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In a related note to yesterday’s post from Becky on dystopian fiction, a heated discussion arose the other day in response to an article by Wall Street Journal columnist Meghan Cox Gurdon on the prevailing dark tone in modern young-adult (YA) fiction, which […]
| Jun 7, 2011 | No comments |

Scary book is scary.

In a related note to yesterday’s post from Becky on dystopian fiction, a heated discussion arose the other day in response to an article by Wall Street Journal columnist Meghan Cox Gurdon on the prevailing dark tone in modern young-adult (YA) fiction, which includes a lot of speculative stories.

Many people who commented on the article  seemed to think Ms. Gurdon was broad-brushing all YA fiction as violent, nasty, and brutal, inappropriate for young readers, and in need of censorship. Cue torches and pitchforks. Someone even sponsored a Twitter protest, gathering testimonials in support of YA fiction, dark or otherwise.

You can read the article and judge its merits and balance for yourself. It echoes some recent discussions on Christian fiction blogs, including this one, regarding “realistic” language and content, though the intensity is kicked up a few notches. It’s nice to know we’re not the only ones talking about this.

For my impression of the debate, click this link. >> Real Life Story

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Misti
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Yeah.  I read that article and the replies to it, and I see where both are coming from.  I thought that the WSJ could’ve been worded better to get the actual point across.  (I posted my take on it here.)

Frankly, I like my fiction both “dark” and “clean”/”tactful”—which can be a hard blend to find.  That’s part of why I write it.  And include content advisories on my site for my stories.

ETA: As for why I like “dark” fiction, I find it actually encourages me. It reminds me how great a life I have, and that there are many people less fortunate.

Michelle R. Wood
Member

For anyone who made the same mistake I did: the animation website is Fred’s response, just wait for it to load and enjoy. (I thought it was wrong link to start wtih and combed through your blog to find the nonexistant entry: note to self, remember not to assume.)

Kaci Hill
Member

Haha. Yeah. I had to wait for it, too. It was great.

Kaci Hill
Member

Yeah, I missed out on Becky’s article, so I’ll just go here. As far as the WSJ article goes, I’d like to cite this:
 

At the same time, she notes that many teenagers do not read young-adult books at all. Near the end of the school year, when she and a colleague entertained students from a nearby private school, only three of the visiting 18 juniors said that they read YA books.

 
This is probably a good point.  I read some Judy Blumes in…probably fourth or fifth grade. Most kids who are readers read above their grade level.  I was reading adult novels by middle school. I didn’t like the teeny bopper stuff or the miserably depressing stuff (still don’t) or the happy fuzzy stuff. I liked fun stories with good, strong characters and a satisfactory ending (notice I didn’t say happy).
 
On the flipside of that, I have several friends in their twenties who read YA fantasy/dystopia/whatever to avoid particulars in the adult section. (And some just think the stories are better.)
 
I had universal statements drilled out of my head as a seventh grader, so I don’t think I can say all YA is dark an inappropriate. (Btw, I think there’s a significant difference between “dark” and “inappropriate” that needs to be maintained. )

I guess in a weird way I see both sides of it. On the one hand, yeah, I think too much emphasis on teen angst/drama (even if it’s not the ‘dark’ kind) and all the nastiness is unhealthy and inappropriate. On the other hand, unfortunately most of these kids have seen/read a lot of that kind of story.

However, I guess I fall back on an old babysitting rule of mine: I’m not your mother.  Just because she might have let you watch The Matrix at age five doesn’t mean I’m going to let you watch it on my watch.   That’s carried over into subbing, tutoring, and suggesting books to the school library. I may find absolutely nothing inappropriate with Steven James’ wonderful series, but because he handles the cutting subject (rather well, I might add), I feel I should make that note when I send my file to the librarian. NOT because I think it’s inappropriate, but because it might not be appropriate for every student and because it might NOT be something every parent wants their kid reading at fourteen.



I think the same thing about Harry Potter, btw. Because the series gets darker, and because a lot of parents (especially as this is a private Christian school) have a problem with them, I don’t say much about them when I’m subbing. I don’t  “promote” them when I’m at the school.  Because trust me, all it takes is one kid saying “Miss Hill said it was okay!”
 
So I guess my thinking is that while there’s definitely responsibility on the parents’ part, there’s also a responsibility on the writers’ part (and everyone else involved with putting the book on the shelf) to be quite clear what kind of content may be involved.  Some things, fine, go ahead and write it, but I’ll be danged if you promote it as a book for teenagers. And some things are grotesque and shouldn’t be written. Period. But even then, even then, do not blind or trick the readers (or their parents).

Misti – Frankly, I like my fiction both “dark” and “clean”/”tactful”

Same here. Though I’m not so sure I like it as much as I’m drawn to it, if that makes sense. Plus, I’d be a hypocrite to say otherwise, as I write it too.

—which can be a hard blend to find.  That’s part of why I write it.

Which is about as Christian as you can get, hon. Redeem all things.

And include content advisories on my site for my stories.

I highly applaud you.
 
 

Edit: Cuz I’m a dork and forgot – Fred, that’s a great video.

Michelle R. Wood
Member

Kaci, I think the point you’re getting to is that in the situations you describe, you (or any other adult) are in loco parentis of the child(ren). That means you not only have moral or personal motivations for safeguarding them, but a legal obligation as well. I have no probelm with books of any kind (even those I disagree with) in a public library; it is really the parent’s responsibility then to curtail the child’s involvement. The issue becomes tricker when you’re talking about a school library, especially elementary school, which is an environment in which the child is without a parent to guide/turn to, and in which the librarians and teachers serve in loco parentis. It becomes an even thornier one when you’re talking about a book a child is required to read or listen to in class: then all choice by the parent/child has been removed.

I also think the point is worth making that often younger children not only read YA books because of personal preference (ie they have moved beyond standard reading fare for their age group) but are sometimes required to because of reading programs. I myself was a strong reader, and once my school adopted the “Reading Rennaisance” program, I was no longer allowed to read (at least in school) books below my reading level (and my reading level was rather high). By the time I was in late middle school, I wasn’t even allowed to read books written for teenagers: all that were left to me were classics (not bad, though I “aged” out of them soon too) and hard adult novels like Tom Clancey or Stephen King, books that I was not only uninterested in but that were also beyond my emotional maturity level at the time. This sort of enforced reading system is, I believe, harmful on a number of levels, but in terms of the current discussion, I think all people concerned (authors, publishers, libraries, parents) should consider the fact that books that were never meant for young children may be requied of them in certain school scenarios.

Kaci Hill
Member

It becomes an even thornier one when you’re talking about a book a child is required to read or listen to in class: then all choice by the parent/child has been removed.

 
This is where I think if the parent disapproves, the child should be given an alternative book to read.  Until the kid’s 18,  the parent has a say in what goes in the kid’s head.
 

The issue becomes tricker when you’re talking about a school library, especially elementary school, which is an environment in which the child is without a parent to guide/turn to, and in which the librarians and teachers serve in loco parentis.

 
Yeah, it’s a bit two-fold.  Nothing prevents a student from picking up any book in the school library. I don’t think they need to be paranoid, but I do think they need to use some general discretion when putting books in a school library, because, theoretically, whatever gets in there has the school’s unspoken endorsement.

I also think the point is worth making that often younger children not only read YA books because of personal preference (ie they have moved beyond standard reading fare for their age group) but are sometimes required to because of reading programs.

I’m not sure what I think about things like that. I was never told not to read below a certain level, and I think I would have found it as unnecessary as telling me to come to school in uniform (because I already did).

books that I was not only uninterested in but that were also beyond my emotional maturity level at the time.

 
….which is probably the bigger problem.
 

This sort of enforced reading system is, I believe, harmful on a number of levels, but in terms of the current discussion, I think all people concerned (authors, publishers, libraries, parents) should consider the fact that books that were never meant for young children may be requied of them in certain school scenarios.

 
…yeah. I hadn’t really thought of it in those terms.  Sorry if I came off rambling; I was just sort of laying a bunch of cards on the table at once.

Misti
Guest

Thanks for those comments.

I know exactly what you mean with the “Miss Hill said it’s okay!” thing.  A lot of my friends are younger and/or immature for their age.  One in particular gets frustrated because I tend to remember her reading maturity as how it was when I met her a few years ago, when she handed me Robin McKinley’s Beauty.  Now, she sometimes hands me books I’m uncomfortable with.

Granted, the two of us have different discomfort zones; I’m perfectly fine with a higher level of gore than she is, for example.

But friends’ parents trust me to be a good influence on their children.  I want to keep it that way.

Sally Apokedak
Guest

Loved that video, Stephen. Very much to the point and hysterical, besides.

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

In a related note to yesterday’s post from Stephen

From Fred’s original beginning sentence

Loved that video, Stephen. Very much to the point and hysterical, besides.

— Sally Apokedak

Thanks to both of you! So glad to hear that, um, I’m being attributed even by accident for the brilliances on here that others wrote. 😀

Galadriel
Guest

Hopelessness–or even purposelessness–can be even more draining then battles and death. Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion have plenty of death, but there is a  hope of victory, as opposed to the blah-purpose life of say, The Hunger Games. At the end of the Hunger Games, there seems to be nothing left for the surviving main characters…

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

Just finished viewing the video. Excellent and sarcastic response, Fred!

For the Christian, it would seem this trend can be evaluated not only by recalling that mere endorsement of misery and hopelessness isn’t helpful, or real hope at all.

Even more, it’s contrary to Scripture, which — unlike some Christian fiction — does present the truth that life stinks (and it’s our own fault) but ends with true hope: Christ Himself, reigning personally over a remodeled and physical After-world.

I’m wary of overcorrecting for one ill, only rainbows and fuzzy puppies, with another ill that’s just as bad in the opposite direction: life is only horror and misery. Neither one is true. Neither one encourages writers, or readers, to take their eyes off themselves and either their perfect happiness or miseries, and find true happiness, and the answer to miseries, in Christ Himself.

However, at least one infamous critic would disagree with me about showing real life to be both misery/horror/angst, and ultimate hope in Christ Himself.

Probably the scenes [of the Nazis’ aerial bombing of London][your human “patient”] is now witnessing will not provide material for an intellectual attack on his faith—your previous failures have put that out of your power. But there is a sort of attack on the emotions which can still be tried. It turns on making him feel, when first he sees human remains plastered on a wall, that this is ‘what the world is really like’ and that all his religion has been a fantasy.

You will notice that we have got them completely fogged about the meaning of the word ‘real’. They tell each other, of some great spiritual experience, ‘All that really happened was that you heard some music in a lighted building’; here ‘Real’ means the bare physical facts, separated from the other elements in the experience they actually had.

On the other hand, they will also say ‘It’s all very well discussing that high dive as you sit here in an armchair, but wait till you get up there and see what it’s really like’: here ‘real’ is being used in the opposite sense to mean, not the physical facts (which they know already while discussing the matter in armchairs) but the emotional effect those facts will have on a human consciousness. Either application of the word could be defended; but our business is to keep the two going at once so that the emotional value of the word ‘real’ can be placed now on one side of the account, now on the other, as it happens to suit us.

The general rule which we have now pretty well established among them is that in all experiences which can make them happier or better only the physical facts are ‘Real’ while the spiritual elements are ‘subjective’; in all experiences which can discourage or corrupt them the spiritual elements are the main reality and to ignore them is to be an escapist. Thus in birth the blood and pain are ‘real’, the rejoicing a mere subjective point of view; in death, the terror and ugliness reveal what death ‘really means’.

The hatefulness of a hated person is ‘real’—in hatred you see men as they are, you are disillusioned; but the loveliness of a loved person is merely a subjective haze concealing a ‘real’ core of sexual appetite or economic association. Wars and poverty are ‘really’ horrible; peace and plenty are mere physical facts about which men happen to have certain sentiments.

The creatures are always accusing one another of wanting ‘to cat the cake and have it’; but thanks to our labours they are more often in the predicament of paying for the cake and not eating it. Your patient, properly handled, will have no difficulty in regarding his emotion at the sight of human entrails as a revelation of Reality and his emotion at the sight of happy children or fair weather as mere sentiment,

Your affectionate uncle

SCREWTAPE

— from The Screwtape Letters, chapter 30, C.S. Lewis (boldface emphases and paragraph breaks added for ease of online reading)

Ann Warren
Guest
Ann Warren

So, Fred, Which character in your video reflects your take on this topic?  
Ann

Kaci Hill
Member

Fred’s an equal opportunist. 😉

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

The guy, on the right, methinks.

Kaci Hill
Member

Are we taking  bets on Fred’s opinions? 🙂

Joshua
Guest
Joshua


 
That little animation legitimately made my life better. 😀 I laughed a lot, acutally. 😛
 
Thank you for making/ posting it. 🙂