Back in June, an article in The Wall Street Journal caused a stir in the world of young adult fiction. (You can read it here.) I follow what goes on in that universe because I mainly read YA books, and I'm writing one. Most everyone with an online presence in the YA world had something to say about the article, which asserts that YA fiction is "too dark" and generalizes the genre as poison to the minds of our youth.
The article reeks of someone who has read about the books she describes, but not the books themselves. And that's why I didn't write about this whole business sooner. There is no surer way to make a fool of yourself than to take a stance on something that you don't know enough about, and honestly, I've only read a few of the books the author mentions.
Ay, there's the rub. I read around two YA books a week, and I have only read a handful of the books mentioned. Obviously there are plenty of books out there that don't fit into her poison box, because I read them all the time. In fact, the book I finished reading yesterday prompted me to write this post, but I'll get to that in a minute.
I picked up my first Stephen King when I was in sixth grade. At 12, it was a little too dark for me, and I lightened up by reading John Saul and Dean Koontz. From ages 12 to 14, I stuck to these blends of horror, mystery, sci-fi, etc., and by high school I moved back to King again, who I read alongside the Brontes and Hemingway and Hawthorne. I read these books because I was bored by the age-appropriate fluff I found back then. Anyone who thinks teenagers are reading dark stuff because it's in the YA section should peek over the rims of the rose-colored glasses. I read YA now because the books are entertaining and engaging, which is probably the same reason teens do, if they read them at all.
I recently had the good fortune to meet the talented Kristin Harmel, and yesterday I finished reading her most recent YA novel. After tells the story of 16-year-old Lacey, whose father dies in a car accident. Lacey's journey reflects real issues, with an ultimately positive, emotional resolution. I connected with the characters from the opening pages; I lost my own mother too soon. I would recommend After not only to teenagers, but to anyone who has lost a parent. (Click on the cover to find out more and read it for yourself!)
After is the antithesis of what is described in the WSJ article about YA. It is an awesome, uplifting read, and one more card stacking the deck of proof that YA is not "bulldozing coarseness or misery into children's lives." To the mother who couldn't find anything appropriate for her daughter to read, I say look harder. Ask librarians, book sellers, or other young readers for recommendations. Ask someone who knows where to find great books.