Monday, June 6, 2011

My own thoughts on "A Darkness too Visible"

I don't usually weigh in too much on things like this in my blog, preferring to keep really personal stuff pretty much under the radar.   But, after reading the original article in the Wall Street Journal (and if you don't have any clue what I'm talking about, visit the link above, please --- to read an opinion piece about how dark and awful current YA books are) .... and then reading what some other bloggers had to say .... and then considering the last review I posted (today, in fact) was about a teen in an abusive relationship....   I figured I'd just say a few things.  And be advised -- there is one little dark personal bit in this.  If you'd rather just skip this post, I completely understand.

Let me begin by saying that Meghan Cox Gurdon has the right to her own opinion.  I always say -- it's okay to disagree.   However, when I read her piece in the WSJ, I found myself getting a bit .... ticked off. 

She begins the article by saying that a 46 year-old mother of three popped into a bookstore and, finding nothing but "...vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff," she left the store empty-handed.   Ok.   Here's my question:  did she even bother to really look around?   Did she ask anyone working there for a recommendation?  And ... did she think about any books from her teenage years and think about giving one of those to her daughter?   Apparently not.    Did she just not remember any books from back then that she loved?  Who knows?   

Gurdon makes this point: "As it happens, 40 years ago, no one had to contend with young-adult literature because there was no such thing."   I'm not touching this one --- better responses to this have already been written.   

What I will say is this:  I can't speak to young-adult literature from 40 years ago, because I wasn't reading at that point (I'm not 40 years old yet).   What I do remember is that I was a kid who always read way ahead of my grade level.  This meant that I was reading in the adult section when I was probably way too young (and I was basically given free rein in the public library -- my parents didn't keep track of what books I brought home).  It didn't mean that I wasn't reading things like Anne of Green Gables, or Little Women.  I did.  But frankly, I couldn't identify with the girls in those books.    Could I identify with the characters in S.E. Hinton's books?  Not really --- but she gave me a world totally unlike my own, and this opened up my world as a result.   I also couldn't necessarily identify with what was in books by Stephen King, or Harold Robbins (yes, I learned a lot about sex from books .... not necessarily the best thing in the world, but my parents didn't talk to me about sex at all, and I was on my own to figure things out).   Reading these books didn't mean I was going to go out and murder people with an axe, or have rampant sex (especially as a 14 year-old).  However, the books I read, no matter what they were, opened my eyes.   Heck, reading Judy Blume opened my eyes!   I took what I could get and absorbed it like a sponge.  

That being said, I'm going to say one more thing.   Gurdon says this in her piece: "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. Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures."

If you read about cutting, why would it appeal to you?  Tell me one thing that makes this sound like fun.   And if I sound a bit bitter, perhaps it is because I was a cutter.  I didn't learn about it from any book.  There were no books about it when I was doing it.  I did it because at the time I couldn't think to do anything else.   If I had access to books like the ones I can read today, back then, I probably wouldn't have done it at all --- but I also wouldn't have felt so alone, or felt so desperate.    I didn't have anyone I could talk to back then, and if I could have found a bit of solace in the books I was reading, I would have welcomed it.   I appreciate what Linda Holmes said on NPRSurrounding them with books full of joy and beauty is fine, but confining their reading to those things because we are afraid that they cannot tolerate being exposed to the things they are already so often exposed to does them a terrible disservice. It's difficult to say to a teenager, "We don't even let you read about anyone who cuts herself; it's that much of a taboo. But by all means, if you're cutting yourself, feel free to tell a trusted adult."   There was no way I was telling anyone.  In fact, I lied about what I did if I couldn't hide it, and I hid it as well as I possibly could.    And I grew up, pulling myself up and out of the dark places.   I don't talk about it now because there's really no reason to.  Anyone who knows me and reads this will probably be somewhat horrified.  I don't dwell on it -- but it's a part of who I was (and thus, who I am).

Ellen Hopkins wrote this on her blog: "YA books do not make the world a darker place. They bring light and hope to an already shadowed landscape."    I agree.    The world isn't always a pleasant place to be and if books can provide something relatable for readers, or something they can experience through books, instead of experiencing through their own lives, then they should be able to be read.  I don't make people read things, and I don't believe in forcing people to read things "for their own good."  However, don't try to tell me what I can and cannot read --- whether it's for my own good is up to me.

Ok.  Done now.  Thanks for reading.    I've embedded links here to other bloggers, but if you read any of them, I found this person's especially moving.


Anonymous said...

I have to thank you for sharing that about yourself. I'm recovering from cutting, today is actually four months that I'm blade-sober, as I like to call it. For me, reading about people (fiction or not) who also hurt themselves and are able to get it under control is always inspiring to me.
That being said, I can see where, in my case at least, if I had found out what cutting was from a book, it may be what would have gotten me to try it. Just because I didn't actually know what it was for a long time, and I can only speak for myself.
It seems to me like so many parents these days want their kids to be parented, but by someone else. Kids being disruptive at the grocery store? Let the people who work there handle it, it's their store! Kids misbehaving at family's house? They'll deal with it, it's their house! Kids reading something you don't approve of? Censor the authors! Here's a thought: Monitor what your kids read. If you don't like something, take it away.
Since you mentioned cutting, I want to spread the word about the Butterfly Project if you haven't heard of it. It's like a support group for people who self injure, whether it's current, recovering, or been years, and people who don't but are just supportive are welcome to be a part of it too. We have a Facebook page that can easily be searched for if you want to check it out.
*longest comment ever*

Jo K said...

I cannot agree more with your post. I've always read ahead of my age too. Books saved and still save me in many ways, too, not to mention learning from them about things I couldn't talk about at home, such as sex.

Jenni Elyse said...

Thank you for your post! It was very well-written. Thank you for sharing your story. I also wrote a post about the article because I didn't like it's intentions.

Amanda Makepeace said...

*clapping* Well done!

My daughter is 13, and you are right, when I was here age there was no YA literature. I read my first Stephen King book when I was 13 (8th grade) and soon after gobbled up a third of the other books he'd written. As someone who has read a lot of current YA, the two do not compare.

My daughter recently asked me if she could check out Pet Cemetery from the library and I remember flinching a bit. Pet Cemetery happened to be the first King book I read. I decided to say yes. I had read half of what King wrote before the 10th grade. I'm not a deviant, but instead I turned out to be a well traveled, educated artist and writer, with a passion for the outdoors.

Even if a parent would rather their child not read about monsters and trouble teens, these are NOT the only YA books on the market. Did she even take a good look around the store???

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