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Days since YA controversy: 0
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Internets, I may or may not go see X-Men today, so in the limited amount of time I have, I will simply give you a (a, not the) Twitter-reaction round-up to the Wall Street Journal article about how YA is bad and it should feel bad ("It was all vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff"). I don't feel like I really have to take it apart sentence by sentence, because it is so incredibly, self-evidently wrong in its wrongness to anyone who has actually read YA books.

@maureenjohnson: The Wall Street Journal has done it again. I am going to have some kind of an episode. *quivers* http://on.wsj.com/lwuPNd

@maureenjohnson: Just curious, @wsj, do you have some kind of WRITTEN POLICY that you will only let idiots write about YA? Is it, like, a THING?

[As an aside, I just now had this conversation:

@annejumps: Meghan Cox Gurdon wrote that WSJ article about YA lit I've been seeing discussion about.

@cleolinda: I don't know anything about her?

@annejumps: She's a right-wing nut who once was dubbed America's Worst Mother in the halcyon days of 2004. I saw the byline and was like, Oh

@Salome: Meghan Cox Gurdon has made a career boasting of being a terrible mother. So it's no surprise that she wouldn't allow her children to read.

@cleolinda: BOASTING?

@Salome: How do you get a baby to sleep during the night? "...break the poppet's spirit."

@cleolinda: Is... is that an actual quote?

Yeah... it is.]

@maureenjohnson: I guess the @wsj thought what we needed was another fear-mongering non-reader to let us know what teens and readers REALLY need. Thanks!

@lilithsaintcrow: I find it interesting that the @wsj piece on YA fiction doesn't't have a quote from a single young reader.

@DreamingReviews: @maureenjohnson Do you perchance know of a way we can email @wsj or the writer about those problems? As a teen, I find it degrading.

@particle_person: Also that argument that it's up to adults to determine their children's tastes is just repellant.

@cleolinda: @particle_person Do people just really not remember at all what it was like to be a kid? Because kids are surprisingly knowledgeable.

@cleolinda: @particle_person They don't take off their baby bonnets on graduation day, for God's sake.

@cleolinda: Pretty much exactly. RT @sesmithwrites: @cleolinda Oh gosh, is the WSJ concerntrolling for page views again?

@particle_person: @cleolinda Hah, now I want a New Yorker cartoon: "Our page views are down this month, Bob. Time to write about YA again."

@cleolinda: @particle_person "We got anyone around here who flunked J-school?"

@keristars: @cleolinda Also, the gender-segregation of the titles. I knew lots of boys who *loved* A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in 9th grade.

@admiral_ryn: @cleolinda Things like that article make me wonder what peeps think about my daughter getting Bram Stoker for her b-day.

@cleolinda: Makes me wonder what they'd think of my 6th class reading a Dracula excerpt for our reading speed test. ~THINK OF THE CHILDREN~

@cleolinda: 6th GRADE class, rather. That's right: tender 11-year-olds were subjected to Lucy getting bitten FOR CLASS.

@cleolinda: Clearly this is why the world is going to hell as we speak. Eleven-year-olds are allowed to READ THINGS.

@fullofstars: @cleolinda Or reading The Lottery in 8th grade, it was in one of those reading skills textbooks.

@cleolinda: @fullofstars Absolutely, we did too. And "A Rose for Emily."

And I'm pretty sure both those stories are still taught in schools to this day. And the teachers do point out what the end of the latter means, because otherwise, it doesn't make any sense. Enjoy your necrophilia, kids!

@maureenjohnson: This has happened before, @wsj. You don't seek out knowledgable writers for these articles. These articles do damage.

@maureenjohnson: What non-readers don't get: READING SAVES LIVES, EVERY DAY. I mean that quite literally. @wsj

@maureenjohnson: Did YA help you? Let the world know how! Tell your story with a #YAsaves tag. And copy the @wsj for good measure.

(Many replies involve commenters saying that YA books were their only lifeline when they were alone, abused, depressed, harming themselves, afraid to come out, and/or considering suicide. The last thing I heard was that there was something like 10,000 responses with that tag.)

@neilhimself: I get letters from readers - 2 or 3 every month - telling me how my books got them through hell. & the Teens have the worst hells. #YAsaves

@libbabray: ...from @elockhart - "I have a responsibility to my readers to tell the truth. I'm writing for your kids, not for you." 

(Libba Bray then goes on to talk at length about the wrongheadedness of the WSJ piece.

@ColleenLindsay: Comments on that @WSJ YA piece is hilarious. WItness this guy who thinks Ayn Rand will save our kids from trashy YA http://on.wsj.com/kctOKS  

@JackieKessler My response to the WSJ article that mentions [my book] RAGE: http://bit.ly/mUc6wr/ #YAsaves

@ZMarriott: The Zoë-Trope: RESPONDING TO THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ARTICLE (in which I get my RANT on) thezoe-trope.blogspot.com/2011/06/respon… 

@maureenjohnson: Basically, @wsj...and I am not being snide, I'm being literal...this article is so poor, kids from around the country are laughing at it.

@SaundraMitchell: Dear @wsj, #yasaves http://twitpic.com/57dl97  

Dear @wsj, #yasaves on Twitpic

[Regarding the picture:] @neilhimself: What books do to young minds (& old, if we are lucky).

@eruanna317: What I love about that pic is that if the kid can show enough others what he's seen, eventually they'll pull down that wall

And finally:

@wsj: What young-adult fiction means to you: a selection of touching #YAsaves tweets http://bit.ly/myZFgt (Scroll with arrow keys.)

Yeah, that was the least you could do.  

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First, that picture makes me cry. Every time.

Second, fairy tales don't tell children that dragons exist (children already know dragons are real), fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed. YA tells kids that the new dragons they are facing- bullying, drugs, sexuality, rape, abuse, loneliness, suicide, poverty, finding your identity when the entire world (like... the WSJ) is telling you who you are supposed to be, etc, are real, and faced by others, and, most importantly, can be overcome.

I think the most important lesson YA ever taught me is that I wasn't the only person in the world having my experiences. I wasn't alone, even if I couldn't talk to anyone.

And the thing about realizing you're not alone is that it also helps you realize that it's not your fault.

I honestly still can't get past that whole "I could only find books with DARK THEMES OMG" thing.

Honey, you weren't looking hard enough.

I can walk into any bookstore and I promise you that I will be able to find at least one book by any of the following: Tamora Pierce, Diane Duane, Patricia C. Wrede, Robin McKinley, or Gail Carson Levine.

Oh hey, look, you just named my favorite YA authors ever.

Seriously, if parents are complaining that they can't find any "light" YA books, they should try, you know, talking to a teenager. They could probably point them in the right direction.

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The people who speak so low and ill of YA makes me feel like they're not only soulless weirdos, but that they forgot the vulnerability and fear that runs rampant through adolescent years. Either they forgot, or they were one of those people making adolescence terrible for someone else :(

I feel like.... dude, I don't know. I feel like either they are so devoid of imagination that they didn't notice, or they purposely have repressed it. Or they are one of those people who make me feel so utterly sorry for them, those people who honestly believe that high school was the best years of their lives.

Which... during high school I remember looking at my mother and asking, fearfully, if that was true, and she was like, "FUCK NO. I promise."

I'm not sure how I missed hearing about this, but OH MY GOD, WHAT?!

I did like the slideshow of tweets, though.

Ugh. Honestly, I dedicated my book (*cough-admittedly cheap pimp link-cough*) to my parents because they never EVER told me I wasn't allowed to read something. Not once. They even just saved themselves from having to go through the "where do babies come from?" talk with me by slipping a book on the subject into my to-be-read pile. I was seven. (My mom was pregnant, so it was as good a time as any.)

And the thing is, the genre aside, it was good that my parents never stopped me from reading, because I was already moving past college-age reading level by the time I was ten or eleven. (There was a reason I was in the gifted program, and it wasn't that screwed-up face I made in algebra class.) So I kind of have to restrain myself from punching things when I even know articles like that exist, because in retrospect I was horribly terribly spoiled by both my parents and my teachers, neither of whom ever pulled a book from my hand and told me I wasn't allowed to read it.

My mom was also awesome about letting me read whatever I wanted, mostly because her parents were super-religious and censored everything she read. However, in retrospect, I could have used a little more explanation of certain key things (particularly when I read The Godfather at age eight and spent the next couple of years thinking that the only way to have sex was standing up).

I love that they're concerned about darkness in books...and then they recommend Fahrenheit 451. Am I the only one who was totally freaked out by that book? And way to go with gender segregating the YA books. How is "True Grit" not an awesome book for girls? Mattie Ross is a BADASS.

YA books help teens find themselves in a world that basically makes no sense half the time. That was the power of Judy Blume, and that's why books about contemporary issues are so popular, even if the "adults" of the world think that teens should be sheltered from them. YA for me was both an escape and a way to feel connected to the world and my peers. Books are a common language. I can't imagine my generation without the common experience of Harry Potter.

tl;dr YA rules, idiots who don't get YA's awesomeness drool

I love that they're concerned about darkness in books...and then they recommend Fahrenheit 451. Am I the only one who was totally freaked out by that book?

Nope. Somehow I managed never to read it, but it's on my list of books I need for my College Writing 102 class coming up this fall, so I figured I'd get it read and out of the way this summer, and something about it is unsettling me a LOT.

Oh my God. My blog got linked on Cleolinda's JL. On Cleolinda's LJ. CLEOLINDA'S. I...I can't...*Breathes into paper bag*

Okay, okay, I'm back. I love the way you manage to always track this stuff from the beginning and male the progression clean. By the time I tuned in the controversy had been raging for hours and I missed some of the earlier stuff in the rush to catch up.

I love the way you manage to always track this stuff from the beginning and male the progression clean. By the time I tuned in the controversy had been raging for hours and I missed some of the earlier stuff in the rush to catch up.

Oh God I just went looking for the "like" button for this comment. #facebookhastakenovermylife

From the Ayn Rand fan's comment: If you inculcate in young children the belief that human beings are creatures of depravity and bestiality, then, when they become young adults, you will have little trouble convincing them of the necessity of an “overseer” society wherein an elite class is given absolute authority to control and curb the base instincts of our “wretched” species.

Funny, that's what I took away from reading The Fountainhead: Rand thought that people are mostly dumb and only the super-special elites should be running things.

I keep telling myself that I really need to sit down and actually read The Fountainhead, if only because I don't like poking fun at things I haven't read or experienced if I can help it, and I'm on ontd_political all the time so I feel like I should. Then I remember this is probably not going to be like when I forced myself to read the Twilight books and kept having to put them aside and giggle hysterically every time I read something ridiculous that any decent editor should have said something about.

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I find it fascinating that the WSJ article complains so much about Don't Ask Alice, given that it was a go-to conservative Just Say No book for decades. Maybe the greater awareness that it's fiction (and implausible fiction at that) is having an impact?

Not only that, but a made-up conservative fairy tale story. IIRC, the author of that book also wrote one on the "dangers" of getting involved in the occult.

I'd love to know how much YA she actually read before writing this piece.

I posted about this when I saw it- something of a feelingvomit, but god, this shit makes me so angry. These books save kids lives. How dare they try to take that away?

There's a sort-of response from another WSJ writer:


I would much rather have him for a parent than the original author. He reads Scott Pilgrim with his 9 year old!


I'LL BE THERE TO READ AND DISCUSS WITH HIM omg that is the answer right there. :-D

But if our young girls read novels, they will fall into lives of licentiousness and hysteria, become sterile, and run mad.

Also, YA lit isn't teaching our youth that the world is full of terrible people doing terrible things to each other. Reality is teaching them that. (Some) YA literature teaches our youth that while there may, in fact, be terrible things happening in the world, and while people will continue to do horrible things to one another, it's possible to stand up for yourself, stay true to what you believe, and maybe make the world suck a little bit less. That there are villains out there, large and small, but that standing up to them isn't a wasted effort, nor is it something that can only be done by the wise and powerful.

It would be kinda handy if books really were a birth control mechanism, now that I think about it.

One of the more frustrating things about the more saccharine YA I read as a kid was that it *didn't* reflect the world around me. It taught me that everything works out in the end, that being nice to people magically made all conflicts better, and it gave me some seriously unrealistic expectations for romance and relationships. Learning about terrible things is not so bad if you also get a reasonable set of tools to deal with them--which is what the best YA has done and will continue to do. The stuff Gurdon wants kids to read... not so much.

Yup, typical controlling Meghan Cox Gurdon.
Feel the backlash, Meghan. It'll probably just make her feel vindicated and martyred, though.

It'll probably just make her feel vindicated and martyred, though.

That's what makes me so frustrated when shit like this goes down.

My experience with YA has been completely backwards. I didn't have much a childhood, for various reasons which I won't bore you with here, but suffice it to say that I went from 10 to 35 with not a lot in between. And since there were no adults around at the time paying attention, no one to direct me to more age-appropriate material, my reading choices followed the same leap forward in time. I skipped YA almost entirely.

It's only now, in my 30s, that I'm reading what I passed over back then. It's wonderful. With each YA story I read, I am being given the childhood I didn't have before. YA is not just saving kids in the now. It's reaching backwards in time to save those kids that never really got to be.

It's reaching backwards in time to save those kids that never really got to be.

Hear hear! And I've regressed even further. I'm getting a Kindle soon and I'm going to load it up with Pollyanna, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Anne of Avonlea, The Railway Children and every other children's story I missed. And I just turned 40!

I've always taken this as one step removed from "women who read/write are prone to inflammation of the uterus" advice throughout literature. Americans are descended of Puritans, and there is a dark subcurrent that says that any work of fantasy, anything vaguely imaginative, anything that provides a distraction from our Christian duty of service--anything, in other words, that might require a few minutes' thought--is somehow immoral simply because it promotes personal reflection, which might lead to the development of private morality. It is not the subject matter. It's the fact that the subject matter is open to interpretation, that it has no prepackaged, state-approved morality tacked dutifully onto it. Because heaven forfend our young people go around willy-nilly decidin' what they think about stuff. That is for their elders and betters to determine.

I also had a bit of a feelingsvomit when I saw this, as someone above put it. I really think this attitude comes down to erasure - they want to erase everyone, every victim, every addict, every ordinary foul-mouthed kid who doesn't match their clean-cut pretty little privileged middle class ideas of what adolescence should be. It's about saying that those kids shouldn't get to be heroes. Why, if they did, the world might start thinking of them as people! Horrors.

This. Because if we just don't talk about them, they'll go away.

My sister and I were talking about The Golden Compass and she said "I won't let Ty (her now infant son) read those books (His Dark Material series)." I looked at her like she was crazy, because obviously she was crazy and said "Dude, how are you going to stop him? If he's old enough to pick the book up and wants to read it, he's going to whether you allow him or not." She shrugged and said, "Well, maybe I'll use it as a learning opportunity."
Best response I could have hoped for, since this is the sister who a) doesn't understand the Internet isn't just for work and shopping, and b) thinks unions are bad. I have no idea how we're related.
It's really disheartening, because for me, who's dyslexic and didn't learn to read until the 4th grade, what got me reading was a Horror book. I picked it up b/c I knew I shouldn't and got so absorbed in it I stayed up all night to finish it. Haven't stopped reading since.

I read book one of that series when I was in the sixth grade, and I was all, "Rock on." Then I read book two, and somewhere near the end I decided that I wasn't really old enough to deal with this war-against-God stuff. I eventually read book three when I was 20, enjoyed it, and still managed to maintain my Christian beliefs. So I guess the moral of this story is to tell your sister to have faith in her kid's intelligence and ability to decide for himself what he can and cannot handle.

That entire article is just do not want. (I've been reading dystopias and other dark novels since I was twelve, it's a little too late now.) But what pissed me off the most was categorizing the books by sex.
I hate when people say that there has to be "girl" books and "boy" books. I'll read whatever the hell I want, thank you.
But yes, as a fifteen year old who loves her YA (the darker the better, pretty much) .... seriously, what.

I find the language thing hilarious, though. I hear about three times more foul language at school than the average amount of cursing in YA books.

Ah, stupid people.

I also hate "girl books and boy books" especially because it's extremely hard to get teen boys to read to begin with and when you start saying 'this is a girl book!' the boys aren't going to want to read -- even if it's good (see: Twilight, Hunger Games, even Scott Westerfeld).


I don't think I want to dignify the actual article with a pageview, but I've heard enough excerpts to be appropriately disgusted. Glad Libba Bray got in on the action- I love her books. Has anyone heard from Tammy Pierce? She has an LJ.

She hasn't posted on it yet -- this broke late last night on the east coast, as I recall.

But given how the story is spreading through the internets, I expect we'll hear from her soon.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a coworker. I'd recommended Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You by Peter Cameron (it's a fantastic book) because she is both a YA book lover and the mother of a teenage boy. She loved the book and recommended it to a friend, also the mother of a teenage boy. My coworker told me that her friend took one look at the summary of the book and handed it back going "teenagers don't get depressed!"

Which I think is what many critics of YA seem to believe. Something like: "Teenagers DON'T have these problems and thus shouldn't read about them because they might get these problems." When the truth is more like the opposite.

Edited at 2011-06-05 07:31 pm (UTC)

"teenagers don't get depressed!"


I just don't get that woman. The OP of the WSJ piece, I mean.

I generally skipped most YA books, since I was reading Les Miserables, Great Expectations, Rebecca, and Poe's entire oeuvre around 13. I tried A Tale of Two Cities, but I'm pretty sure I'd struggle with it now as much as I did then. It's not the themes. It's Dickens' writing style. We had A Tree Grows in Brooklyn at the school library, but it was in the restricted section. Someone accidentally misplaced it in the regular section and I was able to borrow it that way.

The only YA books I was really into were Francesca Lia Block books. I'm sure if I read them now, they'd make me seriously facepalm, but back then, they were full of interesting imagery and explored teen topics pretty openly. (I remember one short story in particular talking about a girl with a transwoman parent, which never weirded me out.) My mom felt they were too "mature" for me at the time but didn't really have an issue with Les Mis? I... am not really sure what that was about.

I wish books like RAGE and others had been around when I was a kid. I was being molested by my father. I repressed all of it until I was older. I wonder if I might have been able to remember and do something about it at the time had I had a book that talked about that experience from a similar viewpoint to mine.

I'm sorry, but in the late 80s/early 90s, we had Christopher Pike and R L Stine, who wrote horror and whose books were rather creepy and disturbing even if they weren't completely graphic about the violence. Though, at the same time, I was also reading books by Mary Higgins Clark, John Grisham, and others who were a lot more graphic about violence.

Finally, the fact that this woman thinks that a YA novel depicting self-mutilation, or rape, or incest will GIVE PEOPLE IDEAS is absolutely ludicrous. Again, I so wish I had had books like this when I was actively going through my own personal hell of incest and childhood bipolar. I think it would have given me hope, not make me even more depressed (there was very little "more depressed" I could have gotten at the time).

Obviously this woman has either had a super-blessed life, or has repressed the normal pain and anguish that goes along with teenage life. Then again, anyone who believes in "breaking the poppet's spirit" as a child-rearing technique needs to have CPS called on her ass. I can almost guarantee that that experience is going to end up screwing up her children in their later years.

Thank you so much for doing a write-up about this! I love to read YA lit (I'm in my mid-20s) and I recently finished my Master's in Library Science, so this is the kind of thing I really need to pay attention to. I'm not on Twitter, but I made sure to signal-boost this on my blog.

It's not right for children to read! Soon they start getting ideas and thinking...

You know, if you find yourself making the same argument as a Disney villain, you might wanna re-evaluate your premises. I'm just saying.

*grin* I was thinking the same thing.


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