By now most people have read or at least heard about the article in the WSJ, if you haven’t then you’re not missing much. Just a very poorly written, researched and completely out of touch piece which rehashes the old, tired and false argument that kids reading books with violence, sex, tough issues etc. will be prone to act out these things in real life, or something like that. The article also included a lot of ridiculous examples and opinion thrown in for good measure. As Roger Sutton stated, “Why does the author have to reach back FORTY YEARS to talk about “dark YA” when our last big go-round on the topic was just fifteen years ago?” Just one of many examples that show that this piece was obviously thrown together by someone who had little knowledge of the subject or was just guilty of lazy, bad, journalism, or perhaps really believes the falsehoods she espoused— take your pick.
The response from the twitter world and those that make up what has been called the “YA community” was swift and exacting. (initially myself included.) Dropping laser guided tweets which exploded loudly over all of twitterdom. A hashtag was born called #yasaves. Telling of how YA books save lives, along with personal stories of the impact of books for teens. Hey, I’m all for that. I’ve been writing realistic fiction (YA) for over ten years now. Talked to thousands of kids all over the country about these same issues. Heard the stories of abuse, rape, suicide, murder, purposeful neglect, starvation, being sold by a parent for drug money—sadly the list goes on . . .
Like many other YA authors, I’ve seen first hand the impact that these books can have on a young person’s life. This is why we write, why we criss-cross the country and speak. Why we do what we do. But this is not why I’m writing this post. I’m writing this because I think the response to this ridiculous article in the WSJ is now like dropping a nuclear bomb on an ant. It has been non-stop/over the top. I think it is wonderful to share passionate stories of how books have helped, healed and saved. But did we really need this article as a lightening rod? Aren’t we giving this horrible piece of journalism a lot more credit than is due? The author of the WSJ article is a very easy target, painting a giant X on her back for all to shoot at but what about the more important targets that no one really seems to want to talk about?
I am probably in the minority on this but I don’t think this lone article will have much effect on Young Adult literature or the ability of those who want to read it, to do so. It is just another uninformed (willful or not) voice thrown out into the vast online ether like many others who shout; “listen to me even though I don’t have a clue as to what I’m talking about.”
I don’t think this article sets “us” back, whoever “us” is. I think what sets us back is the lack of YA books with diverse characters being published. Not that they aren’t being written. What sets us back is a publishing industry (with very few exceptions) that is content to stay in the 20th century, or even the 19th century. Whitewashing covers to placate the masses that have moved far beyond those old racially insensitive business models. What sets us back is not promoting books that aren’t seen by the gatekeepers as overtly “black” with traditional themes.
What sets us back is the lack of outrage over what “we” (whoever we is) should really be getting outraged over. The fact that there are still racial quotas in the soon to be extinct brick and mortar “major” bookstores. I was told once by an editor that one such “major” store wouldn’t be carrying one of my books because they had already bought their allotted books with black characters in it. #really?
What sets us back is the shameful lack of diversity seen in the winners of the Newbery and Caldecott Awards. Time after time great books, authors and illustrators are passed over. Why? Where is the hashtag for that?
What sets us back is the shocking lack of racial diversity in editorial staffs, marketing, art directors, executives. All of this begs the question, who and what is the YA community? And who do they represent? I don’t know. Am I a part of this community? Sometimes I feel I am, sometimes not. I do know they (we) are quite vocal and seem to galvanize over certain big issues. See last year’s #speakloudly hashtag. Last year I raised the same concerns, offering the opinion that while censorship is never good, the worst censorship comes from those who control what is and what isn’t actually published. Those who control what is stocked in the big chain bookstores. Those who decide what faces we see on book covers.
YA can definitely save, but it won’t if diverse books with real world issues don’t get into the hands of those that need them most. Shouldn’t YA have a chance to save everyone?