My Comments on The Wall Street Journal Post

The Wall Street Journal Post.


Thats right, you all know what I'm on about, but if not, read the article over here. In this article from the well-respected newspaper, written by Meghan Cox Gurdon, the issue of whether young adult fiction is too dark or negative and could possible hurt the readers. There has been a gigantic uproar and, at the fear of a mob of YA readers attacking me, I can agree with a few of the issues raised.


Now, any follower of this blog will know that I read YA and thats about it, the occasional adult book, but mainly young adult, so nobody can really have a go at me for thinking this. As well as this, it is also worth pointing out that at 18 years old, I am a young adult and so I am the target audience of these books.


First of all, I quote the original article to put best into words what the issue raised really is;
"Reading about homicide doesn't turn a man into a murderer; reading about cheating on exams won't make a kid break the honor code. But the calculus that many parents make is less crude than that: It has to do with a child's happiness, moral development and tenderness of heart. Entertainment does not merely gratify taste, after all, but creates it."

This argues that, even though reading about a self-harmer won't make you a self-harmer, it puts the diea into your head and may also emotionally affect you. 


I kind of agree with this idea. There are a few books that have affected me so emotionally that I've had to get rid of them as they cause such an effect on me. Entangled by Cat Clarke is one example, the issues of self harm, suicide and cheating are raised here and it's such a gritty, raw novel that it can actually make the reader cry and think, and I think for a while after I read it, I was much sadder as I couldn't get the story off my mind. 


Now here is where it gets a little personal. In the year 2009, I went through a very tough time in which I suffered from an eating disorder (anorexia), as well as self-harmed on my legs, I may have attempted suicide a time or two as well. After a round of counselling and after distancing myself from the people that were making me feel that way as well as some very painful (and expensive) cosmetic surgery on my legs, I recovered and now I am 100% happy and 100% healthy. Maybe my experience makes me a little more empathetic to the characters that I read about, but the point I raise is that in Entangled, the main character cut her legs and attempted suicide, something that I can heavily relate to and maybe that is why it got such a heavy emotional reaction from me.


But the truth is, while I was going through those hard times, I escaped into a book and when that book was going on about the same issues I was going through I would react in either of two ways. First of all, I'd be a little sad, I would wonder why even when I tried to escape, my problems had to follow me anywhere, it's not really escapism if you can't escape from real life, is it? The second reaction would be happy, this author really knew what was going through my mind, many of times you will hear people going through emotional issues saying the same lines: "Nobody knows how I feel, I'm alone in the world", and to be able to read your own feelings and know that somebody has felt that way, they have to have to be able to write it with such clarity.


So of course there are books that get a massive emotional reaction out of the reader and  i dont think its possible to do that without making the character go through one emotional issue or another. I don't think that the long term effects are high, even the most sensitive reader may read the book, cry a little and then read another book and forget all about the first one. Books HAVE to create an emotional reaction otherwise they will be boring.


We also have to look at it from a publishers point of view. Nobody wants to read about the life of the average teenage girl. It has to be very funny (Like in Louise Rennison's 'Georgia Nicholson' series), or very gritty (Laurie Halse Anderson, Cat Clarke, Jenny Downham, Jackie Morse Kessler). Books ahve to be interesting or they won't sell, and the authors have to be commended for the way they deal with the issues. For example, Anderson's Wintergirls tells the story of an anorexic in a train-of-thought narrative, which gets inside the head in a raw way and you can see why parents amy not want their kids to read them.


I have to conclude this post now, or I will go on forever and I doubt anyone even made it this far. While I disagree that YA gritty fiction can have a negative emotional effect on a read LONG-TERM, I have to agree that SHORT-TERM, a book can seriously change your state of mind. Thus, I can see the point of worry for adults.


HOWEVER, people must also realise that books come with a genre, such as Young-Adult which can also double as an age restriction. Young adult means just that, I'd say age 15 or so upwards, though I'm aware a lot of younger readers now read YA books. As a young-adult you are exactly what it says, ou are maturing to an adult and so should be trusted to make correct decisions and not be influenced by a book. for younger readers, there are always Middle Grade and Teen reads.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your personal experience. We totally understand where you're coming from. We agree that books can impact readers -- like you said, they're supposed to! -- but what we didn't appreciate about the WSJ piece was not that she was cautioning parents against some of the "darker" books, but that she was saying that these books intentionally shock readers in order to make them miserable. AS IF that is what authors and publishers want. No way. What she failed to grasp is that authors write these books so that teens will feel less alone, and will see that they (like the main characters) can find a healthier, happier way to live. Like you did. That's what "issues" books are about, and that's what dystopias are about.

    Anyway, your response here is wonderful, and we appreciate your taking the time to write it. We're so glad you are in a good place now. :)

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  2. I didn't see it that way, actually but I realise what you mean. The books shock readers because they have to, think the cliffhanger at the end of Lauren oliver's Delirium, and not because they want to make the audience feel like the characters.

    Thanks for the comment :)

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