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Young Adult Literature

The most recent salvo of words set off by the WSJ article, Darkeness Too Visible, is the continuation of a conversation described in the Michael Cart book I mentioned a while ago. It dovetails nicely with the "Preface Foreword Intro" of Patton Oswalt's Zombie Spaceship Wasteland:

But something happened in middle school—a perfect alignment of parental support and benign neglect. The parental “support” came from keeping me stocked in Beverly Cleary, John Bellairs, The Great Brain books, and Daniel Pinkwater. Also Bridge to Terabithia, The Pushcart War, How to Eat Fried Worms—and the parallel-universe, one-two mind-crack of The Bully of Barkham Street and A Dog on Barkham Street.

And then there was the blessed, benign neglect.

The “neglect” grew out of the same “support.” My mom and dad were both busy, working jobs and trying to raise two kids during uncertain times. In the rush of trying to find something new for me to read, they’d grab something off the shelf at Waldenbooks after only glancing at the copy on the back.

Whoever did a lousy job writing copy for books like Richard Brautigan’s The Hawkline Monster, H. P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, Harlan Ellison’s The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World, and Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (“It’s about a teenager in the future!” said my mom)—thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. You gave me some tangy, roiling stew under the golden crust of the Young Adult literature I was gobbling up.

So yes, I still love Bellairs’s The House with a Clock in Its Walls, but I always imagine the two bounty killers from The Hawkline Monster in its basement, armed for bear and fucking the Magic Child on a rug. And somewhere beyond John Christopher’s White Mountains are Vic and Blood, hunting for canned food and pussy. And who prowled the outer woods of Terabithia? Yog-Sothoth, that’s who.

Yes, that sounds about right.

I did like the book, overall, especially the parts about growing up in Sterling. Northern Virginia is so close to Silver Spring, where I grew up, and Oswalt is just a couple years behind me, age-wise (he went to middle school, I went to junior high), so reading those bits was like comparing notes for the same class. Then it got a little spotty, and more than a little Cruel Shoesy, but he's a good writer.

Back to Gurdon's WSJ article: her point, it seems, is that there are too many dreadful topics covered in books intended for kids that are published by grown-ups. On purpose!

"I don't, as a rule, like to do this on young adult books," the editor grumbled, "I don't want to compromise on how kids really talk. I don't want to acknowledge those f—ing gatekeepers."

By f—ing gatekeepers (the letter-writing editor spelled it out), she meant those who think it's appropriate to guide what young people read. In the book trade, this is known as "banning." In the parenting trade, however, we call this "judgment" or "taste." It is a dereliction of duty not to make distinctions in every other aspect of a young person's life between more and less desirable options. Yet let a gatekeeper object to a book and the industry pulls up its petticoats and shrieks "censorship!"
Yes, that sounds about right.

I know she was going for sarcasm, but the system she describes is fine by me. My opinion is based on my own experience. I know that a bigger sample size would be preferable, but that's all I've got for sure. I got to choose my own books from an early age, thanks to a good set of libraries (school and county) and parents even more clueless than Oswalt's. Things that were over my head flew right over my head. Things that I wondered about made me look for more information.

I'm reading through a bunch of YA titles right now and I can assure Gurdon that it is not accurate to say that these objectionable books are the only reading material available, or even to say that they predominate the shelves. Since when is the WSJ opposed to market forces?

Okay, it's time for another song that makes me happy. Here's K'naan.

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