YA author Maureen Johnson discussed young adult literature with, er, interesting columnist Meghan Cox Gurdon. I felt very strongly about her article, so I called in to give my opinion. This is basically what I said, for those of you who missed it:
Good morning, my name is Amanda, I’ve been a reader my whole life, and I’m calling from New York.
I was surprised that Ms. Gurdon did not consult any teenagers in researching this topic, so I hope to provide one teenager’s perspective on this topic. Ms. Gurdon wrote in her article:
“If books show us the world, teen fiction can be like a hall of fun-house mirrors… reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is.”
I think that’s a great description of what being a teenager is like. Events and losses that adults can put in perspective and take in stride devastate teenagers, and make us think nobody has ever felt as alone as we do. To see our pain, as well as our joy, talked about honestly in literature is life-saving.
When parents or social services or friendship are not enough, a library card comes through. A friend of mine took her own life when I was sixteen, all anyone wanted to do was talk around the issue; it was YA literature that let me grieve, let me come close to understanding how she could have felt that desolate. Yes, reading about suicide is difficult and dark, but so is teenage life, sometimes. And in response to the first caller, we can read quote-unqoute dark books like 13 Reasons Why alongside historical books like The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing.
So if YA is more openly discussing dark themes, I think that is a great step for teens who desperately need to read it. Keeping literature out of teens’ hands is doing us a disservice.
And I’d like to argue that those who want to limit what teens can access — I call them book banners, but Ms Gurdon calls them bearers of judgement and of taste — are preventing us from getting what we need. It is the matter of a teen and his or her parents to decide what he or she can read, not other people’s parents or adults in offices.