YA throwdown–part II

Since my blog post a couple of weeks on dark YA ago got so many responses, I had to share Meghan Cox Gurdon’s rebuttal to her original article—I admit it, I’m a sucker for comments!

So, here we go again. Considering the fury generated by the original piece, Gurdon does a pretty remarkable job of sticking to her guns and fighting back. Interestingly, from just a quick glance at the comments on the WSJ site, it seems that there’s a lot more support for her position this time around, though I wonder if that’s partly because she’s recast herself in the “victim” role. And so far, outside reaction has been muted, probably because she doesn’t offer much that’s new or different.

But while I held my tongue the first time around, Gurdon’s rebuttal really bugs me, not only because of her message but her sophistry as well. Despite an initial protest to the contrary, once again she’s generalizing about all YA being dark, and while she talks about taking collective responsibility, the examples and quotes squarely place the blame once again on publishers and librarians—yup, back to the ol’ bogeymen. And in the tradition of the worst cultural censors, she closes the essay by saying she just wants to “discuss the subject.” Arrgh!

So, there’s my two cents. Your thoughts? Come on, lemme see them comments…

21 Responses to YA throwdown–part II

  1. Saundra says:

    I think at this point, she just wants the attention. Consequently, most of us are ignoring her. This column is appropriately placed in WSJ’s opinion section, and she’s entitled to her opinion, however misguided.

  2. Kerry Gans says:

    A child psychologist/author Sarah (I couldn’t find her last name) over at The Strangest Situation, takes on the “research” Gurdon cites in her new article. Sarah posits that this research may be why there is more acceptance of Gurdon’s position this time around. Sarah talks about the details behind the research mentioned.



    • Sarah Fine says:

      Kerry, thanks for pasting the link here! I do want to clarify that I did not actually say I thought Gurdon’s viewpoint was better accepted–I actually think people might be tired of arguing about it and are moving on. However, my concern was that people would find her more credible because she “cited” research. People often toss out the word “research” in an attempt to add weight to their opinions, when in fact it’s quite easy to misinterpret findings and twist them in favor of whatever ideology you happen to support. It’s also difficult for most people to tell the difference, particularly when the sources for the claims are not offered. I’ve seen this strategy used a few times in articles on the dark YA debate, and I found the claims to be misleading at best. My post was an attempt to demystify her argument by explaining the theory behind it, and to present peer-reviewed research (with links to the actual studies in several cases) that might suggest the opposite.

      • Kerry Gans says:

        Yes, “credible” was the word I was searching for and my brain refused to find this morning

        In my own thought process, though, I do wonder if using research to make her argument “credible” may have also made some people more accepting of her opinion? Sort of “Oh, well, the experts agree with her, so maybe she’s right after all?”

        But you’re probably right, Sarah – people are just tired of the argument. We all have better things to do, and, really, her opinion is not going to change what publishers sell. Only if teens stop buying “dark” books will publishers stop selling them.


  3. Robin Weeks says:

    I ranted about her rant on my blog on Tuesday. :) You’re right that she doesn’t do a good job at responding to criticism or making her argument more even-handed. She’s trying to back herself up with the same unsupported arguments as last time, and the only study she cites to is largely irrelevant.

  4. Dawn says:

    I agree with Saundra. Gurdon is riding out her fifteen minutes. She also missed a key point in the criticism of her original article. Though some of these YA stories cover dark issues, many of them are also full of inspiration and hope.

    In a recent MPR follow-up panel interview on this topic, the host took a similar approach as Gurdon did. She focused on excerpts of an “edgy” book and talked about the most controversial sections without discussing the overall themes or message — which are often ones of hope. But, when a librarian on the MPR panel asked the host if she read the entire book, the host had to admit she did not. The librarian went on to say that if she had, maybe she would’ve walked away with a different opinion of the book.

    Once again, in her latest article, Gurdon also focused on the most controversial copy from a new YA paranormal. I think she does it for shock value. But now, rather than be furious with Gurdon, I’m wondering if we need to take a closer look at the marketing of these stories. I think the positioning of some YA might be a legitimate concern.

    One final note, when Gurdon addressed Sherman Alexie’s comments, she quoted his editorial and argued that the majority of American teens do not “live in hell.” I don’t think Alexie was implying that in his piece. But the fact is, American teens deal with darkness almost every day. Look at the current stats of teen pregnancy, drug abuse, self injury, bullying, etc. I think some (SOME) YA reflects this environment — but does not create it.

  5. Ciara says:

    The first article made me angry but the follow up just made me sigh. She clearly didn’t listen to a word that was said in response to her first criticism. She’s completely out of touch with teenager’s lives and must live in a very privileged little bubble if she thinks that teens aren’t affected by the issues dealt with in YA. The clue is in the YOUNG ADULT part; teen’s are not children and even the luckiest teens from the happiest homes still know someone with a dark story/past/present. I’m not exactly sure what she wants books for teens to be about, though an author (sorry can’t remember who) posted this video on twitter and I think that this must be what Gurdon is looking for in her YA novels: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2p5svFJ9cQ&feature=player_embedded

  6. Stephen says:

    Let me say that I think Gurdon is wrong. But that’s fine. We can differ in opinion.

    But it is the uninformed, run-to-the-fire-exit, the house of YA literature is burning image she creates with the story of the mother who is unable to find something worthy of purchase from the YA section. The implication made here is that Gurdon, by way of adopting this mother’s sentiment on YA, is damning all YA literature currently available.

    This is fairly simple and her refusal to see this, frankly, astounds me as much as her denial that this is what she actually did, angers me.

    In her rebuttal, she states that such a suggestion is as absurd as someone damning all of television because of a damning critisism of reality television. But this is an improper analogy. Nobody suggested that Gurdon is damning all of literature, but we are suggesting that her sliver-of-the-pie evidence portraying YA as dark is being used to damn all of YA when she suggests that a mother can not walk into a bookstore’s YA section and find one, single, book to buy for her teenager.

  7. Lisa Marie says:

    I find the “dark YA” argument vexing for one particular reason: No one who’s editorialized or written an article about it has even bothered to consult with professional sources in the know. Such as child psychologists and communications theorists. As a former student of the latter, do I believe that various mediums influence what people think about? Absolutely. That’s how journalism works—or at least how it used to work— and there’s empirical evidence to prove this. Publishing is but another medium.

    But the degree to which content makes people (in this case, young adults) act out or affects them psychologically isn’t for me to say or anyone else who lacks expertise. I’d like to hear the voices of professionals who really do know if dark YA is unhealthy stuff. Until then, I don’t really have an opinion about Ms. Gurdon’s, except to say that I would not purchase a lot of what I see on the shelves for my godkids.

  8. Joelle says:

    I haven’t commented too much because while I really don’t like dark YA, I do think it has its place. I just don’t read it. Simple as that. However, this article on a similar topic in a Canadian newspaper actually is much better than what she was spouting. Thought you all might like to check it out: http://arts.nationalpost.com/2011/06/08/appetite-for-destruction-say-bye-to-vampires-and-hello-to-hell-on-earth/ It came out shortly after hers, but as far as I know, was not a response of any kind.

  9. Paula B. says:

    If she doesn’t like what’s out there, she’s free to write her own YA books.

  10. Amy says:

    I’m with Saundra and many others here – this one was clearly marked Opinion and as such didn’t anger me quite as much. And I wasted enough energy over the first one.

    I don’t think Gurdon was saying anything other than there are bad things out there and sometimes it influences good people. I agree with that, actually. Thankfully, our kids don’t live in a vacuum. Anything we just throw at our kids without context — books, movies, tv, music – any of those things can send the “wrong message” if we just leave our children to figure out everything completely on their own. Really, when I look at the long list of influences on my children, even the darkest YA book is going to be near the bottom of my list of worries. But I thought that was why parents parent – we’re not just here to buy food and clothes and that’s it.

    • Lisa Marie says:

      ::Cheers for Amy!::

      Parents — even us “hip aunties” — must know what’s appropriate for children, given their age and level of maturity. My folks always knew what I was reading, and certain books were forbidden until I was older. Of course back in that particular day, it was Judy Blume’s “Forever” or any book that dealt with teen sex. To my mind, they made the right decision. I shouldn’t have been reading about teen sex when I was 13, 14 or 15 any more than I should have been going to see R-rated films.

      Obviously, these were simpler times. Sigh.

  11. Clix says:

    I’m glad this one’s placed in the “Opinion” section. And her statement that she’s interested in discussing ANYTHING is a bald-faced LIE. I’m so over it. 😛

  12. So while I agree her argument is a bit over the top, has YA lit gotten darker? I don’t really keep up, but I remember reading stuff like A Wrinkle in Time, the Chronicles of Prydain, the Pern books, etc. and I don’t remember them being quite so dark. I mean, none of them featured teenagers killing each other at any rate. :) Then again, those books were probably around but I just didn’t stumble upon them. I’m guessing the issue is probably magnified since Hunger Games is so popular everyone (apparently) is trying to copy it. (Which is strange, since I found it sort of boring. Oh well…)

    • Clix says:

      Lord of the Flies, maybe? That one featured kids killing each other… and they weren’t even pushed into it. I’m sure there are others, but that one (and it’s a Classic, too!) popped into my head immediately.

  13. John says:

    Wow, ask and ye shall receive! Thanks for chiming in everyone. Not that we’re competitive about how many comments our blogs get or anything… but seriously, wish the “discussion” on the WSJ site were as thought-provoking (and polite) as this!

  14. Right after the first WSJ “dark YA” piece was published, I checked out the book section at Target; an entire aisle is devoted to YA. One half of the books had dark colored covers with the typical paranormal themes. The rest of the books showed an array of pinks and purples on the jackets, not even hinting at a “dark” theme. I picked through half a dozen of them and saw no mention of cutting, suicide or whatever else could be thought of as poison to our teens :/ Even sifting through the “dark” books I found most to be fantasy and romance.

    In a half-assed search I found many books I’d feel comfortable giving to my friend’s teenage daughters. AND these were easily accessible. Even WalMart has YA books now.

    I found the rebuttle article by Gurdon to be smug and off-putting. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I still feel her research is more of pick-and-choose variety to illustrate whatever point she’s making. Is it her goal to further frustrate parents and discourage their kids from reading?

  15. I’m so glad I’m not alone in being totally cheesed-off by Gurdon’s rebuttal. It was such gratuitous BS, and I kept wondering, Why is she even bothering? She’s just repeating herself?

    Still, I’m grateful for her obnoxious posts. They’re terrific sources of blog traffic for me since I started posting the link to my response in her comments. Tee hee!

  16. DBurks says:

    Aren’t most people all over the blogs missing the point? A sale was lost because of perverse appearances. No matter what the book contained it was presented in a way that made the purchaser turn away. Publishing is about selling books. Every young adult reader has at least six middle aged relatives who occasionally need to buy a gift for them for less than twenty dollars which can be sent through the mail, does not come in sizes and can be purchased without a lot of time or thought. A book is an ideal choice, but the buyer usually has no knowledge of the subject or the writer or current issues among teenagers. The gift is a token of some minor occasion like a birthday, and the giver never wants to be controversial or embarass the parents. There are millions of potential buyers for a book that promises adventure and excitement so why present it as dark, perverse and wicked? So, gift cards proliferate, and a book sale is lost. At best a safe classic from the nineteenth century is purchased, but Rudyard Kipling, James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Allen Poe, Jules Verne and Jack London deal with every dark and dangerous issue imaginable. Publishing is about selling books; we should make it easy.

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