Google+ Reading Teen: YA Hurts or YA Saves? Chiming in on the Wall Street Journal Article

Sunday, June 5, 2011

YA Hurts or YA Saves? Chiming in on the Wall Street Journal Article

Stuck in the Middle

So, if you've been around the blogosphere/twitterverse at all this weekend you've probably heard the uproar over the Wall Street Journal article entitled, Darkness Too Visible:  Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?  After this article was posted,  Twitter exploded in outrage, blog posts started popping up right and left, and people started bashing the Wall Street Journal, the author of the article, and, of course, ignorant parents.  And here I find myself....stuck in the middle.

When I read the article, I have to admit, I didn't get angry.  In fact, there were a lot of points in it that I agree with.  A HUGE number of YA books ARE dark.  My bookshelves (which are almost entirely made up of YA books) are full of books about Vampires, Werewolves, Demons, Zombies, and most recently a book where even the Angels are bad.  The contemporary books are mostly about rape, cutting, suicide, eating disorders, drug addiction, sex etc.  I mean, honestly, look at how the books are packaged.  Most of them have dark covers, some dripping blood, or just have a generally creepy feel to them.  Who can blame the mom for walking out disappointed?  Why would she WANT her teen reading what looks like dark or depressing things?  The question is, do these things have an affect on teens?  

I think it's funny because in one breath, people will say, "Books are just stories, kids know the difference between stories and real life.  Just because they read it in a book, doesn't mean they're going to go out and do it!  Stop being so over dramatic!"  Then in the next breath say, "These books change kids' lives!  So many kids have said they thought about committing suicide (or other destructive behavior) until they read (insert book here) and decided against it.  That book saved their lives!" books have an affect on teens or not?  

I definitely think they do.  And I think they can affect kids positively or negatively.  I think it depends on the child, the book, the situation, the parental involvement, and many other factors.

A couple of years ago I read CRANK by Ellen Hopkins.  The whole time I was reading it, I was thinking, "There's no way I'm letting my daughter read this right now."  The book, as incredibly written as it was, and as much as I loved it, just didn't have a place in her life.  I saw no benefit to her reading it because it wasn't something that she was ready for, or would need to deal with anytime in the near future.  I am her parent, and I have that right.  You have the right to agree or disagree.  The other thought I had while reading it was, "I hope that if there's someone out there who is struggling with drug addiction, they will read this book, and know there's hope out there for them."  I also thought, "Every parent should read this book." 

What may be right for one child, may not be right for another.  It makes me crazy when people make blanket statements.  "Books about cutting will make a teen want to try it out," or "Books about cutting won't make a teen want to try it out."  Both of these statements are true, and both of them are false.  If you think that reading about suicide/cutting won't affect a teen negatively, why don't you go and read this post.  Please, go read  If you think that issues books aren't important, and don't/can't help teens, please go read this post.  I am so incredibly moved by both of these stories.  They both make me want to cry, and hug these people, and hug the author, or yell at the author, or yell at the parents, or a million other emotions.  

I keep seeing statements made about parents, and even the parent in the article, saying that because they want to shelter their kids from certain material at certain ages that they are naive, or they're afraid to have the hard conversations with their kids.  Really?  I don't know who they've been talking to, but most of the parents who I talk to, who are concerned about what their kids are reading, are much more involved in their kids' lives than the normal parent.  They have strong family relationships, and are open with their children about the reasons behind their decisions.  

I definitely monitor what my kids read.  Are you saying it's because I'm afraid to talk about sex?  Trust me, talking about sex is one of my husband's favorite ways to embarrass our isn't an issue.  But when I see my 10 year old decide she wants to be a cat after reading the Warriors series, or decide to be "goth" and wear only black after reading Vladimir Todd, it makes me think about the influence of books on her.  She is ABSOLUTELY imitating the things she's reading.  So, then I start to think, "What kind of affect would a book like CRANK or SCARS or LIVING DEAD GIRL have on her?"  I honestly don't know.  And right now, I don't think there's any reason to find out.  But there are plenty of girls her age that are reading these books.  Why?  Because they're available to them, and their parents have no idea what they're about.  Which means that they're reading these books alone, without any adult to talk to about the things they're reading about.  No one to explain what they mean.  Maybe there are 10-12 year old out there that can benefit from these books, but surely not without guidance.  But how do parents know?  It's easy to say, "Well, parents should be reading what their kids are reading, so they'll know."  But that's easier said than done.  I have three kids, all very different ages, styles of reading, and reading levels.   I can't possibly keep up, and I do this for fun!  What about the single mom who has to work two jobs, and just wants what's best for her kids?  Are you saying her kids just shouldn't read?  Or that they should read whatever, whenever?  Why not make things better/easier for her, and for her kids?

So where do we go from here?  I have said this over and over, and I will continue to say it.  EDUCATION AND INFORMATION!!  I feel like sometimes authors are afraid to tell parents/schools what is in their books, because they believe there will be a fight.  However, I think that if parents were better informed about what is in books, and WHY IT IS IMPORTANT, the shock effect disappears and they can make educated decisions about what's best for their child at what age.  And I will make no apologies for believing that parents have the ultimate responsibility and right to make those decisions. 

We, at Reading Teen, have tried to do our best to help inform teens and their parents (and those who just want to know) about the content in the books we review.  We hope to show the things that may be questionable, but also talk about why the book was good, or beneficial.  We LOVE reading Young Adult.  If it weren't for Young Adult books, I would not read.  I know it may rub some the wrong way that we provide content, but really, isn't it better that it comes from people who love the books, instead of people that are misinformed?  I've had quite a few teens tell me that their parents didn't let them read any YA until they found our site

The thing is, even though many of these books may seem dark on the surface, most of them are actually stories of hope.  Most of the paranormal books are about good verses evil, and most of the "issue" books are about overcoming the issue, and what to do next.  What I think the WSJ article failed to do, was take an in-depth look at the books that are on the shelves, to show both sides of the story.   
What I don't think should happen, though, is for the young adult community to just scream foul and ignore the article completely.  I think people on both sides of the issue should go into this with an open mind.  You may learn something from the other side.

Veronica Roth, author of Divergent, did a fantastic post on the article, in which she articulates so much better, much of what I'm trying to say.  Of course she does, she's an author!!  Go check it out!!  And here's another fantastic "Stuck in the Middle" post by a teen reader. 

P.S.  I think books affect adults too.

A comment I added to another blog:

I do think that the thing the article was trying to say is kind of being missed, though.  Maybe I'm reading it differently than everyone else.  I didn't think it was saying that these books don't help, or that they should be taken off the shelves.  The point I understood was that there was SO MUCH darkness.  That when kids, and even adults for that matter, spend so much of their time focusing on the negative, that it can affect them in a dark way.  I think the same holds true to the news.  My grandpa watched the news constantly, and was left angry at the world. He believed that nothing good ever happened and that everyone was evil.  He was miserable.  I think that if all people read about is horrible things that happen to other people, it can leave them depressed, scared and thinking that humanity is evil.  Of course I think that these books are helpful, and are needed, especially for kids that have gone through a similar experience, but I also think adults need to be there to talk about them, and guide kids while reading them, especially younger readers and less experienced teens.


  1. hi Andye!great post and i absolutely respect your take on things! i also agree with your P.S. c",)

  2. Agreed. Completely. I've read some issue books, like 'Cut' and they gave me a completely new perspective into a cutter's life so hopefully I'll understand people like that better. On the other hand, I've read some other dark books that have negatively affected me. Especially when I was around thirteen, dark books sent me into a downward spiral of depression. It really depends on the teen and the situation.

    And as much as I like dark books, I look forward to the day when more light books will be published. Yes, I know there are some now, but it would be nice to have more. Honestly, 'Little Women,' as boring as it may be to some people, is still a favourite of mine.

  3. This is what I've been saying about this whole thing. Parents need to talk to their kids and make informed decisions for their children. Don't paint an entire genre with the same brush. Kudos to you for being such an involved parent. I wish more of my students had parents like you!

  4. I agree completely! Well said.

  5. I agree a lot with this post. I don't think any books should be banned or not allowed to be published, but I definitely understand why parents would not want their younger kids reading about certain topics. I don't personally read many "issue" books because I don't enjoy realistic contemporary novels, but I have read some historical fiction and fantasy that was pretty dark and that I would hesitate to give to a preteen. I don't have kids yet but I have babysit kids of various ages and I have known parents who had trouble finding age-appropriate books for their kids who are advanced readers but not interested in teen issues yet because they are only around 9-10 years old. If a parent doesn't think their child is ready to read a certain book then I think the parent has the right to say "No, I won't buy that for you." There are definitely lots of non-dark YA books though, it's too bad the mother in the original article couldn't get some advice from someone who knows YA books better. I can think of quite a few YA books I wouldn't hesitate to give to a younger reader of YA.

  6. Wow, Andye - I wish the WSJ would hire you to write about YA novels. Fair and balanced and respectful! You rock! Liza

  7. Well said. And thank you for sharing the links to those stories of other bloggers. Very touching.

  8. I understand the reasons for you being in the middle. I do think it needs to be said that there's a huge difference between a 10-12 year old reading YA such as Crank, Scars and Living Dead Girl and a 14-18 year old reading those books. YA, for the most part, is aimed at the higher age levels. That's why we have wonderful middle grade titles for our tweens.

  9. Sarah, yeah, I meant that if she's reacting to the books she's reading now in this way, I wonder how she will react to those books when she gets a little older. Sorry I wasn't clear! :D

    Also, even though these books weren't written for a middle school audience, middle school kids and some elementary age kids are reading them like crazy.

  10. "What I think the WSJ article failed to do, was take an in-depth look at the books that are on the shelves, to show both sides of the story.
    What I don't think should happen, though, is for the young adult community to just scream foul and ignore the article completely."

    Ready, aim, fire, bulls-eye. This is great.


  11. I understand now, what you meant, Andye. And I know younger kids are reading then when maybe they shouldn't be. And you're right, parents need to be involved. I brought that point up because it seems like whenever this sort of topic gets brought up, everyone jumps to the tween crowd reading the "dark" books. But really, when reading the copyright info, the books usually say for ages 14+ or whatever the case is. This is the reason we need involved parents and fantastic teachers and librarians.

  12. "What I think the WSJ article failed to do, was take an in-depth look at the books that are on the shelves, to show both sides of the story."

    Precisely. And that is what all the #YAsaves responses are about: showing the other side. If this op-ed (which was not marked as such but should have been) had been as fair as the earlier WSJ piece about the same subject -- -- then I don't think you would have seen this same uproar.

    Most of us respect and in fact encourage parents who want to take an active role in guiding their kids toward (or away from) certain books. What most of us object to, however, is one woman trying to tell ALL parents to keep ALL kids away from an entire genre of books. Books that some kids desperately need. What we object to is this woman saying that authors are simply writing about these subjects for shock value. That they are CREATING the negative situations in teens' lives simply by writing about them.

    It's not about her not liking "dark" books. It's about her suggesting that no one should like them, that no one needs them, that they are, in essence, evil.

    To be clear, I completely respect your comments here. Because you are a responsible, involved, and most importantly INFORMED parent, and that's fantastic. You are, unfortunately, not what I would consider the norm. I shudder to think about all the kids who will be denied the opportunity to read some really great books -- books that might not even HAVE particularly mature content -- simply b/c their parents read this article and got scared.


  13. This may sound hokey, but my mom wouldn't let me read the Harry Potter books until I was a preteen, and I got to read the 4th and later HP books (the darker ones) when I was older. My mom read them and loved them, but knew I wasn't old enough to understand the difference between reality and fiction yet. She didn't want me to be confused by some of the darker themes.

    My mother read the HP books first, which made me want to start reading in the first place! She managed to kindle my interest in reading and simultaneously monitor what it was I chose to read. I wish all parents would take the initiative and get involved like mine did. It has greatly influenced my choices. To this day, my mother and I still read the same books!

    Thanks for a great post, as always!


  14. @We Heart YA

    I agree with you, I guess my point is mostly that if the YA community did a better job of informing and educating parents/schools about YA books, their content, and their benefits (calmly), the Wall Street Journal would have nothing to "report" because people would already know. I think a lot of this could be headed off just by educating people. :D

  15. i agree that there are insights to be had from her article. i wish it was more articulate and argued an alternative other than abstaining. such as, more books like x or books that had more of y.

    regardless, anger for the sake of anger or "i still love YA" isn't necessarily the most helpful response.

    nice reflection! :)

  16. Andye - As a parent and a librarian I loved your post. Also loved the article about sex in YA (one mom's view.) It's nice to have a source that can articulate these points so well. :)

  17. Andye, thanks for the mention, and yes, I was prompted to write a response about responsibility. Maybe you should be my muse. :)

    By the way, *THIS* is an excellent post. Very well done.

  18. Andye, you do have a way with words my girl ;) You know how much I love your Parental Review site for this very reason and my son isn't even old enough to have this issue yet. I know that day is coming, and when it does, I need to be able to make the decision of whether "I think" he is ready to read a certain book or not, not if society thinks he is.
    I also want the shelves to be overflowing with YA for us to choose from, so I will proudly stand in the middle with you ;)

  19. Hi Andye,
    Just want to add the following: I think it is absolutely SAD that this woman in the WSJ article could only see what she perceived as dark books. There are hundreds of fantastic YA novels at B&N, including the so called dark ones she may have been referring to at a glance - we can't always judge a book by it's cover, eh?! I have stood in the YA section of bookstores and our library on numerous occasions and talked to teens and parents about these books because I have read them. Wish I could have been there to talk to the mother in that article. I'm just that passionate about YA novels and it's the teacher in me, too. I LOVE how books transform YA's lives. Recently, I had a bookseller come up to me and thank me for my frank and honest talk with YA who spontaneously gathered around me to talk about content. We discussed tough issues like body image, respecting yourself, self esteem and looking at yourself for more than just what others perceive on the outside. We talked about fabulous YA novels like Perfect Chemistry, If I Stay, and Speak, to name just a few. I made recommendations based on their interests, age, and had several parents thank me because you're right––not every parent has the time to read these YA novels. When our library didn't own a copy of SPEAK, I bought it for them. I often make recommendations like SCARS - our library has it. These books are important, critical! And yes, they can save lives. I wish this mother would have asked for help and guidance from an informed bookseller. This parent obviously was blind to a vast number of books. Just now, I glanced at my bookshelf and saw numerous books I would have recommended to her, but since that's pretty much impossible, I'm thankful that your blog is available to parents, teachers, and teens. I hope she finds it and subscribes! Your perspective is an important one & as I've said before, I value it. Liza

  20. I agree with you andye, But I also believe, We read about issues in books they may never come across in life, but its still important we know its happening and out there.. Books are def a educational, learning tool. Just because something is a "dark" subject doesnt mean we should close our eyes to it.

    I think a lot has to do with time! Just like you mentioned with the book "crank" Your child might not be ready to read the book now at say 14 but maybe when shes 17 you will have a change of heart.

    Its all to do with monitoring and being interested in what your child is doing. Its a great chance for a child and parent to talk.

    This issue isnt just with books its with movies and music also but because a movie will tell you what it "is on the box" there is less outrage.

    Maybe there should be a better labeling system for books and there readers?

    I would just hate to see some books get bashed because the reader wasnt ready to read it.

  21. It was after i read the WSJ article that i got this sudden inspiration to back up what i love. I am currently trying to publish my view point in the newspaper. Here is what i think:

  22. I loved your comment "And I think they can affect kids positively or negatively. I think it depends on the child, the book, the situation, the parental involvement, and many other factors." I completely agree with that 100%!!

  23. Hey Andye! Once again, a very fine, highest-quality post. So grateful for you guys. I tried to do a "middle-of-the-road" post too, but there's no way I could ever articulate as well as you :)
    And how cool that we both linked to Veronica's post. For an author to take a middle-of-the-road approach was a pleasant surprise, and made me respect her all the more.

  24. I think your response to that article is really informative.

    I think the problem with the WSJ article for me, which may have made me miss some valid points,was the tone the author used.

    From start to finish it seemed as if her approach was more an attack on YA and on specific books and authors rather than just an insightful observation she may have had.

    Your post looks at things much more objectively and allows readers to see both points in a way that doesn't put them on the defensive.

    And it is only when it appears that an author of an article is looking at things fairly objectively that readers can feel like they can see both sides.

    But when a publication like the WSJ which is now owned by a conservative group posts and article by someone who has what appears to be a narrow-minded, conservative viewpoint it makes you question their motives and it certainly doesn't make you more open to see both sides.

    Reading your feedback and viewpoints does allow your points to shine through and makes a lot of sense. So thank you for opening up my mind to another side.

    And I'm sure parents don't have time to look through every possible book their children read, but certainly checking out a few reviews online will give them an idea about what the book is before they place it in their child's hands with/without supervision.

    And I agree that books are influential, as are television and movies. But for some of the darker stuff, I believe that unless someone is leaning that way already it won't cause them to do a complete 180.

    But these books for children that are already troubled aren't necessarily the cause or the final push. The signs would already be there before they got their hands on these works. And if a parent, teacher or friends aren't observant enough to notice, I don't think reading the book is the issue.

    Mind you, I was a completely unsupervised reader growing up, so can't imagine being told I can't read something.

    Excellent post. And thanks for the links to some other great posts.

  25. @Fiktshun I think that there was something bothering me, and I think you completely made me realize what it was.

    This: "I think the problem with the WSJ article for me, which may have made me miss some valid points,was the tone the author used.

    From start to finish it seemed as if her approach was more an attack on YA."

    I think that's it. Her goal seemed more like an attempt to trash a genre than actual concern for teens. That's what's been eating at me.

    Thanks for helping me see it!!!

  26. Books and any other form of media can easily influence a person to do good or bad things. The thing is that our kids are not well guided that is why some act what is meant in the book without thinking about possibilities of bad outcomes. If all kids are well disciplined then issues like that won’t be a big problem.

    1. Great point, Anna!! I completely agree! :D


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