Wednesday, June 8, 2011
By now you’ve probably heard all about the Wall Street Journal opinion piece that claims Young Adult literature is dark and depraved and trying to “bulldoze” misery into young people’s lives. We Heart YA spent much of our weekend reading the amazing #YAsaves tweets, and we gathered a long list of fellow bloggers’ responses on our Facebook page. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us. We were moved, many times to tears.

Now we’d like to share our thoughts with you.


I wrote a longer response on my personal blog, but what I want to say here is simple: YA lit is a mirror. Pleasant or not, it reflects our own realities back to us. That means there is as much variety on YA shelves as there is in a high school hallway.

But hey, you don’t have to take my word for it. Let’s look at the evidence:

Yeah, out of about 10 shelves, there were a few that looked like the one on the left here. Lots of black (whatever that means). But take two steps to the right, and what do you see? A giant yellow smiley face. Ooo, scary. Two more steps right, and you have tons of uplifting non-fiction -- books that are positive AND real.

Personally I like to sample from each of the shelves. Like I said, variety. That’s life.


Because I am from a generation where young adult books were scarce, and just not as "shiny" as adult ones, I feel a real kinship with what's being offered on the YA shelves these days. AND I'm quite proud at how passionate the YA community has been in response to the Wall Street Journal article. My thoughts? We finally get a massive section of books for adolescents, and one well-intentioned parent can't find an appropriate novel for her child? Um, yeah, I don't buy that... Maybe twenty years ago.

What I will accept is that there are a TON of paranormal romance novels being bought by teens. It's popular. It's an escape. It's what they want right now. That's okay. I would LOVE for contemporary to make a come-back in a big way -- I mean, this is what I'm writing at the moment. It's really up to the teens buying the books. As well as this, so-called "tough stuff" novels have been around for a good while and have been improving the lives of children who unfortunately have to find a way to deal with darkness. Thank you, authors, who have the guts to write these kind of stories. It's not easy and it's saving lives. Thank you for the message being sent--that nearly always, the light will follow the darkness.


The darkness in fiction teaches us about the darkness that humanity is actually capable of. Schindler's List, for example, is shown in high schools all over the world, and it’s full of graphic images, but it’s also a vital part of education. We all know that history repeats itself, and the only way to prevent genocide is to remember tragedies like the Holocaust.

Issues such as violence and eating disorders don't disappear if we refuse to talk about them. They get worse. I would argue that popular media is perhaps the best way to educate teens about hard topics, because they’re more likely to pick up a book about anorexia than ask a guidance counselor for help.

Everyone seems to be focusing on the bad stuff, but what about all the good? YA literature is making statements — life is sacred, compassion and faith are worth standing for, suicide is not the answer — and teens are eating it up.


I am thankful that teenagers today have access to “issue books” that address topics like self-image, suicide and bullying. Books that might help them or their friends. Books that increase their empathy and tolerance. The variety of books prevalent today were not nearly as accessible when I was a teenager. When I did stumble upon books that reflected the realities of teen life (S.E. Hinton, Cynthia Voigt) I gobbled them up -- everything I could find that addressed real issues, that didn’t try to paint the world as something false, that made me think and question. Here’s what readers learn from contemporary YA literature: to stand up for yourself and your beliefs, and to stand up for those who are being mistreated. To know that you are worthy of respect, love, safety and peace. To empathize with others and to forgive yourself when you mess up. The fact is: Growing up is hard. YA lit makes things a little easier for a whole lot of teens -- both by allowing them to escape real life and by reading about how others deal with it. Take that away? Now that's crazy.


If there's one good thing that came out of the Wall Street Journal's "Darkness Too Visible," it's the discussion it began. The YA community rose up to defend its beloved books and proved itself a force to be reckoned with. What was your response to the article? How has Young Adult literature impacted your life?

The WHYA girls


Sarah said...

I agree that it's been awesome to see the YA community rise up and speak eloquently about how important these books are. It was also cool to read each of your perspectives here! With every post I read, I learn something new about how YA is important to people (lots of different kinds of people, at that).

Bailey said...

I love the variety of YA that is offered in bookstores. Like your post says, it isn't all dark. There are light and uplifting books for those who want them. There are also the darker novels that do not skimp on the heavy stuff. I like that authors and publishers don't try to hide us from real, dark issues that arise in life. It isn't up to the media to tell us what is right and wrong. We can make that decision ourselves!

sonje said...

I didn't read YA when I was a teenager, but, er, that was quite some time ago, and I don't think the genre existed - certainly not as fully formed as it does now. There were children's books and adult books, and the children's books were more targeted towards grade school age.

Anyway, I mention this because I can't speak to YA books having any sort of impact on me when I was a "YA" myself, but I can say that anyone who condemns an entire genre is only revealing their own limitations and not the limitations of that which they are condemning.

Ashley @ Book Labyrinth said...

The whole article is just ridiculous. It's great that there are "dark" books out there for people, because I know there are so many teens who are just dying to feel a connection with something or anything, and maybe that one book will be what helps them. But claiming that there's nothing BUT those types of books? So absolutely ridiculous. The great thing about YA is the huge diversity... in content, in theme, in genre.

nicole said...

brilliantly said.

i think what i find most interesting is that i view children's literature as being the most hopeful of all the genres. there is, for me, always a light, a hope, for the protagonist. they're whole life stretches out in front of them... whatever they face at the beginning of the book (or even at the end of the novel) isn't the end of their story as a whole.

whatever darkness lies in the characters or their surroundings, there's always the hope of the future. which is, of course, a reflection (as you pointed out kristan) of the audience.

We Heart YA said...

"With every post I read, I learn something new about how YA is important to people (lots of different kinds of people, at that)."

Us too!

"anyone who condemns an entire genre is only revealing their own limitations and not the limitations of that which they are condemning."


"i view children's literature as being the most hopeful of all the genres."

Yes, so true! So much adult fiction never shows us that light, but rather paints the world as being inevitably bleak. (That was a big part of why Sarah and Kristan stopped trying to write literary fiction, actually.)

Mary @ BookSwarm said...

Great post, ladies. And I love the pic with the smiley face book! There's always light and dark stories out there, people just have to look or ask someone who knows.
Happy Reading!
Mary @ Book Swarm

Joelle said...

Love the post ladies, very well stated.If you walk into a bookstore and look around you are bound to find something for everyone. It seems that the point of the article was to just stir everyone up into a frenzy. Of course that is only my opinion.

Stephanie Mooney said...

Joelle, we had a hunch that might be the case.

Thanks for your comments, everyone! Love what you said about hope, Nicole. :)

Liz @ Cleverly Inked said...

What a great post, I recently heard about all this craziness.

Anne@HeadFullofBooks said...

I've noticed the "darkness" of much YA lit, too, but much is very imaginative, funny, sweet, touching, and, often, educational. Thanks for bring the article to my attention.

And thanks for dropping by my blog and chiding me about the SPoiler on Going Bovine. I changed it to not be so spoilerish! Thank you.

We Heart YA said...

Thanks, ladies! And no prob, Anne. :)

Erica said...

I loved the variety offered in bookstores. There is so much light and uplifting mixed with the fluff or the edgier darker stuff. I absolutely <3 YA. It most definitely does save.

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Stephanie, Ingrid, Sarah & Kristan — we read, write, discuss and celebrate Young Adult lit.



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The Bitter Kingdom
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Mind Games
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Every Day
Jellicoe Road
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Guitar Notes
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The Crown of Embers
New House 5: How A Dorm Becomes A Home
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