If you haven't heard of it yet, you will. If you're involved in books at all, or the YA industry, this news will circulate. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article on how YA books nowadays are chock full of violence, gritty issues, and general debauchery.
Let's start out by being nice. We like the WSJ. We do. The article was well thought-out, and very informed of the history of YA as a whole. We wonder, however, if they were perhaps aiming at the wrong issue in YA.
The 'censor what your kids read' issue is a very important one, of course. In a tweet chat about YA a while back, I said that YA should be the genre, out of all the literary genres, to push boundaries. I stand by that today. The entire debate is one that will rage between mothers/Wholesome American Values and authors for many generations.
However, I found it interesting that WSJ decided to tackle the issue of 'grit' in YA, when kids today are exposed to hundreds of the same things, but on TV. This is what we call a double standard. Many people brought up the contrasting issue; "God forbid my kid become an avid reader". There's no doubt YA is the darkest and most gritty of any sort of literary genre, except perhaps those murder mysteries, and even those are detached and tend not to hold a tenth of the emotional pull that YA does. If it gets kids reading and thinking, it's gotta be a good thing, right?
There's a bigger problem than 'dark' in YA. It's a problem no one really addresses, because everyone is fearful of stepping on toes. If WSJ ever decided to do an article on the alarming vapidness of today's YA, it would be very interesting. This problem is more prevalent in YA than even 'dark' trends, but much of it is waved off because that same vapidness tends to make the big money because it is so accessible. Watered down.
I'm friends with local teens in my area and beyond, I know teens all over the world thanks to this wonderful internet thing, and many of them are frustrated by the insincerity of the tone in YA. The soulless-seeming love interests. The lack of character and lack of heartfelt interaction that preaches some kind of whitewashed moral that sex, or anything outside of the middle america's comfort zone, is a thing to be frowned on. Is this what the moms, such as in WSJ's article, want us to write? The public would like us to dumb down YA EVEN FURTHER just so their minds can be eased?
This article may have been about 'dark' themes in YA, but it was subtly pointing out the dichotomy that is the biggest problem in YA today; the seemingly omnipresent state of 'distilled' teenage life that is represented in these books. If the book isn't 'dark', it will more than likely be what many teens deem a 'disappointment', in terms of characters, trying-too-hard tone, or even overall plot. The trend of (mostly fantasy) YA is, as of now, desperately gasping for some new blood, and this is evident in the way teens are now becoming more vocal about their dissatisfaction with YA today.
If the teens are feeling the lack of originality in YA, that means we're becoming too comfortable and stagnant in a world of books where we chase after trends, strive desperately and fail in crafting a believable 'teen' voice, and censor ourselves and hence, the quality of the work as well, to get published. Are we still writers if we aren't making works that speak to teens?
Thanks WSJ, for making us stop and think.