In the past couple of weeks there have been several articles by people, so called concerned adults, about what they see as too much darkness in YA. I told myself I wasn’t going to post a response to this, since it’s obvious these are just people fishing for their fifteen minutes, but it seems like the topic that won’t die. So I figured I’d go ahead and throw my two cents in.
This “such and such is ruining our youth” mentality is nothing new. Just like rock and roll in the 1950s and heavy metal and rap music in the 1980s, people have been pointing at trends they don’t like and bemoaning the plight of the children. “Think about the children!” they wail. “They’re all going to end up sex-crazed criminals.”* The general consensus is that YAs shouldn’t be reading that crap. They should be reading the classics.
Yeah, the classics. As though a book written fifty years ago is automatically without darkness. So here’s a list of “classics” that would put even the raunchiest YA to shame.
Lord of the Flies: A bunch of boys shipwreck on an island. There’s a dead pilot decomposing on a mountain top, boys running through the woods hunting pigs, oh, and a boy beat to death while he has a seizure and another smashed by a boulder. Just the kind of heartwarming story kids should be reading.
Native Son: As if marginalization of a slow-witted black man wasn’t enough, Richard Wright throws in murder, a body in a furnace, rape, and some more murder. Classic literature at its best.
A Clockwork Orange: Just a bunch of boys out for a night on the town that includes drinking, joyriding, rape and murder, and state-sponsored brainwashing. The kind of classic writing you’d never find in today’s offerings.
The Great Gatsby: Drinking, adultery, more drinking, more adultery, violence against women, murder, and a murder suicide. How is this better than what is one the YA shelves today?
The Bible: Oy. I’m not even going to touch that one.
The point is that there is darkness in any grouping of literary works if you’re looking for it. Broad generalizations backed up by cherry-picked examples just makes you look like you have an axe to grind. Or like you’re bashing the fastest growing sector of publishing in order to get your fifteen minutes.
Let’s all agree to try and ignore these folks in the future. After all, they’re just the trolls with a platform, and won’t even be relevant in a year or so.
*Let’s be honest, it’s the sex people are worried about. No one ever bemoans the fact that a book is too violent. Look at the Hunger Games. One of the most violent books ever, but because it avoids sex people overlook its content. Honestly, shouldn’t we be more worried about people bashing each other’s heads in rather than someone getting their swerve on.