The dark world of “Young Adult ” literature

Library Pengo
Sadly, here there be monsters... (Image via Wikipedia)

I would like to post a link to this article without too much commentary from myself, as (1) I don’t have the time, and (2) for those unfamiliar with the “Young Adult” literature being sold in our bookstores it will be quite an eye-opener and should be read for itself (with warning: it contains some graphic content).  The article is “Darkness Too Visible” by Meghan Cox Gurdon in the Wall Street Journal.

Ms. Gurdon’s insights are very good, and I won’t distract you from reading the article by copying them here. Suffice it to say that Philippians 4:8 is not exactly the guide many “Young Adult” authors are using.  If you are a parent who is simply allowing your children to pick their own books to read at the library or from Barnes & Noble and you’re not reviewing those books yourself to know what they are mentally and spiritually digesting — perhaps, simply delighted that they “love to read” — you are making a huge, huge mistake.

Of course, some will whine that any parents who review the books their young children read are acting like dictatorial little censors who are afraid to allow their children freedom of thought.  Those people who say such things are, generally, clueless at best and neglectfully damaging their children at worst.  Ms. Gurdon makes a point herself (OK, one quote!) when she says, “It is a dereliction of duty not to make distinctions in every other aspect of a young person’s life between more and less desirable options. Yet let a gatekeeper object to a book and the industry pulls up its petticoats and shrieks ‘censorship!'”

As she concludes: “The book business exists to sell books; parents exist to rear children, and oughtn’t be daunted by cries of censorship. No family is obliged to acquiesce when publishers use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children’s lives.”

Proverbs 22:15 tells us, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” — not a condemnation, just a statement of fact and a reminder of parental responsibility.  How sad that so many parents sacrifice their children’s minds so that corporations may profit on that foolishness.

(By the way: I note that I’ve referred to work by Meghan Cox Gurdon before back in February of 2010 when she wrote a pathetic-but-sadly-true article about the horrific “prom etiquette” book written by the descendants of Emily Post.  The post was “Girls save themselves not for marriage but for the prom” and has a link to that article as well as to some great Tomorrow’s World resources.)

7 thoughts on “The dark world of “Young Adult ” literature

  1. Incredibly, here are the readers’ votes as of this moment:

    Q: Are dark themes in youth fiction helpful or harmful to teenagers?

    82.2% – 624 votes – Helpful
    17.8% – 135 votes – Harmful

  2. obeirne

    Parents have a God given responsibility, whether they realize it or not, to make sure their children are only given those things which of spiritual, mental and social value to their overall well-being. In the past society, in most, if not all nations, recognized and valued that role. Parents were expected to feed their children with physical food that was wholesome and nutritious which helped to sustain life and build up their growing bodies. Nowadays many – too many – fathers and mothers allow their offspring to eat food that has been proven to be detrimental to their health. But it seems that modern society has also abdicated a similar responsibility when it comes to feeding the minds of their children and are allowing their young immature, boys and girls – their supposedly beloved sons and daughters to pick select their own menus of what they will read. Just as with the physical food they have permitted their children to choose to eat which is poisoning their bodies to dealy effect, they are not preventing their young charges from polluting their young minds through what they read without loving parential guideance.

  3. Ally

    I’m glad somebody finally addressed this. As a librarian, I see SO many young adults, and younger kids, come in to seek out these books. It breaks my heart every time I see it. And so often the parents are right there, delighted that their kids are reading so well. When they make this remark to me, I would like to ask them if they REALLY think their kids are reading “well” and are getting uplifting and healthy food for thought. But also and unfortunately, as a librarian, I cannot make any judgment calls along those lines. It boils down to censorship. If I try to keep that sort of writing out of the hands of children, I’m censoring. If a parent does it, it is NOT censorship, it is good parenting. We are now right on the verge of the government telling parents they can no longer censor what their children read and/or watch. I’m caught between a rock and a hard place as a librarian, but parents are not. I do wish more parents would guide their children in these matters.

  4. BrianL

    The term ‘sigh and cry’ comes to mind. How disgusting our society has become. Is is so saddening that we have lost sight of God so much that people think this nation was founded on just ‘freedom’. When it was founded on ‘freedom of religion’- so that our forefathers COULD worship the Creator, to the best of their abilities and knowledge. It is so dis-heartening to see this society degenerate so badly. We have truly failed in governing ourselves without God.

  5. BrianL: It could be argued – indeed I do argue – that we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in, on every level of our society, if we didn’t have the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

    How so, you may ask? Because one cannot found a permanently stable nation on Christian ethics apart from Christian government, which alone can guarantee both the existence of accurate Christian knowledge and enforce its correct application in practice. Any other approach – including Thomas Jefferson’s well-meaning one of letting truth win out over error in public debate while the civil government stays out of the way – carries the seeds of its own inevitable destruction. (It was his approach, after all, in his famous Bill for Religious Freedom in Virginia which is the real philosophical foundation of the Establishment Clause and that Bill spells out fully what that Clause implies.)

    Truth will not win out over error in “this present evil world” without governmental intervention – and when I say “governmental” I mean we should broaden the concept to take in every level from the familial to the national. Jefferson saw the evils of trying to coerce men to belief throughout human history, but he failed to reckon with what a good example in teaching and leadership (the carrot) on the one hand and just penalties swiftly imposed (the stick) did with carnal Israel. The combination didn’t make every last person righteous or believing, but it kept the problems of society down to a bare minimum and that is something young America should’ve emulated. As it was, the Founding Generation was overreacting to abuses of a system and in response, came up with a system which is inherently less stable and in the long run perhaps even more prone to abuses.

    As John Adams saw much more readily than Jefferson his friend, our republican form of government, directed toward “justice for the people” or the legal “rights of the people” (whoso readeth, let him understand!), absolutely depended for its survival on its “people” being “just”. If they became otherwise, their whims (and those of their representatives too, I might add) would tear through our constitutional guarantees like a whale through a fishnet. He asked Jefferson to think more than once about how one might keep people from becoming corrupted as he foresaw they could. There was only one solution to that conundrum and neither they nor anyone else was willing to consider it so far as I know: theocratic monarchy, in truth and not in pretense. Given the bad examples of the pretenders over history, it is understandable why they would be so unwilling; but again, even those who were looking at the Bible for guidance on that issue misunderstood its lessons and that was the worst mistake the Founding Generation could’ve made.

    We needed one correct form of civil government with one form of correct religion, right from the beginning. “Doing what is right in one’s own eyes”, let alone by statute, has never worked any more than the arbitrary imposition of a single set of merely human ideas on society has ever worked. Both have always failed in the end. That is why we need the Kingdom of God.

  6. Carmen Bryant

    As a student teacher, I think this quote is very insightful, it’s called “Essentials of YA lit.” By Carl Tomlinson
    “Surrounding 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.”

  7. Thanks, Mrs. Bryant, and I don’t disagree with the comment in and of itself. Regrettably, the motive in the YA lit seems more often not to be teaching them to deal with the things they are “so often exposed to” but simply profiting off of their interest in those things. As a result, the lit seems to disproportionally reflect the deviant and the dark — that is, those things are reflected more in the lit than it is in their actual lives, where some of them would never be exposed to those things, at all. Yes, teens are “often exposed to” those things, but regrettably it’s the lit, itself, that seems to do the exposing more than real life does. And that’s both nonsensical and just plain wrong, and by ignoring this YA artists to the greater disservice, Tomlinson’s quote notwithstanding.

    Meghan Cox Gurdon’s article remains spot on, and children (marketing “YA” label aside) need gatekeepers now more than ever. If you are becoming a teacher, I hope you will take your share in that responsibility seriously. All of us who work with youth have an obligation to do so.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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