OBS SPEAKS OUT: HOW FAR IS TOO DARK IN YOUNG ADULT NOVELS?
Brought to you by OBS staff member Annabell Cadiz
Do you remember the first book you ever read with chapters and no pictures? I don’t remember the EXACT book. But I do remember how I felt when I was reading it. I felt so grown up reading a book with no pictures in it and that was at least a hundred pages long. I felt powerful for some reason *hehe* During my time in adolescence, books were more innocent than they are now. It’s a bit scary and traumatic what is being placed within novels geared toward a Young Adult audience.
Recently, the Wall Street Journal wrote an article, Darkness Visible , exploring whether or not the dark themes being placed within Young Adult novels are harmful or helpful to the teens who read them. As could be expected, many sounded off on how they feel toward the publishing industry and what they are agreeing to categorize under the Young Adult shelf.
“Pathologies that went undescribed in print 40 years ago, that were still only sparingly outlined a generation ago, are now spelled out in stomach-clenching detail. Profanity that would get a song or movie branded with a parental warning is, in young-adult novels, so commonplace that most reviewers do not even remark upon it.”
I totally agree! The content that is allowed to be considered YA nowadays is worthy of an NC-17 rating. Sex. Drugs. Grotesque violence. Tragic endings. Little hope or inspiration. These are all themes in what a person can expect to read when searching a book on the YA shelf. I agree teenagers shouldn’t be sheltered from the truth of what has happened in the world and what is going on around them. But I also believe in tactfulness. As an author, I think you need to remember YOU are the ADULT and the one you are writing for is still considered a MINOR. Novels are read for entertainment as much as the lesson being taught through them.
That’s not to say teenagers are incompetent and lack the ability to tell the difference between reality and fiction. Of course, they can. But if authors are willing to write about the depravity of incest or a graphic rape scene, what does that say about the message being placed to the youth of the world? I for one believe it harms youth more than helps them. I’m sure there are many authors who like to believe by writing about such tough subjects that they are reaching out and connecting with those who have been victimized by such horrible trauma. They may feel as if through writing about such matters so graphically, they are helping the reader to feel more liberated and be more willing to finally open up about what he or she had gone through. But I’m not so sure teenagers who have suffered such tragedy will be willing to open up just because they read it in a book happening to a fictional character. The teen may just regress even more into her or himself having to relive what he or she had gone through.
“Yet it is also possible-indeed, likely-that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures. Self-destructive adolescent behaviors are observably infectious and have periods of vogue. That is not to discount the real suffering that some young people endure; it is an argument for taking care.”
The problem is that the publishing world and authors are not fully sympathetic to parents who object to such dark themes being presented for their children to read. Yes, authors and their publishers are understanding of why the parents may feel the content of a young adult novel may be too provocative for their children to read, but they also see their work as an art form and art is subjective.
If you choose to place rules on what authors can and cannot write about, the authors and their fans will protest the writing world is creating a “ban” on the authors work and “censoring” what is allowed to be written. Novels are considered pieces of art by publishers, authors, and the fans. If Van Gogh got to paint without one ear and Mozart got to play while being blind, than authors should be allowed to write what they feel. After all, freedom of speech falls under the same category. As an aspiring published author, I can understand. I would not want my work being banned or censored because it didn’t follow the exact criteria an adult would want his or her child to read. Since art is interpreted by an individual’s point of view and that interpretation/prespective is based on the audiences experiences, novels (and their authors) should have the freedom and right to express what they wish. The determination as to whether a teen should or should not read it falls to the parents judgment. As the parent, if you feel your child is reading a novel he or she will find more harm than good in reading, then by all means tell your child to stop reading it. Give the book back to the store or donate it to the library. Hand it over to Good Will.
“Veteran children’s bookseller Jewell Stoddard traces part of the problem to aesthetic coarseness in some younger publishers, editors and writers who, she says, “are used to videogames and TV and really violent movies and they love that stuff. So they think that every 12-year-old is going to love that stuff and not be affected by it. And I don’t think that’s possible.””
I completely agree. Like I said, adults are essentially the ones writing books FOR young adults and the young adult genre is geared between the ages of 12 to 18. An adult’s prespective on life is not the same as a twelve year old. Wisdom and emotional stability come with age. Many of the dark themes encountered in YA novels are powerful enough to affect the mass of youth who are reading them. Words are powerful. This has been proven by the fact that books use to be banned and censored. Also, by the fact, that every year the American Library Association creates a list of the books that were challenged by naysayers throughout the year. Since words have the power to affect the mind then one cannot be surprised if a young person chooses to act on what he or she has read. It’s a possibility whether you choose to believe it or not.
But that sparks the debate back to censorship, does that mean an author should monitor what he or she writes? Does that place a line in freedom of expression? Or should parents just start monitoring better what their children are reading?
In my opinion, I don’t see a point in writing novels with such heavy and traumatic themes. I don’t see a point in placing graphic scenes of sex or gore or violence within novels. Not unless you are attempting to make a statement against participating in such actions. I don’t place them within my novels the same way most authors in the YA world do. I write what I would feel comfortable and enjoy reading. I think there’s a way to make books appealing toward teenagers without having to resume to such tactics.
The problem may be with the publishing houses who seem to care more about making a profit than creating a market with regard to creative imagination instead of following whatever is the latest trend and trying to hype that up. Why is using discretion considered such a cautious way of writing? Novels can be just as wonderfully appealing with toned down themes. It falls to the writer and his or her talent. Publishers seem to be more willing to publish something if it can fall under the popularity of what is out now than seeming to really focus on whether or not the author actually has any real talent in the craft.
But each author is different and I may not always agree with what an author has written or the message produced by his or her work, but I respect them nonetheless. They have the right and freedom to express their craft just as much as anyone else does. And here’s the thing: If I don’t like it I don’t have to read it!!
Whether you agree with the Wall Street Journal’s take or agree that people are being too sensitive, you can’t deny it’s fun to debate about it. And thank God we live in a country where that’s possible!