An article in the Wall Street Journal addresses the relevant, and difficult question regarding ‘darkness’ or negativity in young adult literature.
“Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?”
And this is a question that many teachers face in their classrooms. Why is it that we teach books about death, abuse, addiction, and pain to young kids?
Admittedly, I’ve asked this question myself many times, especially as I leafed through my younger sister’s assigned reading in her pre-teen years, finding that she was reading about depression and suicide. Or, in sixth grade, when I came home with a book called, The Notebook Girls, from our recommended reading list, only to find my mother appalled at the excessive language, sexual references, and drug use within the pages.
For parents, this type of ‘recommended’ or even academic reading can be alarming. It can raise questions of purpose, and bring about fear that reading about these negative topics will instill improper values in young readers. For teachers, it can also be difficult, as we are expected to teach material that often deals with larger issues, some, perhaps, even beyond our expertise.
This is difficult. And the question is, is it necessary?
When I think about my reading experience in my younger years, I remember being drawn to these ‘dark’ books. I wanted to read something that was honest. I wanted to read something that was real. Sure, the appeal of the forbidden was alluring, but I also didn’t want life’s harsh realities to be hidden from me. I wanted to know what was out there, understand it in my own way, and experience it through the pages.
In an article, “Why Can’t Teachers Assign Happy Books?” author Millie Davis writes,
“Reading about everyday fictional teens rising to the occasion (and, spoiler alert, in YA books they almost always do) allows actual teens to imagine themselves doing the same, within the lower-stakes conflicts and contexts of their own lives. This is empowering, and hopeful, words that I would use to describe many YA books. Even the dark ones. Especially the dark ones. These “dark” books may seem to be about death, about illness, about pain, but really they are about life. The kids get that, even if the adults sometimes, do not.”
There is, perhaps, a lot of truth to that statement. Perhaps having students exposed to the reality of literature is good for them, healthy even. Perhaps it can teach them about the world, help the live vicariously through the text and characters. Or perhaps this exposure is too much for their young, developing brains?
What are your perspectives–would love to hear them!