There's been a kerfuffle in the YA community over an article in the Wall Street Journal about the current trend of darkness in young adult literature. Is darkness a current trend? As far back as I can see in literary history, there has always been a fuss about what's published - for young readers, adult readers, whoever. This article, however, seems to have sent the YA writing community into quite the huff. My Google Reader has been bombarded with blog posts stating their opinion about the article. I haven't seen one blog post yet that stands up for what Miss Gurdon says.
Sometimes I look over at my four-year-old daughter and I freak out inside. I think about what she'll be exposed to in the future, even what she's exposed to now. I recently sat through a short class about addictions, and let me tell you - it was eye-opening. I discovered that children as young as four years old can get addicted to pornography. FOUR YEARS OLD? That shocks me to no end. I almost cried when I heard that because it's sad how even children are not immune to things we often consider only adult issues.
Then I calm myself down and tell myself, "You're a good parent, you're a good parent." I will raise my daughter with things like morals and standards and lots of love and a home that is safe and parents she knows she can come to about anything. Unfortunately, lots of children don't have those things, and that's where all that dark YA fiction comes into play.
Most of the blog posts I've read countering the article linked above have made the claim that teens need this kind of fiction because (1) it's the only place they can feel safe in their life, (2) there is usually a positive POV despite the dark subject material, and (3) teens need to be prepared for the real world.
Rather than going into my opinions on each of those, I just want to make the point that our world seems to be getting increasingly darker. It's sad, but true, and what I see as the real issue here isn't what's permitted to be published in YA fiction (or fiction in general), but how we're dealing with all these "dark things" in society. I see the issue that so many authors feel a need to write about these dark things as a reflection of what's going on in teens' lives right now. That's the problem. If there are so many rapes and drugs and awful things surrounding young adults - and authors feel the need to address these things and deal with them through fiction - then the problem doesn't lie in the fiction, now does it?
I recently read a book by our one and only Scott G.F. Bailey, and I was shocked at the darkness in it. I wrote to Scott and said, wow, this is really dark. He said, yeah, I know. It's an adult novel, and it disturbed me not with the subject matter, but the tones of the novel. Honestly, I have never read a YA book with such dark tones. Usually, even in YA novels that deal with darker subjects, the tones seem to be handled on a lighter level. Maybe, though, Miss Gurdon is really talking about tone in her article, not subject matter. Maybe there are YA books out there that I haven't read that are really, really dark in tone. Teens can handle subject matter. Adults can handle subject matter. I think it's tone that can really make the difference. I appreciated Scott's book. It was amazingly well done. I appreciated the darkness he portrayed because it contrasted the world in a way that helped me appreciate what he was really saying in that book - and I think he did it through tone. I wouldn't have seen those things otherwise.
So, with all this dark YA fiction talk, I think it's important to first realize where the problems really lie. If parents have issues with all that dark fiction, they should first realize that the world is a dark place, and to raise their children in such a way that helps them make their own firm decisions on what they should/want/need to read instead of freaking out that the dark fiction is going to destroy them in a world where they're going to face all of that anyway.