Concerns about the darkness in recent YA

Recommendations, discussions, and odes to your favorites
User avatar
Leonidas
Posts: 99
Joined: July 30th, 2010, 11:35 am
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Contact:

Re: Concerns about the darkness in recent YA

Post by Leonidas » June 24th, 2011, 8:08 pm

This thread sure is a lot to read through and digest!

I've been meaning to read through it all and post here since the thread was started, but I've just been able to read the entire thread in its entirety, and these are my two cents:

I'm seventeen, and I read (and love) most of the "dark" books. I'm not a dark person in any way --I'm well-adjusted, optimistic, and levelheaded. I've never been abused, or even in a situation remotely like those I've read about. But I still relate to the characters that populate the dark books I love, even though I've never been thrown into an arena like those of THE HUNGER GAMES. What attracts me most to the books that are considered dark is the humanity that often runs just under the surface of the plot. When I ship off to college in about a year, I would love to become a psychology major. I love to analyze the characters and how their situations effect their personalities. Some of my favorite television shows are the shows on serial killers, gangs, and other criminals, and though if I were to meet any of the people in those shows in real life I would be terrified of them, I want to discover what makes them tick.

Really, I think I'm attracted to "darker" literature because I'm curious about it. There's really no other way that I know of to explore that curiosity. In my own writing, I tend to explore more mature themes; my current WiP is the story of a Marine discharged under Don't Ask, Don't Tell and how his family handles both his discharge and the death of his brother while deployed. I have to write the family in their grief, and their recovery, even though no one in my immediate family has ever died. I've never attended a funeral, but I'll have to write about it. I use my writing and reading to learn about myself, and about other people, which is something that I don't ever see changing.

My best friend, however, is the exact opposite. While some of my favorite books are THE ROAD and THE BOOK THIEF, she loves genre romances. Neither of us are right, and neither of us are wrong. Out of the two of us, however, she's the one who was recently diagnosed with a mild form of depression, and I'm the one to whom she turns whenever she needs to talk about something she finds disturbing. She's an only child, whereas I'm the oldest of three children, and her parents are much more strict with what she's allowed to read, watch, and listen to than mine. When I was younger, my Mom did have a say in what I read, but she trusts me now to read, watch, and listen to what I like, even though she may not understand why I like it.

Ultimately, as other people have said, what is counted as "dark" and what should be read by teenagers depends on whoever you're talking to. When I think of THE ROAD, I don't think of darkness or depression -- I think of hope and survival.

If other people (teenagers and adults alike) don't want to read books like THE ROAD because they believe them to be too dark, all the power to them: it just means that I won't have any trouble checking my favorite books out of the library.

User avatar
Cookie
Posts: 540
Joined: September 20th, 2010, 11:18 am
Location: Berkshires
Contact:

Re: Concerns about the darkness in recent YA

Post by Cookie » June 24th, 2011, 9:38 pm

CabSav wrote:Just slightly to one side of all this. Young/new adults themselves also seem to be writing some very bleak fiction. I recently participated in an recent exercise where I critiqued a whole classroom of work. 90% of the class was first year tertiary -- which over here is around 19 y.o, or at least definitely under 21 -- with the remaining 10% mature-age students like myself. Every single one of the younger class members -- without exception -- wrote bleak, dark stories about being killed, raped, beaten or dismembered, often two or three nasty things happening in the same book.
You should see my poetry from when I was 15. It was...intense. To put it mildly. Lots of betrayal and cuttung out hearts with knives (metaphorically speaking).

When I was in 8th grade, I was convinced I wanted go into forensics. I watched every show possible on the subject and read every book I could get my hands on. That obsession lasted until I was about 18 and I realized that while I could handle looking at pictures of dead bodies, I had no idea how I would handle them in real life.

I think Leonidas has a point in that teens are curious with the dark nature of life and like to explore subjects they either have no experience with or do not understand. Ultimately, that is a good thing because the teens will know how to handle the situations when they inevitably encounter them in real life.

User avatar
Ishta
Posts: 167
Joined: February 22nd, 2010, 3:31 am
Contact:

Re: Concerns about the darkness in recent YA

Post by Ishta » August 6th, 2011, 3:17 am

Yes, I agree that teens are generally morbid and interested in morbid topics. I also remember (and still have samples of) my writing from my teenaged (13-18) years, and I remember thinking that the darker it was, the deeper it plumbed into the tortured soul of the average American teenager, the better it must be.

That said, there is a world of difference between 13 and 18. Add to this that there are kids out there, like my son (and probably a lot of our kids, bibliophiles that we all are here in the Bransforums), who are able to read books that are complicated enough in terms of sentence structure, plot, and character development that they are intended for an older audience. I know a 10-year-old who is reading THE MAZE RUNNER. 11 and 12 year old girls all over the world read the Twilight series. When I was 11 and 12, if anyone even mentioned feeling attracted to a boy, I was running from the room. I balked and almost covered my ears when my parents tried to give me "the talk" when I was 13. But that's all pretty much covered in TWILIGHT. Nowadays, kids aren't just reading "up" in terms of reading about older kids, they're reading up in terms of reading out of their age level. This means that they are potentially being exposed to these themes of drug abuse and sexual abuse and cutting and eating disorders and torture before they're really developmentally "due" to be exploring them. Are some kids ready for that stuff at 10, 11, 12, 13? Sure. Are all of them? Not really.

My son is 8. Would I give him THE MAZE RUNNER or TWILIGHT? No way! Even though I really liked both of those books, I'd never give them to him at this age. But if they weren't SO graphic and mature in content, he could read them. When he's older and more mature, he will read them. Are there some girls who at 12 are ready to read about Edward and Bella's lust for each other, and the resulting bruises? Will they be mature enough to come away with a healthy attitude about sex? Maybe. But probably not most girls at that age. By 17 or 18, though, they probably are mature enough.

I think this whole thing about "dark" YA is less about keeping kids in the dark about the dark, and more about wanting a better way to find the books that parents think their kids are ready for. The MG shelves in my bookstore have everything from Mr. Popper's Penguins to Harry Potter. They're both in the 9-12 section, but they're not really for the same people. And that's fine, except that it makes it really hard to find the right book unless you can find someone to talk to (not always easy to do), or are willing to spend over an hour reading the backs and first few chapters of a bunch of titles. Fine for me, but not for most parents.

Additionally, there's a lot to be said for being involved in what your kids are reading - reading books with them, or in advance, and talking about the books. Talking to bookstore staff about what your kid just read and loved, and what is similar. But with most parents working full-time in non-literary professions, how many parents do you think are going to make the time for that?

I have to admit to feeling a little uncomfortable with the idea that "kids will only read what they're ready for." We don't say that about movies or television; we have a ratings system. If a boy picks up a book that is too graphic for him or deals with subject matter that he feels is too frightening, by the time he realizes this, it's too late. He's already read that part. And while some kids might just brush it off and forget about it, others might be very affected by what they have read. Maybe a ratings system would be appropriate for books, too - not as a form of censorship, but as a way of setting up guideposts. A sort of, "this is the kind of stuff that this book deals with, and this is how graphic it gets" kind of thing.

I really believe that all the books on the shelves deserve to be there, and NEED to be there. But there has to be a better way of classifying them. Otherwise, a lot of parents, and kids, are going to end up feeling lost in a maze.

Doug Pardee
Posts: 146
Joined: February 18th, 2011, 6:56 pm
Contact:

Re: Concerns about the darkness in recent YA

Post by Doug Pardee » October 17th, 2011, 6:13 pm

Engaging in a bit of thread necromancy here... but I thought y'all might enjoy this posting by The Rejectionist.

User avatar
Mira
Posts: 1354
Joined: December 7th, 2009, 9:59 am
Contact:

Re: Concerns about the darkness in recent YA

Post by Mira » October 23rd, 2011, 4:44 pm

Doug - as usual a witty post by the Rejectionist, but that's more a satire designed to please those who think people are over-reacting. It's not really a convincing argument for me.

First, I totally respect that many don't agree with me. But for me, I still think much of YA is too dark, and is designed more for the 18-30 year old crowd instead of 12 - 18 year olds. I wish they'd come up with another genre.

Personally, I think our kids need wholesome. I continue to think that some books could traumatize or even re-traumatize kids. I know that's a controversial viewpoint, but that's how I feel!

Moni12
Posts: 293
Joined: September 30th, 2010, 8:58 pm
Contact:

Re: Concerns about the darkness in recent YA

Post by Moni12 » October 27th, 2011, 3:35 pm

I came across the article below in the Guardian and found it interesting. Maybe the darkness is appealing because, let's face it, for many teens just about anything can bring about the end of the world. I remember feeling that way sometimes. Also, I think at that age you have that feeling of invincibility, of saving the world and sometimes the desire to be rescued. When you're a teen it's you against the world. Darkness in YA is just a representation of those feelings.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/oc ... an-fiction

rie warren
Posts: 5
Joined: November 4th, 2011, 8:22 pm
Contact:

Re: Concerns about the darkness in recent YA

Post by rie warren » November 5th, 2011, 12:02 am

I started a dark idea for YA recently and pulled back because of concerns similar to yours.

Then I spoke to my closest friend. And it made sense....our teens now grew up post 9-11. In a recession. Some hungry, many homeless. There's a reason stories that pit adolescents against the dominating machinations of democracy/capitalism/tyranny have taken hold. (Um, totes not a banned word and not in any way trying to open a political discussion).

When you grow up post 9-11 (or after the Tsunami, the Earthquake), there's a knowledge---a cynicism working against innocence. At the same time, there's charity, and understanding, and helping. The disasters we live through have tied us together in an altruistic way unconceived before.

I believe innocence and hope outweighs the blight. Stories can take you to the edge, and drop you over. But to be brought back is so hopeful, and I think that twist is there.

User avatar
Mira
Posts: 1354
Joined: December 7th, 2009, 9:59 am
Contact:

Re: Concerns about the darkness in recent YA

Post by Mira » November 5th, 2011, 5:03 pm

Moni and rie - I agree. I should clarify - I don't have a problem with dystopian YA. Alienation is an extremely relevant theme, and I think it's great for YA to explore it. My opinion, of course.

What I take issue with are books where things happen to the characters that are horrifying or extremely disturbing. Hunger Games is a good example. I really don't think anyone under the age of 17 should have that imagery enter their psyche. Not good for the growing brain. My humble opinion.

rie warren
Posts: 5
Joined: November 4th, 2011, 8:22 pm
Contact:

Re: Concerns about the darkness in recent YA

Post by rie warren » November 6th, 2011, 1:30 am

I agree with you, in part, Mira.

There is so much scary imagery out there--I struggle to not shut off the nightly news sometimes. But if I'm crying over atrocities happening in other countries, I guess I want my daughters to know why it hurts me, why I'm outraged. Why I want them to better than what we're witnessing.

Do I change the channel when horrific images are shown? Of course, but I explain why. If I can't handle it, neither can they.

I'd love to go back to childhood, and make theirs fresh and happy. Thing is, I grew up in the 80's; Cold War, nuclear threat...it was pretty scary even back then. But I don't believe that made me jaded. That made me hope.

In everything I do for my girls, I try to let them just be . Play, learn, grow, know...and understand bad things will happen. I'm not a sugar-coater. It's reality. BUT, community, civilization, citizens...there's future, there's light, there's so much optimism out there.

The message I gained from Hunger Games came through the deaths, the slaughter, the grotesque. I didn't end it thinking about the blood shed. I ended the stories believing in...the beauty of people. Death is a reality. Disaster is a certainty. Human nature is impossible to stop. Love is there. Quiet and unconguerable.

"Real or not real?"

"Real."

User avatar
Mira
Posts: 1354
Joined: December 7th, 2009, 9:59 am
Contact:

Re: Concerns about the darkness in recent YA

Post by Mira » November 6th, 2011, 12:25 pm

I think your daughters are lucky, rie! They have someone to talk to about this stuff, and someone who looks over what they read and makes thoughtful decisions. Unforutnately, not all kids have parents who are able or willing to do that for them.

I really think we need a rating system for books. We understand that there is material children and teens should not view - that's why we rate movies PG-13 or R, for example. Even if a movie has a good message, it's important for parents to know that the message comes wrapped in adult material. And for society to say that unless a parent gives permission, kids should not have access to adult material yet.

But I also think it's important to remember that kids and adults react to things differently. It's partly nuerological. The brain does not finish developing until the early 20s. And kid's psyches are much more vulnerable and less defended than adults. Images can get in deeper and lodge there.

I continue to believe that kids and young teens do best when fed wholesome entertainment with supervision, if possible. I think it's healthier.

rie warren
Posts: 5
Joined: November 4th, 2011, 8:22 pm
Contact:

Re: Concerns about the darkness in recent YA

Post by rie warren » November 6th, 2011, 11:05 pm

Yeah...that's the concern. How much do you want your child subjected to, and how much can you control it?

I'm not sure about book ratings--I know I read a lot of stuff I probably "shouldn't have" when I was young--but it didn't harm me. However, when I was reading HG I was actively thinking 'When will my oldest be old enough to handle this?' So I get that.

I'd rather it be a parenting thing, I s'pose. Every family has their ideals and limits, their hopes for their kids. And that shouldn't be limited to sports or academics, but also to the arts.

I'd really like to be open to what my girls want to explore, enough to talk about it...maybe discourage them for a time if I think they're too young. But I wouldn't want anyone else making that decision for me, for us.

Book ratings are there in the genre. And yep, I get you again. HG is YA because of the heroine, the ages, and the basically nonsexual content. And you're right, it doesn't take into account the violence of the story. But who's decision is it? I don't want publishers saying who can read what. I'd rather hope parents would be on top of it. And if they aren't, I guess I trust that imagery doesn't directly lead to deeds. That message wins out over exact content. That kids are smart enough to make their own decisions.

There's a lot of policing and a lot of blaming going on...movies, videos, games. I'd hate to see it affect books too.

Hope that makes sense ;). Cheers, Mira!

Rachel Ventura
Posts: 152
Joined: September 30th, 2011, 12:29 am

Re: Concerns about the darkness in recent YA

Post by Rachel Ventura » November 28th, 2011, 3:07 am

I just wanted to add my $.02 because I'm technically still in the YA demographic. (I'll leave the leap year thing out for now.) Abraham Lincoln is famous for saying you can't please everyone 100% of the time. There's an old adage, one person's trash is another's treasure. So what one person might find offensive and horrible, someone else might find intriguing or even cathartic, as Mira pointed out in her original post and I think some other people did too. (Speaking of smart people, Maybe Genius is being too modest in her username. That'd be like Lincoln calling himself Maybe Tall. :D )

But for a minute, let's broaden the timeframe to include other works not necessarily in the "young adult" genre but which are about teenagers and often have some important -- and controversial subject matter. Catcher in the Rye is the most obvious one that stands out: it remains the #1 most challenged book of all time sixty years after its publication. (Meaning that Holden Caulfield, were he a real person, would be 76 years old.) In the '50s, the biggest complaint was perhaps the language (a bunch of F bombs) and the "sex" -- there's nothing graphic, but certain situations and dialogue that hint at "doing the dirty deed." In the '80s, perhaps even more so than the '50s, the issue was rebellion and rejection of authority, even to go so far as violence. If the book was published in the '60s, Holden would probably be a counterculture hippie. Instead, two mentally disturbed "rebels with a cause" went ahead and shot, respectively, a counterculture icon and perhaps the most central figure of authority in the modern world, the President of the United States. John Lennon died; Ronald Reagan did not, but many speculate that the deterioration of his health was due to the gunshot wounds he attained. There was also a burgeoning culture of censorship "in the best interest of the child" with the Tipper Gore vs. Frank Zappa debates after the teenage suicides attributed to subliminal messages in Judas Priest songs.

I read Catcher in the Rye and loved it, and in the case of this particular work the moral critics are neglecting to mention the context in which the "objectionable" parts of the book fall. The F bombs, for instance: he does use the word a lot, but it's mostly in the first-person narrative dialogue. There is a pivotal scene where he actually tries to scrub off some graffiti with the word from the walls of his tenement where he lives with his family, because he is concerned for his younger sister and the other kids who might read it and wonder what it means. Ironically Holden Caulfield is probably one of the last people you'd think would ever be a threat to children: the whole crux of the book is how his own childhood was ruined by tragedy and having to "grow up" too soon, his younger brother's stolen by terminal cancer, and now, his younger sister's on its way down his path, as she is only about 8 and becoming a bitter cynic like he is. The whole point of him feeling heartbroken watching the kids on their field trip to the historical museum is that he wants the beautiful things like childhood to be preserved, like museum exhibits under glass. Oddly enough, isn't this kind of what the PMRC and Moral Majority argue, except Holden realizes that "natural history" implies a "natural process" of maturation, while the conservative censors try to impose draconian limits on what everyone can or should promote/read/play on the radio etc., ostensibly in "the best interest of the child"?

At the heart of all this is who really speaks for whom, and if or why should anyone really decide. Maybe one kid will think Caulfield is just plain nuts, while another will identify with his struggles of alienation. Is the experience of kid #2 enough to say oh, well, X and Y happened and this book was a factor in it, so take it off the shelves? It could very well be that kid #1 reacts to "phonies" making him read a book he can't stand, and so shoots the teacher who assigned him Catcher as a project. I think it's about the individual, the reader, regardless of age or circumstance or demographic, and that the harshest of critics (the Tippers and Falwells of the world) shouldn't generalize about what's good or bad for one person or another. Adults seem to think that teenagers are on the same level of understanding as five-year-olds, and need to be sheltered at all costs from "adult" experiences rather than coming to grips with them -- on the contrary, this is what brings about healthy, independent adults who learn to form opinions for themselves. (This is why there was such an uproar about the children's book Heather Has Two Mommies, about a girl being raised in a same-sex lesbian household, because parents were up in arms about the moral quandary of their kids learning about "sex" too young, when Heather Has Two Mommies wasn't about "sex" at all but about understanding the sameness and equality of human beings their age despite a different family background. In the '50s the same thing would've been said about single parents or children of divorce.)

But back to the young-adult genre, or demographic, whatever it's called, I think critics -- not necessarily Mira or MG or me or people on this forum and others like it, but the so-called professionals who deride anything but The Babysitters' Club being "suitable for 'children,' which teens/young-adults are not -- need to open their view up a little bit and realize that the full spectrum of human experience doesn't necessarily require an ID card. Yes, they are still exploring and finding out new things about the world, so they're not fully-fledged adults yet, and things need to be approached in a certain way so as they'll understand, but also connect with on some level. As an art teacher of mine once said, "it may compel or repel you. But there's an emotional reaction no matter what." Art is just the same way, visual art I mean, because books and writing are certainly an art form in their own right. I think the 12-25 set (and maybe a little after? Let's say 27 for the sake of the young-adult rock stars who "died young") needs to be given more credit and leeway in what they can or should be trying to grasp or not.

Darkness is a subjective term; it could refer to the fear of the paranormal, the occult, the "dark elements," i.e. the Harry Potter "brew"-haha or the backlash against the vampire trend with Twilight, True Blood / Sookie Stackhouse, and The Vampire Diaries, etc. It could refer to the real-life horrors of the human condition, i.e. Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel's narratives of the Holocaust, which even a lot of adults have trouble stomaching because of how brutal that all was -- even more unfathomable because it showed just what sick, twisted, barbaric levels the human race can really descend to. (Stuff that would make King and Koontz sleep with all the lights of their respective haunted houses on.) Darkness in terms of controversial subject matter, i.e. teenage pregnancy and abortion, sex and sexual identity, racism and prejudice, abuse/bullying, addiction, mental illness, suicide/death, and the list goes on. Personally I read a lot of things, see a lot of movies, TV, know a lot about public affairs and current events, and it wasn't just the big 1-8 (which I never "officially" hit, lol) that caused a sudden epiphany in realization. Teenagers aren't dumb. Nor do they need to be "sheltered" under glass. They need to explore, they need to use their imaginations, think about new things, open their worldview, etc. For a lot of us, and "them" (I keep using that word. I don't think I know yet what it means), this means experiencing things through cultural artifacts -- yeah, things like the historical museum, a chronicle of real life as it happened when it happened, but also the fiction and narratives we latch onto or not. The books, the movies, the music, the TV shows, even the crap on the Internet, and there is a lot of it. But this is how we engage, how we explore, how we experience the world. IMHO it's only dark if you shut your eyes and block out the world.

Boy, that was more like two million dollars than two cents. :) Speaking of which, there was a blip of controversy surrounding one of my favorite teen flicks Better Off Dead because critics claimed it glamorized or aimed for cheap laughs on the subject of suicide. (Cusack himself famously hates the movie, not because of the subject matter but because he just doesn't think it was one of his best work. 5,000 Flash Moblers beg to differ.) I don't think that wasn't the intent at all, but before I get adjusted for inflation any more in this post, I won't say anything ;) more, lest Tipper, Pat Robertson and their cronies cry for my better off dead head, with pitchforks and torches shouting "I want her two million dollars!" :lol:

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest