Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article by Meghan Cox Gurdon decrying the state of contemporary young adult literature. To hear Ms. Gurdon tell it YA literature has become little more than a cesspool of sex and violence cultivated by amoral publishers and depraved authors. Oh it's a threatening landscape to be sure; one full of "ever-more-alarming offerings", "hideously distorted portrayals of what life is", and "damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds".
Now, if that sounds a bit over the top, it is. Gurdon's article is an inflammatory screed of such epic proportions that it almost defies argument. Her accusations, assumptions, and misrepresentations fly so quickly and with such vigor that a rebuttal seems nearly impossible.
Should one strike first at her narrow characterization of YA literature or her tacit approval of censorship? Should opponents spend pages debunking the supposed ill-effects of exposure to "dark stuff" or cite all the instances of "coarse" YA literature actually helping teens? Should Gurdon's comically polemic claims be attacked for their misunderstanding of art or their misunderstanding of free speech? With so much distortion, one scarcely knows where to start? The fact is you'd need an army of contributors to fix all the wrong tangled up in Gurdon's rant.
Fortunately, the web - or more specifically the social media side of the web - has provided just that. Shortly after Gurdon's article was published a torrent of criticism poured down from authors, publishers, librarians, readers, and journalists. Some of this criticism came in the form of Tweets (search #YAsaves on Twitter for a full run), some came in the form of blog posts, and some came in the form of editorials.
Perhaps most inspiring was the sheer breadth of criticism. Watching this plurality of voices dismantle Gurdon's "click-baiting editorial twaddle" from every conceivable angle reaffirmed the belief that the marketplace of ideas still holds some corrective clout.
To really appreciate this spontaneous, crowdsourced rebuttal I've highlighted a few of the most effective responses. For a young adult author's testimonial on the absolutely life-changing power of YA literature, you won't do much better than Laurie Halse Anderson's post "Stuck Between Rage and Compassion".
For an excellent parent's-eye view of the issue, Mary Elizabeth William's Salon piece "Has Young Adult Fiction Become to Dark?" is spot on. Ms Williams gets special credit for coining the term "click-baiting editorial twaddle" (above), and for this most insightful of passages:
I take my kids to the library every week, and I've yet to refuse them anything. Frankly, as a parent I've always been a much bigger hardass about their exposure to the Disney princess-to-sassymouthed teen juggernaut than anything involving abuse or a dystopian future.
Barry Lyga gets special mention for his response "On the WSJ, YA, and Art". Not only did Barry see fit to pepper his rebuttal with multiple f-bombs, he also was among the first to point out the hypocrisy of the Wall Street Journal (that bastion of free-market fundamentalism) publishing an editorial that's premised on the notion that markets might not always provide desirable outcomes.
As a way of demonstrating the breadth of YA literature, the YA-5 have posted a list of titles for parents who'd prefer steering their kids away from books with darker themes. "An Open Letter to a Frightened Mother and Her Bookless Teen" is a great place to start for anyone looking for more positive teen fiction. Remember though that this list is just the tip of the iceberg. Any Teen or Young Adult librarian can recommend dozens more similar books.
Finally, one of the most impassioned responses to Gurdon's editorial comes from the teen blogger and self-avowed book lover Emma in her post "There are Whole Lives in These Bookshelves". Emma not only argues in defense of the darker realities in teen fiction, she also calls out Gurdon for her censorial rhetoric. It's enough to make you believe the problem might not be with well-read teens and the books they read after all.