Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My thoughts about Dark YA

Everyone's been talking about that random Wall Street Journal article that asks why these "dark" YA books are on the New York Times Bestseller list? People are asking, is it okay for teens to read about these heavy, serious topics?

Of course, avid YA readers know that YA books have been "dark" for as long as they can remember. That is the beauty of YA. Basically, YA can be anything you want it to yet the book still fits inside the small, vibrant Young Adult community. I think that's really cool and one of the things that attracts me to YA. I can find so much variety on one shelf. I'm lazy.

Meg Cabot wrote an excellent blog about what it was like for her growing up and why she chose to read and write the books that she does. It was very interesting to read about her life and also because she introduced me to the phrase "Trauma Porn." I googled it and the first hit that came up was Meg's blog! This was like an hour after she posted it. So pretty much Google is useless when it comes to that. But Meg told us all we need to know about what Trauma Porn is when she said that Lurlene McDainel is the queen of it.

I remember reading Lurlene McDaniel's book when I was in high school. The One Last Wish novels, one after another, thinking about all of these kids with terminal diseases. How did they ever live their lives? How did they cope? But somehow, they always did, book after book, I saw strength and resilience there that I had never experienced before. The books never got old for me. When there was a new McDaniel book in the library I checked it out immediately.

I have always loved "problem" novels. I would computer search my high school library with a keyword like "teen pregnancy" or "eating disorder" or "abuse" and then go check out all of the books that came up. I even liked non-fiction books about those topics. I think I've read so many non-fiction books about eating disorders, first person accounts and the more academic titles. I was checking out books about repressed memory when people would wake up as adults and realized they'd been sexually abused when they were two. I bet the school librarian was like, what the heck is wrong with this girl?

I don't know what's wrong with me! Nobody has asked me to my face. My parents never censored my reading or asked why I liked to read about such depressing things (However, my mom censored my writing once when she discovered my dirty rap lyrics!) I can't answer the question myself. I'm a generally happy person with a pretty good life. There's not much to complain about. Who knows why people are drawn to the books they are drawn to. And does it really matter? but that's why we read books. It's to provide an escape for whatever reason into whatever kind of world or mood that you choose. It's to put yourself inside of someone else's life for just a little while. Books are amazing, how the paper can do so many different things and mean so much.

The world is opening up more, generation to generation. YA novels are constantly growing and evolving, not only blurring the lines between reality and fiction but also the line between adult fiction and YA. That line between adulthood and childhood is something that teens deal with everyday. Can we try to give them a little more credit? I think they can handle these "dark" books. Obviously, since someone is buying them. What's wrong with that?

Meg's post helped me realize that every type to YA book is important. From all those Simon Pulse RomComs to National Book Award winners like What I Saw and How I Lied. From the darkest, literary YA drama to Twilight! All of these different books speak to a different type of reader but they are all important in someone's life. They should not be discounted and it's certainly nothing to be afraid of.

I believe YA books have a special responsibilty. I'm not sure what that is but for some reason they carry more responsibility than adult books. In some other conversations I've found about what YA lit is people say that one thing YA books share is this sense of hope somewhere in the novel. Maybe that's the responsibility I'm talking about. Maybe that's what the journalist realized at the end of his article (she also spoiled 3 YA books I haven't read yet... thanks).

So continue reading those romantic YA novels or the supernatural ones or the thrillers, the dystopian ones, the funny ones, the sad ones. There are so many to choose from you might just read them all. I'm gonna continue to read and review what feels right to me and I expect to find some surprises along the way, especially from reading the reviews of my fellow bloggers.

The darker books will probably still be my favorite though the term "trauma porn" makes me feel a little dirty about it. I like the connection I have to that type of book. My WIP is definitely dark so it helps keep me in the mood. There are so many different layers to life. No one should try to stay only in one box.

Someday, I think I'll finish a book again. Maybe. I'm currently in the middle of about 10. I really don't do that one-book-at-a-time thing well!

PS- Read the article and discussion about the WSJ article here. Much more articulate than what I can do.


  1. I love dark YA. I like to read sad, depressing, serious thing like you do too so no worries if anyone asks your weird question about your state. Just that we want to know and have to know that side of the world. Teens lives are not always about the fun, the love and everything bright and shiny right? Oh and I have to search that "trauma porn" phrase. Still haven't got the faintest idea of what it really means.

    And keep writing :)

  2. When I was younger I wasn't a big fan of 'Dark YA', my life was plenty dark enough without reading about other people's lives and their strength to move past their problems or the solution that helps them out of things. I read some of the McDaniel books and I can see what Meg means about 'trauma porn'--I never got why they were so popular, I mean reading was my escape, why read something so depressing?

    Now though...I still don't read a lot of 'dark' YA XD I mean I read books that have darker moments, but by in large the 'darker moments' come from a supernatural reason (a witch, vampire, werewolf, zombie) so I feel safe in how far removed that can possibly be from my real life.

    A little off subject, but have you heard of an anthology of stories edited by Judy Blume called 'Places I Never Meant To Be'? It has authors who have, for one reason or another, been censored from public libraries, school libraries, nationally and/or been the recipient of angry letters from parents who did not approve of their works. I for one never knew that Judy Blume--Judy Blume who I was reading in second grade!--had been banned from schools because of inappropriate situations (a teen masturbating amongst others).

    The book itself is a mixed bag of authors most of us probably read in school for school assignments or because we found them in libraries (Paul Zindel, Norma Fox Mazer, Katherine Paterson, to name a few), but honestly I love it for Judy's introduction.

  3. I do like a problem novel, and I especially liked them as a teen. But I wonder sometimes if the reporters who write these articles about YA really ever do any research. They always seem "surprised" to see what's going in YA. Like it happened yesterday or something.

    Oh yeah, and what was up with the spoilers at the end of the article? I mean like the reporter so totally ruined the ending for other people. LOL.

  4. I heard about the article. Colleen at Chasing Ray was none too pleased and I tend to agree with her. I wonder like Karen if the reporters truly have a real sense of what matters to teens and what we, who mentor and support these teens understand about them. I should read the article. I have avoided it thinking I'm annoyed already. lol