By high school, I was exclusively reading adult literature.  It might have been great writing, but I didn't see my life and my struggles between the pages of those books.  Where were the books that could help me understand how to support a friend who lost a parent, or what to do when I found out that a friend wanted to commit suicide?  Yes, even 20-30 years ago, teens faced issues of suicide, incest, rape, drugs, and more.  There were just less places telling you that you weren't the only one facing those issues.  Despite having read many of what would be considered American Classics, Go Ask Alice made more of a positive impression on me then anything else I read as a young teenager.  Oh, how I wished that there was more.

Today, I watch how children connect with characters in a book.  The children I have worked with will discover themselves on the pages of a book and say "This book was written just for me".  How wonderful for a child to not feel alone in the world.  And what a compliment to the author for creating a story that resonates and makes a child or a teen feel or think.  As I share books with students, I see them growing in compassion and understanding for children who have different lives than them.  Through the characters in a book, we can discuss issues such as bullying, loss of a parent, abuse, drugs, or any other topic that arises which will hopefully provide them with tools for dealing with those issues at a later time.

Finally, I would like to ask Gurdon when was the last time she spent any real-time with children and teens in a school setting?  In my daily world, I see children who struggle with some really big issues - adult-sized problems you might say but yet without the coping skills of an adult.  I can only hope that I can find just the right book to offer them along with a listening ear when I know what they struggle with on a daily basis.  If those books offer escape or empowerment or healing to even one student, then it was worth it.

I am proud of the YA community, for the support of authors, bloggers, teachers and librarians who have spoken up and on twitter through the use of the hashtag #YAsaves revealed thousands of stories as to how books have made a difference in the lives of a young person. 

Thanks Alethea from Read Now, Sleep Later for creating the Mr. Linky to post article links.


  1. Thank you, Aly, for this post. To see the YA community rallying again for the cause is simply awe-inspiring.

  2. Thanks Paul - I know I appeciate all of your work.

  3. You wrote a good post, Aly. I'm glad you pointed out that horrible things happened years ago as well as now. And that image, Live to Read, is *beautiful*. Is it available as a poster?

  4. Cheryl - Thanks, and Hmmmm...not sure I will check with Alethea.