The Debate Rages On About The Content In YA Novels

Young Adult authors and readers have banded together in response to last weekend’s article by Meghan Cox Gurdon in The Wall Street Journal asserting that recent tales have skewed the genre to a place that is too dark. 

The article skewers the language and content that young readers can find in many popular books, even going so far as to say the genre is “[s]o dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things…” Gurdon’s sentiment is that, although the novels don’t necessarily make teens reenact what they read about, these topics can have a serious effect on readers. She says, “Entertainment doesn’t not merely gratify taste, after all, but creates it.” 

It was not long before the YA community responded. In the wake of this article, author Maureen Johnson began the Twitter hashtag #YAsaves which has generated thousands of Tweets as people tell their own stories about the positive effects of the genre. The responses range from @hannahmosk's "YA made me realize how amazing my parents are." to @PickachuPirate's "I am a YA fan, and Tammy Pierce's YA fantasy lit saved me from my depression & myself." The conversation has taken on a life of its own as authors and readers react to the original article and the stories that are being shared. 

To get a sense of how large the movement has already become, you can check out what is being said in The Guardian and New York Magazine, among other places. For example, author Sherman Alexie whose work is mentioned in Gurdon's article, wrote a very moving response on the Wall Street Journal’s blog Speakeasy. In the article Alexie reflects that the situation for him (and for many of the fans he's heard from) is almost the exact opposite of what Gurdon warned, that these stories with dark content are able to help give readers a life-line in their own sometimes otherwise bleake existence. "When I think of the poverty-stricken, sexually and physically abused, self-loathing Native American teenager that I was, I can only wish, immodestly, that I’d been given the opportunity to read 'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.' Or Laurie Halse Anderson’s 'Speak'. ... I can’t speak for other writers, but I think I wrote my YA novel as a way of speaking to my younger, irredeemable self."

Even after a week of back-and-forth blogs, Tweets and articles this controversy is still going strong. We are preparing for a whole other round of arguments in the coming week including bestselling author Patricia McCormick speaking about the issue on NPR this coming Monday at 3:30 pm.

And what does Meghan Cox Gurdon think about all of this? Publishers Weekly reports that when asked she was unfazed by the response, saying “It’s almost comical how quickly a discussion of the content of books turns into wild-eyed accusations of censorship and banning” and that the Wall Street Journal will “probably” publish a follow-up to her piece. 

Become part of the conversation, by sharing your comments below or searching #YAsaves on Twitter