A Light Not Bright Enough
I hated Jr. High School. I hated High School even more.
Sure, some of it was your normal teen angst stuff, but the majority had to do with being raped and abused by my paternal grandfather when I was young. I didn’t know how to deal with it, nor did anyone around me. So I fell apart. Exploded is probably a better term.
I’ve been picking up the pieces ever since.
My story is a very common one, though. In 2007 alone, there were at least 5.8 million children involved in some kind of child abuse. (http://www.childhelp.org/pages/statistics#gen-stats). And in 1993, before Law & Order: SVU and while rape and abuse was even more underreported than it is today, there was estimated to be 60 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse. (http://www.yesican.org/stats.html). This is just within America.
So when I read articles like The Wall Street Journal’s “Darkness Too Visible” by Meghan Cox Gurdon, I understandably get angry.
Make that downright pissed.
Mrs. Gurdon takes the experience of one flustered mother and lambasts YA Lit. She spits such venomous opinions like:
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. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303657404576357622592697038.html?mod=wsj_share_twitter)
I’m sorry, did you just state that a book about a teenager who cuts will lead teens to cut themselves because they’ll think it’s IN STYLE? Have you ever read anything about the psychosis of cutting?
She goes on to discuss Cheryl Rainfield’s SCARS, upset about the subject matter of the protagonist’s rape at the hands of her own father. Her opinion is that this kind of material should be kept out of the hands of teens. That such depraved stories are merely the publishing industry’s push for freedom of speech. That parents should rise up and refuse to let such “coarseness or misery” into the lives of children.
Let me see if I’m clear. Reading stories about teens dealing with real life situations, especially the not-so-shiny parts, will destroy children? Last time I checked, it was molesters, rapists, bullies and hormones making teens miserable. I never had a book induce me to attempt suicide, but real life certainly did. If I’d known I wasn’t alone by reading some of the very books Mrs. Gurdon is so quick to offer an unprofessional and one-sided judgment of, I might have been spared some of my pain.
Mrs. Gurdon states:
There are of course exceptions, but a careless young reader—or one who seeks out depravity—will find himself surrounded by images not of joy or beauty but of damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303657404576357622592697038.html?mod=wsj_share_twitter).
So, instead of dealing with what is really out there facing young adults, we should write about skipping through the dandelions with the Von Trapps? Where is the truth in that? When did it become the norm to not teach people, especially children, to think for themselves? There is plenty of depravity already facing the majority of young adults. But, for the sake of sensibilities, we should take away a powerful outlet for them to cope?
Browne & Finkelhor, in their groundbreaking 1986 article “Impact of Child Sexual Abuse: A Review of the Research”, uncover the long-term effects that child abuse can have.
Long term effects of child abuse include fear, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, inappropriate sexual behavior, poor self esteem, tendency toward substance abuse and difficulty with close relationships (http://newgon.com/prd/lib/Browne1986.html).
That sounds pretty dark to me. In fact, that sounds like something we need to be shining a giant spotlight on. Bring it to the forefront and enable conversations. Help children understand what they are going through. Do you think all victims have reported their abuse to someone and are getting the help they need and deserve?
Can I borrow your rose-colored contacts and utopian society?
What Mrs. Gurdon did with her article, even with the title, is suggest that these topics should be shoved back into the recesses of the minds of the victims and not discussed. After all, if we don’t talk about it and don’t see it, then it didn’t happen, right? Ugliness only exists because YA authors and publishers are too interested in pushing the envelope?
How DARE she belittle the experiences of millions! I write YA because I love the voice, and you’d better believe that my characters don’t have perfect lives or live in perfect worlds. I’m not suggesting that every YA book needs to contain a harsh storyline, but there should be plenty of options out there.
I am so sick of people who can’t deal with reality insisting that those of us who have lived the wretchedness of the dark just shut up and go away. Guess what, Mrs. Gurdon. I’m not shutting up, nor am I going away. And shame on you for trying to make me. People who insist that the darkness isn’t made visible are just as culpable as the perpetrators of said darkness.
Next time, before you offer your opinion, why don’t you do some research.