Hey, Wall Street Journal: YA Fiction Is Just Fine

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Books aimed at teenagers are "rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity," wrote a shocked and disappointed Meghan Cox Gurdon in Saturday's The Wall Street Journal. Her editorial ignited an obligatory string of responses: "Darkness isn't the enemy," says Salon. The New Yorker chronicled the ensuing Twitter response of #YASaves, where readers tweeted their enthusiasm for the genre. Publishers Weekly wondered "where are the booksellers, the librarians in [Gurdon]'s argument?" Likely brushing this whole thing off and going back to helping teens find books, because Gurson's specious argument is so easily rebutted.

A big part of Gurdon's concern is what she calls a prevalence of self-harm: She says that these books subtly encourage and popularize such behavior. But Gurdon's wrong when she says it's "indeed likely" that this is the case. While the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injurious Behavior in Adolescents and Young Adults wrote that such stories "may play a role" in teens hurting themselves, the program also suggests that adults "promote and advertise positive norms related to help-seeking and communication." Which is just what the the books Gurdon cites in her essay — Jackie Morse Kessler's Rage and Cheryl Rainfield Scars — do: They feature characters who seek help and develop healthier coping strategies. Also, books that help normalize pathologies are great for teens, as 21 percent of teenagers and children have an anxiety or mood disorder.

Gurdon loses even more credibility when she cites Judy Blume as some kind of beacon from easier times, when Gurdon believes YA (and more accurate, middle-reader) books were nicer and less explicit. Yet Blume is not only one of the most banned authors of the century, she's also an ardent anti-censorship activist; including her in a story that mocks the ALA and encourages book banning is pretty damn ironic. And Judy Blume thinks so, too.

According to Gurdon's story, there are actual flustered parents out there like Amy Freeman of Bethesda, who, despite seeing "hundreds" of covers at the bookstore, didn't spot a single one that met her criteria of not being about "vampires and suicide and self-mutilation." How about The Last Blue Envelope, Okay for Now, Anna and the French Kiss, The Cardturner, or Will Grayson, Will Grayson? Those all came out within the last year or so, and it was pretty easy to find out about them: I asked someone who worked in a bookstore.

This story will come up again in a few months, because it always does, so let's all just have our pearls pre-clutched for the next wave.