1. 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? The generation of Sarah T., Go Ask Alice, and Je Suis le Fromage is not the parents of today, it’s the grandparents. If I’m recalling right, the WSJ made this same argument back in 1997, when such books as When She Was Good, The Facts Speak for Themselves, and pretty much anything by Chris Lynch were the New Thing in YA and equally decried by worried adults. This article is missing a lot of history, as well as any sense of the breadth of YA today, citing Lauren Myracle for an atypical book, ignoring Ellen Hopkins (queen of the kind of book Gurdon is appalled by), and recommending A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as a “Book for Young Women” while not seeming aware of, say, the best-selling Sarah Dessen, whose books exemplify all that the article wants to find good.
2. Gurdon’s argument about why gritty YA books are published is classic straw-man stuff:
The argument in favor of such novels is that they validate the teen experience, giving voice to tortured adolescents who would otherwise be voiceless. If a teen has been abused, the logic follows, reading about another teen in the same straits will be comforting. If a girl cuts her flesh with a razor to relieve surging feelings of self-loathing, she will find succor in reading about another girl who cuts, mops up the blood with towels and eventually learns to manage her emotional turbulence without a knife.
Who actually believes this is how reading works? It was Sheila Egoff who pointed out that the audience for Go Ask Alice was not drug-crazed runaways but nice little middle-class junior high girls with a taste for melodrama. People like reading about people like themselves whose problems are more interesting than their own. Unfortunately, the Twitterati are buying into Gurdon’s thinking from the other way around, claiming that “YA saves,” and that YA writers are brave and heroic and helpful, none of which qualities being particularly useful for a writer. Give me an author who is truthful and talented; spare me an author who writes to save lives.
3. If you’re a teen who is running your reading choices by your parents, grow up. If you’re a parent who feels compelled to approve your child’s reading, shut up. The books and the kids are all right.