Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Dark, You Call That Dark?

So, apparently, the latest round of madness is the supposition that if one enters one of the last remaining large chain bookstores and ponders the offerings that everything for teens is all dark.  (No, I am not linking to this idiocy.) There are so many things wrong with this supposition, that it's hard to know where to start. 
1. Yes the covers (and the story starts with all the dark looking covers) are dark.  Often, at least. Not always.  There are pastel and light and bright colored covers too.  But, since even in the teen section (heck, even in the children's section) cover designers have developed a code that we as consumers are supposed to know, covers, particularly for paranormals are often dark. Unless of course they are not.  But, yes, one can easily find a shelf full of dark colored covers in the teen section.  Also the religious, cooking, and history sections.  I would probably only require stepping a smidge to the left (or right) to find a shelf full of bright covers. 
2. Teen books are not darker than they were before.  They may be darker than what you read as a teen, but I can absolutely, unequivocally promise you, that pretty since the rise of the novel, there have been dark novels.  And even if you try to tell me, well, yes, but the stuff for teens was all rainbows and glitter* (not, mind you, that there is anything wrong with rainbows and glitter) I will tell you that you are wrong.  Whether we are talking Huckleberry Finn** or To Kill a Mockingbird or Catcher in the Rye or Wrinkle in Time, there is a long, long tradition of dark young adult books.
3. Reading about bad things does not make you bad.  Adults read serial killer novels and do not become serial killers.  I read all sorts of things, including serial killer novels, and, if anything, I think reading about people making difficult choices makes me consider myself more carefully, and hopefully become a better person, but I couldn't swear to that.  I will swear that I am not a serial killer. 
4. Now the article purports that it's not that it makes you bad, but that by reading about a fictional person engaging in bad behavior then it makes your bad behavior okay.  (Follow that?)  Now, I think this is so short sighted.  If a person has an issue that requires attention (abuse, addiction, bullying) reading about another person experiencing that doesn't make you think it's okay so that you don't have to do anything.  It makes it seem like something that an otherwise normal, okay person has experienced and that it's fixable or treatable or addressable.  For all my issues with "Glee"s handling of the bullying (please, never go into a room alone to try and talk it out with your bullier) they did a wonderful job of showing that it is an issue that require involving adults and your other peers, and that there are solutions.  One of the hardest things when trying to screw up the courage to face an issue, is that niggling thought that somehow you are the problem, you are so broken, you cannot be fixed.  If a book can help you see that isn't the case, awesome.
5. To return to all the bright novels out there.  They do exist.  Whether we are talking about Judy Blume or Meg Cabot or Ally Carter or Sarah Dessen or so many others, they totally do.  Now some of you are saying, but wait, aren't some of those books about sex and ghosts and spies and thieves.  Oh, well, yes, they are.  And that, I think is the next point.
6. Books about rainbows and glitter or princesses and beauty queens and other regular type folks may seem bright.  (And hey, I'm not knocking bright at all.) But, often the stories that seem to just be about a girl planning for a prom, or a guy discovering that there's another guy with the same name as him, those stories are filled with all sorts of things like acceptance and treating people fairly and making good choices.  Hey wait, those sound a bit like the dark books. 
7. Aren't we supposed to be happy that teens are reading at all? 

A hashtag got started on twitter - #YASaves - there are some compiled here.  Also, NPR, has a great piece about here - in fact, let me lift this quote straight from there: "(I also took an entire class in high school were we read books about killing your family, double suicide, drowning, being murdered in your bed ... it was called "Shakespeare," I believe.)"
Many of these folks said it so much better than I ever could.

*Okay, I'm not sure how old glitter is.  Let's pretend.  No, wait, I checked, glitter is old.
**I know Huckleberry Finn is not as old as books, but it's old and most people have heard of it. Also, the article is of the opinion that young adult literature is only forty years old.