By Allison Brennan


If you were on Twitter last night, you couldn’t have missed the slew of #YAsaves hashtags after the extremely biased and ignorant article on current YA novels came out in the Wall Street Journal. And I’m sure there will be a slew of blogs in cyberspace today and throughout the week about this article. Fortunately, it gave me a great subject for today, and something I feel passionate about.

The piece was essentially a criticism of the dark YA novels being published today, from THE HUNGER GAMES to THE OUTSIDERS, the latter which the author claims launched the current publishing preference of darker YA fiction.

I’m 41. Growing up I didn’t have this amazing selection of YA books. At the age of 13, I graduated from Judy Blume and Lois Duncan and Paula Danzinger and Nancy Drew right into Stephen King and John Saul. I read THE STAND during Christmas break when I was in 8th grade. It wasn’t a “YA” book, but it was certainly no “lighter” than most of what’s published today. I had no choice. There simply wasn’t the selection available. Most of the books that would be published in YA today were dubbed “literary fiction” in the 70s and 80s—hardly something I would have read if not forced to in school.

I am thrilled that my kids have choices in books today. I’m thrilled when they read. I love when they talk to me about their books.

I’m not one who believes the offensive article in the Wall Street Journal shouldn’t have been published. I don’t agree with it, but the author has every right to voice her opinion. When I was editor of an alternative college newspaper, our motto (attributed to Voltaire) was, “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” That didn’t stop people from picking up stacks of our monthly paper and tossing it into trash bins. I’m more frustrated that there was no counterpoint, that the WSJ didn’t solicit an alternative argument for such a blatantly pro-censorship piece.

I found it hugely ironic that an article broadly condemning contemporary YA novels to the extent of saying, “The book business exists to sell books; parents exist to rear children, and oughtn’t be daunted by cries of censorship” recommended as “acceptable” Ray Bradbury’s brilliant FAHRENHEIT 451, which tells the story of a dystopian society which forbids reading and critical thought.

Hands down, Bradbury is one of my favorite authors and FAHRENHEIT 451 one of my favorite books. It illustrates what happens when censorship is taken to the extreme.

I’m coming out of the closet today. I am philosophically conservative. A classic liberal. I abhor censorship of all kinds. I believe in the free exchange of ideas, the right of parents to rear their children and decide whether something is inappropriate for their age or maturity level. I would never tell a parent they have to let their child read something, or tell them they shouldn’t let their child read something.

I censored my children’s reading material when they were younger because I felt some was inappropriate for their age or maturity level. When they reached 12 or 13, I stopped. If they asked my opinion, I would share it, but at 13 I felt they were mature enough to make their own reading decisions. I just wanted to know what they were reading just like I need to know who’s house they’re going to, if the parents are going to be there, when they’re going to be home, and what movie they’re planning to see at the mall.

My daughter Kelly reviews YA books for RT Book Reviews. Nearly every book she reads she discusses with me and shares her thoughts about not only the writing, but the story and message. She can be a harsh critic and a vocal advocate. Several of the books condemned by the WSJ article Kelly read, including SHINE by Lauren Myracle and RAGE by Jackie Morse Kessler (who’s also a writing friend of mine.)

Kelly was particularly incensed by the article’s comments on these books, both of which she enjoyed.  On RAGE, the article said:

“The argument in favor of such novels is that they validate the teen experience, giving voice to tortured adolescents who would otherwise be voiceless. If a teen has been abused, the logic follows, reading about another teen in the same straits will be comforting. If a girl cuts her flesh with a razor to relieve surging feelings of self-loathing, she will find succor in reading about another girl who cuts, mops up the blood with towels and eventually learns to manage her emotional turbulence without a knife. 

Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures. Self-destructive adolescent behaviors are observably infectious and have periods of vogue. That is not to discount the real suffering that some young people endure; it is an argument for taking care.”


Kelly read first HUNGER (about anorexia) then RAGE (about cutting.) She is neither anorexic or a cutter, and reading the books didn’t make her stop eating or start slicing up her arms and stomach. But the books made her think, and we talked about these very real disorders and what might cause them and what signs to look for.

I’ve written about serial killers and  rape survivors and vigilante killers. I don’t think that I’ve created a serial killer or a vigilante killer, but I’ve had dozens of emails from rape survivors thanking me for speaking out for them. 

Kelly was SO angry about the article that I suggested she blog for me today. She said she couldn’t, she was too mad, but she’s writing something for Murder She Writes that’ll go up on Thursday. I think it’s important to hear the YA perspective, so I’m going to nag her. (After all, what are moms for? We live to nag and embarrass our children.) It’s one thing for the YA authors to be angry; what about the readers they’re catering to?

Kelly read SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson the summer before 7th grade. It’s a book about rape in junior high. (She’s also read many of Laurie’s other novels, including WINTERGIRLS which she loved.) This was the same summer we watched all three seasons of VERONICA MARS with my oldest daughter, Katie, who then was about to start 9th grade. That show opened up important discussions that we still refer to now, three years later. About partying and drinking and date rape and cheating and being safe on-line and more. I am much more confident that my girls are prepared to face the challenges of high school and college because, though raised in a stable home with all that they need in a relatively sheltered middle class environment, they will be smart and cautious and sympathetic and empowered. I was so proud reading my oldest daughter’s yearbook that there was a consistent theme to the comments—that her peers admired her because she stands up for what she believes in. Not just because it’s an admirable trait, but because I know how hard some of her stands were, and that she didn’t always have universal support.

Not all kids are ready to read a book like SPEAK at the age of 12. No one should force them to read it. But SPEAK, and RAGE, and SHINE, and all the others, need to be available for those who are ready, who are mature enough or need the book.

And it’s not just teen “issue books” that are being targeting. It’s the entire genre of darker YA fiction that was essentially dissed. The individual books were highlighted because they are easy to categorize as being about cutting or rape, but make no mistake, the author of this article was targeting the entire YA genre that at this point in time is leaning dark and darker.

Ideas matter. Books matter. I’m not threatened by different ideas or philosophies or views. I may not agree with them—and I may not want my kids reading some books or watching some movies—but I would never tell you that your kids shouldn’t.

I write commercial fiction, specifically romantic thrillers. There is nothing in the WSJ article I haven’t heard before related to sex and violence in adult fiction. I have sex in my books; I have violence. I have foul language. I don’t write for everyone. One of the hardest lessons to learn as a writer is also a hard lesson to learn as a human being: you can’t please everyone, and you shouldn’t try.

Growing up, there were several books that impacted me and have stayed with me for life.

One book I can’t remember the title (I always thought it was Judy Blume, but now I can’t find it) but I read it in fifth grade. It was about a girl whose mother never married—just like mine. I can remember reading it because there was a father-daughter dance at my school—and in the book. My grandpa took me to mine, and if I’m not confusing fiction with reality, the heroine in the book had a grandfather who took her to her dance as well. Trust me, there weren’t a lot of kids in the 1970s whose parents had never married (or at least, hadn’t known or admitted it.)

I read Flowers for Algernon and Harrison Bergeron when I was in seventh grade, and those two stories have stayed with me ever since.

And sometimes, I don’t remember how powerful something was for me … until my kids read it and it brings back memories. Like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest which I read in 8th grade and then recently re-read when my daughter read it for school. Or Huckleberry Finn. Or In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Like I said, there wasn’t a lot out there for YA readers.

Censorship is bad news all around. If I teach my kids anything, it’s that they have the right to speak, to have an opinion, to even have a differing opinion (though as the mom, I have veto power, and they just have to live with that.) I want them to challenge and question. Some of my strongest held beliefs today are the ones I challenged the most. Because they withstood my rigorous tests, they are my foundation. If I’ve tested my faith and it survived, no one else can shake it. If I’ve tested my philosophies and opinions and they survived, no one else can shake it. I have to have faith in my kids that they, too, can challenge themselves and be better people, better human beings, as a result.

On Twitter, the YA authors are asking people to share which YA book has most impacted them and why (in 140 characters or less!) with the hashtag #YAsaves. What would you say? And if you’re on Twitter, say it here and there!


42 thoughts on “#YAsaves

  1. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Allison

    What an interesting post. I admit that I'm against censorship in principle, but was interested to note on the news today a Malaysian Muslin group – Global Ikhwan – has launched the Obedient Wives’ Club with the aim of teaching women to be submissive and keep their spouses happy in the bedroom. Apparently they view this as a cure for social ills, working on the theory that if women ‘obey, serve and entertain’ their husband won’t stray or misbehave.

    They have a perfect right to publish such aims, but somehow I wish they didn’t …

  2. B.E. Sanderson

    You tell 'em, Allison. I didn't follow the link to the WSJ article – it's too early and life's too short to get my blood pressure up. She's just one in a long line of censors dating back to the first cave woman to cover her kid's eyes when Oog drew genitalia on an ox.

    I don't remember reading much YA when I was a teen. I know I loved Paula Danziger, but by the time my peers started reading YA, I was hip deep in the SF/F section. There were some books in there I probably never should've read (and at least one I wish I hadn't), but I did and I turned out fine. Like you, I stopped monitoring what my daughter reads around 13. If she has concerns or questions, she talks to me. And even without the issues in the books she reads, we talk about everything – even if I have to push and make her talk about uncomfortable things – because, also like you, I don't want her to be blindsided by events out there in the world.

  3. Jeff Abbott

    Allison: I agree with your take. Was that supposed to be an article or an editorial — the tone was sneering, and the irony of recommending FAHRENHEIT 451 was entirely lost on the author. The author didn't bother to talk to any young readers or YA authors.

    My first YA novel, Panic: Ultimate Edition, comes out in the UK this month. My point of mentioning it is not to market it, but to explain something: my mental state in writing it was so much different than writing for adults. The book is a re-imagining of Panic, a thriller of mine that did very well in the UK, but with the main character now as a 16 year old schoolboy instead of a 23 year old adult.
    Writing it was far more than changing his age with Word find-and-replace: a teen who loses his mother and is being chased by killers has a very different emotional reaction and a very different coping mechanism and set of skills than an adult. And the whole time I was writing the book, I was thinking–kids will be reading this. Kids like mine. And while I wasn't exploring a difficult social issue like anorexia or cutting, I was exploring what it is to have your first love, to be afraid for your life, to lose a parent, to make peace with an enemy, to try and become a man. I felt a sense of responsibility that was different, and deeper, than what I feel when I write for adults.

    If you read the tweets or blogs from YA authors, you get a sense that they feel an enormous responsibility in what they write and how they deal with difficult topics. The WSJ article made it sadly sound like they're just out to shock and exploit.

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Allison, our neurons cross again – I was just writing a blog about this myself, but I hadn't heard about the WSJ article.

    This sounds like a person who has never been to high school. All that "edgy" stuff is exactly what was going on in my HS, and my middle school, it's just that no one ever talked about it.

    I've just finished a very dark YA that combines edgy and paranormal that I put all of that dark stuff into – because I was ALWAYS looking for books that dealt with the dark side of high school.

    It would have been such a relief to have had more books that actually dealt with the horror I felt when I heard some of my friends' experiences. I think it's fantastic that YA authors are facing these subjects head on – the real danger is NOT talking about the bad stuff that happens, leaving the psyche to twist itself into knots trying to make sense of a world in which these things happen and no one ever acknowledges it or DOES anything about it.

  5. PK the Bookeemonster

    Here's my question: if kids are living in it — albeit perhaps not the extremes in books — why can't they read about it? Philosophically, I'm a conservative. No government or education system has the right to dictate what an individual has access to. What does censoring accomplish? It doesn't teach kids or individuals how to think or deal with issues. And sadly, that is exactly what some hope to accomplish, I think. Creating zombies who can only live if being told what to do and think throughout their lives.
    As Allison mentioned, there wasn't much out there for young adults to read back then so those books didn't impact me. Judy Blume was as dangerous as it got. And maybe THE OUTSIDERS. Then I started reading my mother's Gothic romances in the 5th grade (she didn't know about it). However, the book that impacted me the most was DUNE by Frank Herbert which I read in 8th grade I think it was. There were issues of economics, governmental control, religion/beliefs, environmental issues, class/societal issues, even addiction.
    The best thing a parent or educator who truly believes in educating kids can do is to let them read and show them where to find more information.
    Great post, Allison.

  6. Louise Ure

    Thanks for the post, Allison. This is truly Thought Police kind of stuff. If kids don't read about cutting/anorexia/rape/sex they won't do it? Oh, really?

  7. Jeff Shelby

    Great response, Allison. If she thinks these issues aren't prevalent in the lives of teens today, she is sadly mistaken. And her complete failure to understand the sub-genres within YA and just throw one big ignorant blanket over books for kids and adolescents is ignorance at it's finest. There is no mention of the difference between middle grade books and YA books, yet she references several authors who write both. Lumping all of those books together would be funny if it didn't send such a misguided message.

  8. Shizuka

    When people moan about YA books being too dark, I have to wonder, do they remember how hard being a teen was? Or did they ignore anything not pleasant and hope their kids will, also? Some YA books are dark because the world is and writers are trying to figure out how teens survive. When I was in high school, I read almost zilch YA; the books felt too detached from reality.

  9. JD Rhoades

    Kick-ass post, Allison. I'm sending this one to a friend who's writing a YA, but thinks it might be too dark. I've always found that argument that "'We can't let kids read about stuff that kids are doing because that might make them do it" to be particularly dimwitted.

    "I am philosophically conservative. A classic liberal. I abhor censorship of all kinds. I believe in the free exchange of ideas, the right of parents to rear their children and decide whether something is inappropriate for their age or maturity level. I would never tell a parent they have to let their child read something, or tell them they shouldn’t let their child read something."

    This liberal agrees with you on this. It's a sticky issue that tempts us to use our best impulses for the worst outcomes.

    I think for example, that a parent forbidding their kid to read HUCKLEBERRY FINN or THE OUTSIDERS in school is wrongheaded, short-sighted and damaging to the child's education, but I also believe, even after years of working in CPS court, that the State doesn't have any business second guessing a parent's decision on a child's upbringing unless that upbringing (or lack of same) puts the child in actual physical or severe psychological danger. By the same token, however, another parent saying "my child can't read RAGE in school, but neither can yours" gets my back up.

    As to which YAs had an effect on me…certainly THE OUTSIDERS, but also some of Robert A.Heinlein's juveniles, particularly HAVE SPACE SUIT WILL TRAVEL. (THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS and STARSHIP TROOPERS aren't really considered considered among the "juveniles" but they could be YA).

  10. Gayle Carline

    I'm in my fifties, so I didn't even have Judy Blume. I don't remember a "YA" section of the library or bookstore – you went from Children's to Over There With Everybody Else. I read Lord of the Rings in 8th grade, Catcher in the Rye in 9th (required school reading), Lord of the Flies in 10th, etc. Although I was terribly sheltered and kept in as naive a state as possible by my mother, she didn't censor my reading or TV habits, because she thought I'd never read or watch "that kind of stuff." So, of course, I watched outrageous performances on PBS and read controversial books I got from the library. In my heart, I was still a Pollyanna, but I had some inkling of what the world could be like. I look back now and realize how much trouble I could've gotten into and didn't, thank God.

    I do remember times as a teenager when life was dark for no particular reason. It was probably hormonal, teenage angst, but it felt like I walked into a tunnel with no light at the end. The current crop of "dark violent YA" might have been just the thing for me to read during those times, not to give me ideas about cutting and anorexia and suicide, but to give form and shape to the darkness. Making it less ambiguous might have made it less frightening.

    The bad part about the WSJ article is that it's an Op Ed piece, not news or fact. It should be labeled as such.

  11. Allison Brennan

    Thanks everyone for your comments and support! One more point to add: I went to a very small, private high school (I was on scholarship and worked one period in the cafeteria serving food and cleaning up after my peers–that was a humbling experience!) … anyway, in the 1980s drugs were really on the rise. I knew someone who attempted suicide, someone who was expelled for being drunk on campus, someone who was anorexic, someone who was bulimic … today, my kids go to a small, private parochial school where some adults think all the kids are "good" kids. And they ARE good kids — but my daughters know a kid who was expelled for being stoned at a sporting event, someone who was a cutter, and there are other issues I can't even post here in case someone from their high school reads it and starts rumors without really knowing who I'm talking about. At the elementary school even though there are teacher monitors and very strict rules of conduct, there is still bullying. If my kids read YA literature in order to understand the world around them right now, in order to help them cope and understand, the more power to the genre, and the more prepared they'll be when they get in college and beyond.

    But YA books are not all about teen issues. They are also entertainment. Kids should have just as many choices in entertainment as adults do. They can be fun and light while dealing with contemporary issues that aren't as dark and tragic as cutting and teen suicide. I'm thinking specifically of Sarah Dessen who still writes compelling teen literature that usually focuses on finding a place to belong or first love. Both equal important subjects. I gravitate to the dark side because I have loved dystopian books since THE STAND. In college, I took a class called UTOPIA, DYSTOPIA AND MODERN POLITICAL THOUGHT which was my favorite class ever. 🙂

    PK: Thank you for reminding me about DUNE!!! I read that in 8th grade, too. I was on an SF kick (not so much fantasy, however) and that book was amazing. I read a bunch of short stories that have stuck with me as well, the two I'll never forget (I still remember where I was when I read them–in my library) — A SOUND OF THUNDER by Bradbury and THE MAN WHO BUILT A CROOKED HOUSE by I think Asimov. The latter was about a tesseract, a theoretical mathematical principle. I read that story multiple times to understand it, and I'm not a big math person so I don't know why I was so enthralled.

    Shizuka — My daughter thinks that the author of the article wants everyone to wear blinders. That if they don't see it, it's not there.

    Jeff — you are absolutely right. There is a distinct difference in middle grade and YA books. Kelly read Neal Shusterman, Margaret Haddox, SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, etc when she was in 3rd grade–that was when she started picking up *real* chapter books (after reading the entire Judy Blume series!) She tried Nancy Drew but they are so outdated she can't relate to them. (They have a young Nancy Drew series for 7-10 years, which I bought for my 8 year old, but they are WAY too easy — even though she loved them.)

    Hmm, you know, I've read several Nancy Drew's to my 8 year old and she wants more and they're driving me crazy. I should blog about how outdated they are. Like Nancy letting Ned drive her car. The 18 year olds always wearing dresses or "slacks" (um, my 17 year old LIVES in jeans and shorts.) No cell phones. No computers. (I'm all for going to the library for research, but really, most of what Nancy looks for there can be found in two minutes if you Google it!)

    Alex, absolutely–what we don't know is far more dangerous than what we do know. Information is power. Knowledge is power. When we give kids–everyone, really–that kind of power, they can and will survive. I really believe that. But when we attempt to shield them, we cause more damage. That's why her recommendation of FAHRENHEIT was so hilarious–that entire book completely destroys her own argument.

    I also think she completely misses the point about the role of parents, even though she quotes a parent (who obviously didn't spend enough time in the store, because I could steer her to ten books that she would love for her kids.) There are kids who don't need or want darker themes in their head and no one is forcing them to read things that scare them. Parents know what their children can handle, and I do believe parents should be involved. If a parent felt that certain reading material that a teacher wants a child to read would give their sensitive child nightmares, then I think there should be an opt-out system and an alternative book. But I don't think that the book should be banned. Parents need to be respected and listened to, but not to the extent that one parent makes all the rules.

    For example, my boys (10 and 7) love action movies. I took them to PIRATES 4 even though I thought it might be too scary for my 7 year old. But he REALLY wanted to go. My 8 year old didn't, though she would have. Except I know her, and I know she would have been scared, and I didn't want to put those images in her head. I simply don't take her to "scary" or action movies. I suspect that she won't like them even as a teenager. My 10 year old has always wanted to see the transformers, the pirate movies, the Indiana Jones movies, and we've seen all Star Wars on DVD. I took him to see I AM NUMBER FOUR. He loved it.

  12. Allison Brennan

    Zoe … I know exactly what you mean. There are many things I cringe about when I hear them or read them. But I hope people read that article. Why? Because there are people in America (and the UK!) who think that it's only the extreme Muslims who oppress women or think they should be second-class citizens. They don't see it in modern society, and sometimes a parody (or in this case, an extreme truth) needs to shock them into seeing that maybe there are some issues, though subtle, that are more close to home.

    For example, one of my villains in LOVE ME TO DEATH is a sociopath who met his wife in college. She was the daughter of a conservative minister and all she wanted was the perfect marriage her parents had. She wanted to keep the home and raise her family. There is nothing wrong with that choice. But to her, while putting the family first, she also expected to have what her mother had–outside friends, reading groups, volunteering for charities, etc. But the sociopath couldn't stand to see her help anyone but him. When he finally "allowed" her to join a reading group one night a week, he found out she was reading a book that was about a woman who left husband, and he went ballistic. He wouldn't "allow" her to have friends outside of him.

    I came up with the idea after a writer at a conference told me that her husband wouldn't "let her" do something. I honestly can't remember what it was, but it set me off. Marriage is about compromise, I GET that (I've been married for 18 years!) but husbands don't give the orders or "allow" their wives to do something. We discuss and come to agreements when we disagree. I might choose not to do something I want to do because my husband doesn't like it, but that's compromise–the first time he forbids me would be the beginning of the end. So I took that idea to an extreme. Sadly, there are relationships like my sociopath and the sweet girl even in modern western society.

  13. Chris Hamilton

    So I have to come clean. My son wants Call of Duty Black Ops. We say no. We're censoring that game for him because it's not appropriate now. (He's 13. Activision agrees, to an extent. Thirteen year olds can't access the game's website.) When he's a little older, that will change. So I think some censorship, taking by parents, is appropriate and responsible.

    But it's the parents' job to act as that filter. It's not a matter of denying, but of determining the right age and circumstance for allowing.

    However, I'm surprised that the WSJ article never recommended having the parents actually read the books and decide for themselves–based on something other than someone else's proclamation of appropriateness.

  14. Allison Brennan

    Jeff, you can plug here anytime you want! Congrats on your YA … and you're absolutely right, the emotions you are dealing with are very, very real. YA books don't have to be able specific "issues" to be dark or challenging or emotionally deep. They can deal with life, which can be dark enough. (And throw in a bad guy, it's more exciting!)

    Thanks Dusty–we agree 100%!

  15. Eika

    I started reading YA- the lighter stuff- when I was nine. I'm still reading it today.

    I've read books about depression, suicide, death, eating disorders, drug abuse, prostitution, rape, and so much more. The only thing I've ever been tempted to do, by any of those books, was see if riding on top of a car was as fun as they made it out to be… and then I discovered they have open-air buses in some places.

    But I love, and will probably write, those books that 'should' be censored.


    I'm not on twitter, but I'm going to hold up Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher. It deals with a million issues, and it still is awesome.

  16. We Heart YA

    "Not all kids are ready to read a book like SPEAK at the age of 12. No one should force them to read it. But SPEAK, and RAGE, and SHINE, and all the others, need to be available for those who are ready, who are mature enough or need the book."


    Very well said. This whole post is fabulous and reasonable and fair. Thank you.

    We would be hard-pressed to say which YA book *most* impacted us, but a recent one that we thought very worthwhile was IF I STAY by Gayle Forman.

  17. Miriam Forster

    As a someone who's been in and around the YA/kidlit online community for a few years, I was incredibly moved by the #yasaves thread last night. I was trying to explain to my mom why I have the greatest colleagues and the greatest job in the world, but I was so overwhelmed I was kind of incoherent.

    What HUGELY bothered me about the article was that the author hadn't done enough reading in the genre to be able to talk about it with any credibility. I welcome all kinds of discussion about books, but an intelligent discussion cannot exist if people don't actually know what they're talking about. It just degenerates into rhetoric.

    Also, I spend most of my bookstore time in the YA section, and if her example couldn't find any non-dark YA, she wasn't looking in the C's. Ally Carter and Meg Cabot write awesome, fun YA (with bright covers even) and since they're both NYT bestsellers, they are EVERYWHERE.

    Some kids need fun reads. Some kids need dark reads. A lot of kids need both. All kinds of books are needed, and all kinds of books can save us. I've never been as proud of my fellow writers or the kids and teens we write for as I was last night.

    Thanks for the great post!

  18. JT Ellison

    Right on, Allison. I agree with everything you say here, down the line.

    The first YA I remember reading and being truly affected by was Flowers in the Attic. Now you tell me incest isn't dark? And a bunch of the rest of the books I read were about women forced into marriages with men they didn't know and didn't love, and, as such, doing their "wifely" duty, were raped over and over again. They called them historical romance. Ultimately, these books shared what real love was, and showed how women in bad situations could find their own happiness. So I guess, in Ms, Gurdon's world, forcible rape is okay, we just shouldn't talk about the aftermath.

    I use hyperbole on purpose. I read THE HUNGER GAMES and was astonished at how complex YA had become. And I also walked away from those books thinking, wow, if I'd read that at 16, I'd have been inspired. Not to kill people, but to find ways to ameliorate the possibilities of that situation.

    These books are popular for a reason. Kids today have a strange world to deal with. If they can find succor in the knowledge that someone out there might understand, who are we to say they shouldn't have that?

  19. quirkfarms

    if you don't believe in censorship doesn't this journalist have a right to voice her opinion…however faulty.

  20. Rob Browne

    The author is pushing the same old tired argument that art is somehow harmful to our children. Complete and utter bullshit, of course, and I've been hearing this ridiculous argument for decades. When I was twelve, thirteen years old, I was reading ADULT books. Books full of violence and sex and horror and abuse–crime fiction and supernatural stuff full of amoral heroes and "loose" women.

    Yet I somehow managed to go on to live a productive life, raise two terrific, well-adjusted children, and not kill anyone in the process.

    But thank god I didn't read any books about cutting. I'm sure I'd be covered with scars by now.

  21. Allison Brennan

    ROFLOL Rob. I think we read a lot of the same books.

    quirkfarms: I specifically made the point that the journalist has a right to her opinion and I didn't advocate NOT publishing the article. On the contrary, I said she had EVERY right. I had wished that the WSJ had gone to a YA author like Melissa Marr or Maureen Johnson or Libba Bray or Lauren Myracle to write a rebuttal, however, because the opinion article wasn't really identified as "opinion" and it had faulty information. I've heard through Twitter that the WSJ posted a response–by an unpublished writer writing a YA book. Hardly the right advocate for YA literature. There are plenty of blogs and articles posted out there today and I'm sure throughout the week that will open up discussions.

  22. Allison Brennan

    Chris, my 10 year old asked for the same game and I said hell no. But that's my role as a parent, and no way is a 10 (or 13) year old ready for black ops. However, my son has a friend who has an older brother .. . and you see where this is going. I also realize that when my son is 15 or 16 or 17 (depending on his maturity level) and I get him one of the more violent games, my younger son will be exposed even if I say he can't play. So I will take that into consideration as well. My daughter's 17 year old boyfriend has some of the call of duty games, and a lot of the high school kids, and I know them and they're not violent or about to shoot up the school or go on a rampage. They're good kids. But they're also older, and younger kids don't need to see realistic violence (and half-naked women) in their video games. I got him Super Smash Bros which is a little violent, but nothing like the M games, and it's going to have to tide him over for a few years. I commend you for sticking to your guns, because it's parents who relent that cause problems for the rest of us 🙂

  23. Allison Brennan

    JT: I read FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC and the next several books in the series … totally dark and twisted and I couldn't stop reading them! I hear they're re-issuing them …

    Miriam: Great examples of lighter (and fun!) YA. My friend Roxanne St. Claire sold a YA book called AS YOU WISH which is both lighter in tone (like Sarah Dessen and Meg Cabot) but deals with very real emotions of young people. I can hardly wait to read it. There are LOTS of lighter YA. Right now, there is a glut of darker books, a lot of fantasy (my daughter Kelly just read WILDTHORNE a British-set historical about a girl who wanted to be a doctor but it was forbidden in the time. Her father, a physician, was giving her permission to go to nursing school, then he dies and she finds herself at an insane asylum where they call her by a different name. I also remember two years ago when my daughter read ENVY and the other debutante books she came to me in horror and asked if I would ever force her to marry someone she didn't want to. 🙂

  24. Fran

    It's been over 10 years since I taught high school, but even then the things that were going on in the halls, on the grounds, in the classrooms on an everyday basis were so disparate from what parents often believed of their kids that I was constantly astounded. "My kid would never. . ." is an old refrain, and it's wrong more often than not. What it really meant is "I never saw my kid doing. . ." but that was frequently willling blindness too.

    Thank yo for sharing this article and your take on it, Allison. I'm going to run it past our YA seller, and I suspect she's going to have something to say about it in the not too distant future (especially if the shop's new website is stalled again). Underestimating our young people and what they face is almost epidemic on some levels, and going after YA books is absolutely not the solution. Often those books are the only touchstones some kids have.

  25. Chris Hamilton

    Also needs to be said… My son is 13. In his lifetime, this happened:
    — Columbine
    — September 11
    — Genocide in Darfur
    — The revelation of the depths of the pedophilia and cover up in the Catholic church (which we attended)
    — A tsunami in which a quarter million people were killed
    — Two wars, both covered on TV
    — Multiple instances of fiduciary shenanigans that resulted in peoples' life savings being torn away
    — My layoff for almost two years
    — And, since the first of the year, a massive earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster; scores dead in tornados that came unbidden and destroyed everything in sight.

    That doesn't include the bleak economic picture and the fact that a radical religious element has said it wants to exterminate everyone who doesn't believe as they do (and might eventually get their hands on the means to cause mass casualties).

    He's seen stuff about all of this on TV or heard it discussed. Gee, why would he read bleak stories to try to make sense of all that?

  26. Jill James

    Allison, when I was in junior high I was an aide in a classroom of, I guess today's term would be at-risk teens, then they were just thought of as problem teens and shoved in a room. Almost as a whole, they hated reading. So the teacher brought in books that discussed hard issues like rape, drugs, and self-abuse.

    I was a pretty sheltered child at that time. The teacher said I could read the books if I wanted to as long as I brought them back. I will never forget reading The Grounding of Group Six. The tagline was, every parent would kill their child if they thought they could get away with it. Pretty dark stuff to the then 13 year old me, but it felt so true.In an abusive household you do feel like your parents would get rid of you, if they could without getting caught.

    In the end, the kids outsmarted the hired killer and their parents, that was cool to read too.

  27. MJ

    The WSJ is a hotbed of idiocy these days in articles on culture – before Murdoch they had much better cultural coverage, though it could still be offensively ultra-right at times (I had to write and complain about an article from a specific evangelical POV that condemned all other religions – seriously, I don't read a business paper to be told how good works are a worthless part of religion because all you must do is have a certain perspective towards Christ…).

    Remember, this is the attention-grubbing culture section that ran an article on how it is really more expensive to cook at home than to eat out – they accomplished this by including the cost of the entire bottle of olive oil, jar of salt etc. in 4 portions of food (because no one uses those ingredients again????).

  28. Allison Brennan

    Chris, thank you for putting real-life perspective on the subject of YA literature. There have been periods of tragedy and heroism throughout the ages–the difference today is that kids SEE everything. Information is instant. Pictures of the dead and dying are shown everywhere–online, on television, in print. No one can escape it. Books and video games and movies don't desensitize us–reality does. Books give us hope, video games give kids a chance to safely act out their frustrations, movies give us cathartic relief and all provide an escape.

    Kids faced many of the same things seventy years ago during WWII — but instead of knowing in hours that their father (or mother) is dead, they often have days or weeks to wait for word. Instead of emails or Skype to talk almost instantly with their sons, brothers, fathers, sisters, they had to wait for letters that could take months to arrive. Kids have it better and worse today, as I think every generation can say. I was explaining to my 8 year old daughter, the LITTLE HOUSE fanatic, that 100+ years ago people died of illnesses and disease that have been eradicated; that the infection that Mary Ingalls had surgery for and nearly died would have been cured today with a 10-day dose of antibiotics.

    Jill, what an amazing story. That book reminds me of Neal Shusterman's UNWIND where parents can have their children "unwound" at the age of 13 (basically, donating them for body parts and they are taken piece by piece.) It's being made into a movie. The Margaret Haddox series is about how families are only allowed two children, and the third child must be sent away or killed, and the books is about these "third" children escaping.

  29. Larry W. Chavis

    Excellent post, Allison, and a good exposition of the classical liberal position – that PARENTS are the proper overseers of their children's exposure to society, reading materials, education, etc., and are quite capable of deciding what is best for their own. I am utterly opposed to outside forces, be they societal or governmental, regulating the flow of ideas for me or my family. We can decide for ourselves, thanks.

    Good post.

  30. Maggie

    Good post. I'm a forty something mom and I read YA. I also read suspense and inspirational. I don't censor the books my kids read and have caught flak from some people but I don't let it get to me. They have their opinion. My kids have grown up to be responsible, capable adults.

    I've always taught them to make their own choices. You want to read Stephen King? Fine. But it might scare the crap out you. Go into it knowing what the results of your choices might be.

    I read Wintergirls. I read Speak. I loved both of them-the writing was so intense and raw. My kids loved them too. To censor books is like creating a dictatorship world with a handful of people deciding what's best for all of us.

    Do the ones crying out that some YA is too dark ever watch television? or how about standing in the grocery store line where you can see magazines offering to teach young shoppers a bazillion sexual tricks? Where does it end? Stop the YA. Then TV shows. Then magazines…there is such an easy fix to 'dark' YA.

    The person bothered by it simply says, "I'm not going to read that" and then doesn't. They're happy and readers who enjoy the *dark* YA are happy. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go purge/cut/run away from home because I read it all in a YA. I have no responsibility whatsoever for my actions. The book made me do it.

  31. Barbie

    I've read really few YA throughout my life. I guess it's just not my choice of genre, and, I've never really identified with teenagers even, or maybe most especially, when I was a teenager. When I was 12, 13, I was reading mysteries, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark, then went right over to romantic suspense and thrillers, so, I guess I skipped over the whole YA thing. Having said that, I think it's so important for teenagers to have books and characters they can identify with, and it's also important for them to be aware that there's darkness happening out there, maybe with their own friends. It's easy to overlook these things and think it'd never happen close to you, because, well, these things happen to "other people" not your friends and family. But that's not true. There's real darkness out there. It can happen to EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE!

    I think people have such a "dark" stereotype for people who go through darkness, that so many times it is overlooked. Sometimes, the girl who's going through hell and cutting herself on school breaks is the one who switches colorful, glittery, scented pens in everything she writes to make sure each line has a different color and has the flashiest pink binder, not the one with the dark eyeliner and the spiky bracelet. I just guess… books are important for kids to identify, for friends to identify that their friends might need them, for kids who might need escape.

    Books have saved my life. Maybe not YA, but they have. I've been the girl with the colorful, glittery, scented, pens. I've humbly attempted to write about that in my own blog. I'm not writer, and it's no big deal, but if someone wants to check it out:


  32. Pari Noskin

    My kids have read Ender's Game, Anne Frank (which is incredibly dark if you know the outcome), Hunger Games etc etc. and my feeling is that all of these important books — along with the ones you mention — touch upon critical issues in adolescence and beyond.

    You know what? Fairy tales can be incredibly bleak and frightening too. And they were until Disney got hold of them. And books like Peter Pan. Has anyone really read Peter Pan lately? Do you remember when Tinkerbell came stumbling back from an orgy? Does this mean that Barrie wanted everyone to go to orgies? Hunh?

    Frankly, I'm much more offended for my children – – and all children — when books talk down to them and pretend that this world isn't full of difficult, often scary, realities. NO! We don't have to live in fear, but growing up can be mighty frightening and it's important to give voice to that fact. With 9/11, terrorism, war, economic collapse, starvation, global warming, political grandstanding, and news 24/7 — we'd be fools to pretend the world is a rosy place. It can be very, very good, but there is always darkness waiting on the other side of the light.

  33. toni

    In that graph that starts: "Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—"… I kept waiting for the science or the studies to back this up. But nooooo, that would be too much work, to actually double check a hypothesis that flew out someone's ass one day. Dear WSJ, it is also possible–indeed, likely–that the writer and editors of this piece will one day grow brains because anything is *possible.*

    People have been making this argument for decades. It's specious, at best, and insulting.

  34. Saranna DeWylde

    This was a fantastic post. YOU ROCK.

    My mother tried to censor what I read growing up, but it wasn't what you'd think. She gave me my romance novels. It was the innocuous things like R.L. Stine she wouldn't let me read. Said they were evil. Whatever. I started reading King in 5th or 6th grade because I had a high school reading level and there just weren't any books I found interesting that were available to me.

    Why should all YA be kittens farting sunshine? That's not relevant to what these kids are facing. If these kids can read about someone going through something they're dealing with, it might either be a vehicle for them to discuss the situation with a trusted adult, or it could help them make a better choice than they would have otherwise. Or simply let them know they're not alone. That makes a huge difference in anyone's life.

    I read Go Ask Alice when I was in middle school. It was a lot more effective than DARE or any of the other programs with adults talking at us about our choices and droning on about consequences. And yeah, I posted it on Twitter.

  35. Allison Brennan

    Pari, I was JUST thinking about GRIMM fairy tales vs Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. Many of the same premises with completely different tones and outcomes. My daughter read ENDER'S GAME before 9th grade as required summer reading, and as part of her essay assignment, she had to take a scene and write it from another characters point of view. She chose the scene where Bonzo attacked Ender in the shower and Ender ends up killing Bonzo — she wrote it from Bonzo's POV and it was dark but pulled in Bonzo's motivation that was only alluded to. The whole Ender storyline is dark, but great stories. Kelly also read Anne Frank (I read it in school ages ago) and I'm glad, even though it's depressing because you DO know what happens. She also read ANNEXED (I think that was the title) which was in the POV of Peter, who was her would-be boyfriend. Also dark and considered fiction, though apparently based on certain true incidents. Why would I keep any of this from her? Don't we learn from the mistakes of our past?

    One book I should have mentioned in my original post was LORD OF THE FLIES. One of the darkest books I read in grade school –I think it was 8th grade I read it. I re-read it two years ago when Katie had to read it in school.

    Saranna, I read GO ASK ALICE when I was 12 and I totally agree–FAR more effective than anyone telling me "don't do drugs." Scared the hell out of me, and definitely kept me away from the hard stuff. And I just LOVE your comment about kittens farting sunshine. ROFLOL.

    Toni, I agree, every year or two the arguments come up about the word "nigger" in Huck Finn or Judy Blume or SPEAK or any number of classics and current fiction. And we all come out and condemn censorship and it goes away, but simmers under the surface. It's sad, but if we become complacent, the censors will win.

    Oh, BTW Saranna, my oldest daughter isn't a big reader but one of the series she loved was RL Stine's Fear Street. So I bought them all for her (you do what you can to get your kids interested in reading!)

  36. Saranna DeWylde

    Allison- ALL of them? I had a jealous. *laughs* I had to buy them from the Scholastic order with my lunch money, hide them in my locker and then give them away at the end of the year.

    My younger daughter asked me to tweet him and he replied. Even at 33, I still fangirled all over myself. When I started writing, that's who I wanted to be when I grew up.

    And definitely. Anything it takes. My younger daughter is a book nut like me, but the older one is dyslexic and she gets into books if she's left alone, but the whole accelerated reader program at school where you have to read for points discourages her. So, we've tried lots of different things. She'll give most anything paranormal a chance though.

  37. Amy Pabalan

    I haven't read many YA books, but thanks to this WSJ article, I have a plethora of new books to check out.

  38. Laura

    I also read "Go Ask Alice" when I was 14 – it was passed around my year level (I went to a Christian high school – it was not a title they kept in the library) however my drama teacher insisted we all read "Desert Flower".
    I read Stephen King's "Carrie" when I was 16 and it affected me greatly. – I'm one of those crazy people though, everytime I read the book I hope that she will go to the prom and be happy! Even though I know it doesn't turn out that way… I also watch Titanic thinking "maybe this time it won't sink!"
    Reading was a massive part of my growing up. I started with Sweet Valley Twins when I was 7. The only time my parents (read: Dad) ever tried to censor me was when I brought my first Sweet Valley High book home from the library – I was 11 and the book was titled "Two Boy Weekend" and had a picture of Jessica in a bikini on the front cover. I think he took the title too seriously.
    But I'd say overall it was Francine Pascal's Sweet Valley High that were the most influentual books when I was a teen. From #10 "Wrong Kind of Girl" where Annie tries to kill herself because she doesnt fit in, to #40 "On The Edge" where a character dies of a cocaine overdose. And #90 "Don't Go Home With John" that dealt with date rape, Sweet Valley tackled it all (in it's own crazy kind of way). And the books that I've mentioned are all at least 20 years old. Darkness has always been in young adult fiction, and it's important to recognize that it's not just there for the sake of it. It's teaching, kids are learning from it, they're to an extent relating to it. And for the record I've never done cocaine. Or accepted a car ride from anyone named John.

  39. Jake Nantz

    Sorry I'm late to the party, Allison. I sat upstairs in a recliner at age 13 and read King's THE GUNSLINGER. From there I was hooked, and read voraciously ever after that. I teach FAHRENHEIT 451 and 1984, and that article really concerns me.

    Thing is, it isn't the censorship aspect that scares me the most (though it scares the hell out of me, frankly). It's the lack of discourse between parents and teenagers. I see stark contrast every day, in my classroom and the surrounding halls, between groups of kids who talk with their parents, and groups who clearly have absentee adults at home. The ones who have an open discussion forum at home–whether a single-parent home, divorced two-household situation, or traditional family structure, the parents work to stay a part of their kids' lives– are more mature, grounded, harder-working, and generally more successful in pretty much every aspect of their lives (not just grades and schoolwork). The ones who have parents who "just don't have the time to spend," either because they are too tired from working all day and don't take the time at home to shut the TV off and chat with their children, or are too busy making up for things they feel they missed in early adulthood somehow, those kids are typically stunted in some way.

    I see a lot of it in the form of enabling. The parents know they aren't close with their kids, so they make up for it by assuming everything the kid says is gospel and anyone who claims otherwise is a filthy liar and out to harm their kid for some reason (often socioeconomic difference/'dominance'). Another way that shows up is a combined sense of apathy and entitlement. "Ain't nothin' I do in this school gonna help git me anywhere in life anyway, so why bother?" is combined with "Why are y'all always comin' down on me, I can say whatever/go wherever I want, ain't none of y'all's business." (okay, maybe I threw a little of my own dialect in there…I do teach and live in the south afterall). You talk to the parents of these kids in conferences to try and get help correcting the behavior, and it's clear that the despair the kids feel is coming from the parents having completely checked out and/or given up.

    I don't feel the answer is to pull those books from the shelf. I feel the answer is to talk to your kids about what they want and like to read, and why. Then, go to the bookstore and sit down and read some jacket copy or first chapters with your kid. Yeah, I know it's time-consuming, but is the next episode of "Jersey Shore" or "Real Housewives of (insert city where no housewife would ever actually behave that way)" that much more important than your children? If so, then you shouldn't have been allowed to breed in the first place (tongue firmly in cheek…1984, anyone?).

    Just my $.02

  40. Allison Brennan

    Saranna, okay, maybe not ALL the Fear Street books, but we have about 30 of them … and RL Stine is one of the nicest guys on the planet. I met him at Thrillerfest a couple years ago and told him my daughter's affection for those books, and he said, "They're still in print?" Then he says, "I wrote those when my kids were teenagers. A lot of teens died in those books." LOL. I love his tweets and his wry sense of humor.

    Laura, you are so funny! You must read romantic suspense for those requisite happy endings 🙂 I never read the Sweet Valley High books. I know, I missed out … I read CARRIE when I was 14, and then there was a movie on television. The ending changed with a hand coming out of the grave, and I was home alone at night and screamed. I turned on all the lights in the house, checked the doors and windows, and went to my mom's room until she got home … but I loved the book 🙂 BTW, my kids go to a private, non-denominational Christian school and when I speak to the English classes in the high school and ask what books they like to read, Stephen King is still the top vote getter.

    Thanks for your 2 cents, Jake! I love George Orwell. I read ANIMAL FARM in 8th grade and totally got it, and then 1984 in . . . well, freshman year in 1984, LOL. I can't stand reality shows. My daughter watched one about teens having babies, however, and her reaction was that they were all idiots and she was no way going to get pregnant at 17. (thank God.) And then the show about the rich kids 16th birthday parties … my kids' running commentary is more interesting than the show!

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