Whistling In The Dark: a few words about the controversy in Young Adult Fiction

I love a good controversy. And when it’s about books and reading, I’m nearly giddy with excitement.  But there’s a small problem with this subject, and I might as well get it out there right now:  the last YA titles I read were by Diana Wynn-Jones, so I’ve got to approach this from my own experience.

First, a little background: about five weeks ago Meghan Cox Gurdon, the children’s book reviewer for the Wall Street Journal wrote an editorial on the nature of young adult fiction; books aimed at 12 to 18 year-olds. She was horrified at the subject matter so openly presented in books for teens. Violent, perverse and horrifying subjects are the norm rather than the exception, she claims. And she right…almost.

By the time is was 16, I had read Mailer’s The Naked and The Dead, Kerouac’s On The Road,and had lost many an hour to the works of Robert Bloch, Clark Ashton-Smith, and Richard Matheson. I had read the recently published Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I also read The Lord of The Rings, James Fenimore Cooper, and The Peralandra Trilogy by C.S. Lewis(in the day, it was hip to be well-read, we didn’t watch much TV outside of The Smothers Brothers and The Dick Cavett Show, and social networking meant talking on the phone until your parents made you hang up.).  If any of you have read any of the above-mentioned authors or books, you can see where I’m going with this.

Many of the above-listed titles are (you guessed it) violent,perverse and horrifying. I could launch into a great diatribe about the need for the darker faces of literature, but it’s been done, and done well by those of greater skill. Just take it on faith parents: your children are not sickos for reading this stuff. Just pay attention to what they’re reading.  Read it yourself, or discuss it with them, at the least. Or you can always discuss it with a bookseller. We have a couple of folks who know their way around this genre. Just ask.

-Karen Tallant

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