What is Wrong with Dark YA Novels?

Posted June 9, 2011 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 0 Comments

As most of you have heard, a few days ago The Wall Street Journal released an article about Young Adult (YA) fiction been excessively dark and parents being concerned about the effects of this on their children. While I’ve not read much YA, I do feel the need to defend it as I am a fan of dark imagery. For starters, this is nothing new; parents have been concerned about their children and what they do for a very long time (possibly forever) and teens will always feel an attraction to doing something their parents don’t approve of; whether it’s to rebel or just  curiosity. Apart from that, controversial YA books are nothing new; The Catcher in the Rye is the first book that comes to mind, being the one most censored book in the world and always getting complaints from parents when their children have to read it. In the 1970’s, there was Go Ask Alice which to this day has been slammed for been too controversial for teens to read.

In the world today teenagers are exposed to a lot of questions and getting very little answers. While they may not all be abused, a lot of them have to deal with being harassed, neglected or even the feeling of being misunderstood. Sometimes a parent or a teacher can help but sometimes they are just too embarrassed to ask, so they are drawn to these books because they are looking for answers.

Some are just reading these books for information, they may not have questions that need answering. They are just curious; either about things they’ve experienced (loneliness, heart break, pain) or about things they haven’t experienced yet (sex, drugs, suicide).

So from what I can gather; Teenagers read dark YA fiction for three main reasons;

1. They are dealing with similar issues as the characters in the book.

2. Even if they don’t have a similar life as the characters, they share similar feelings.

3. They read books for the same reasons that adults read books: for fun; to explore another world.

While these books may seem dark, I’ve noticed the hashtag #YASaves going around twitter, where people talk about how reading these books may have helped them and even saved their lives. The main reason for this (from what I can gather) is that these books are showing them why certain behaviours are dangerous. Literature connects us and these YA novels just act as a bridge between the darkness of our thoughts and reality. It can save us by showing the dangers of the thoughts we may be having and the effect they would have on yourself and others around you.

This whole discussion about dark novels, feels close to the discussions of censorship (to me). We have to remember while these young adults read books like this, it doesn’t mean they are going to turn into something bad, it is more likely to do them good than harm. (At least they are reading.) I feel the need to read more young adult fiction (not the ones about fairies) and see just how dark they are, but I have a huge to-read list and may not get to a YA book for awhile. However I know many adults that do read these books and none have ever mentioned them being harmful. I would love to know what others think of the Wall Street Journal article and YA novels in general. What do you like/dislike about them and what is your favourite?


0 responses to “What is Wrong with Dark YA Novels?

  1. While I understand Meghan Cox Gurdon’s concern as a parent who wants to protect children from violence in general, these books are not in any way sensationalizing the violence or abuse, or paint it as anything desirable. The best way to stop abuse (which is often the cause of cutting for one thing) is to talk about it, bring it into the light. Hushing it up and pretending it’s not happening will have the opposite effect. Teen years (and pre-teen) are hard, kids need to know they’re not the only one going through something. You can’t go through life with rose-colored glasses, which seems to be what Gurdon wants.

    Obviously not every kid who reads these books is in an abusive/self-destructive situation, but it’s also not just young adults reading these books. “Young Adult” is a convenient label publishers assign to books to indicate what they think the most receptive audience will be for a particular book, but in reality isn’t any kind of restriction. Witness the popularity of the Harry Potter books, Hunger Games, and so many others with adults.

  2. Clint

    The point about “sensationalizing” the violence is spot on. Blood Meridian is so abhorrently violent but it does not sensationalize the violence in any way. In fact, the starkness and audacity of the violence peels away the “fictionalized” view of the American West teenagers often get in their U.S. History class.

    My temperature goes up a few degrees when this kind of stuff starts getting batted around. It’s absurd and un-nuanced and demonstrates an overall lack of moral and intellectual acuity on the part of the would be-censorers.

  3. One of the best blog posts I read in response to the original article stated that not only are such books important for kids who are suffering such issues so that they know they are not alone, but also for kids who are not suffering such things so that they can learn understanding, sympathy, and empahty for others.

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