Dear Meghan Cox Gurdon,
I get you. I don’t agree with you, but that doesn’t matter. I get your fear. I get your horror. I get that trembling in the dark, looking up at the ceiling and praying to God almighty that your kid doesn’t go through the beyond belief nightmares in so much of today’s YA.
I get you because every year I see parents realize the truth of the world we live in through the eyes of their children.
Drug abuse, incest, rape, suicide, cutting, eating disorders, bullying, dating violence, pregnancy, abortion, adoption, gangs. They’re all there in the halls of the high school. Sometimes hidden, sometimes in your face, but there. Always.
They were there when I was a teenager, and that was a million years ago. They were there when my mom was a teenager a few years before that. They’ve been there forever, but the further we get from the age, the more we forget, the more we wax poetic about the “wonder years.”
The truth is the world is a dark place, but thank GOD, we’re talking about it instead of hiding it away and pretending we’re all Little Women. Thank God we get to read about people who win against the evil out there, who find inner strength they never knew existed, who triumph and say I Am Not A Victim.
I get you because I’m a mom and my daughter just made it through to the other side of the teen trauma years. That time scared me, it scarred her, but in the end, we know those scars are what make all the difference. She claims them. She holds them to the light and says she can make it through anything, and she’s so right. YA encourages that mindset.
Are you right to want to protect kids and their innocence? Yes. My God, yes. That’s part of motherhood. Will keeping them from the darkness of The Hunger Games, et al do so? No.
I still get you. Do you have the right to determine what your kids are reading? Yes. Will you know for sure? No. I can’t tell you how many of my students “weren’t allowed to read Harry Potter” but knew the books inside and out. Should you be aware one way or the other? Absolutely.
Dark YA serves a purpose. Sometimes that purpose isn’t so life changing. One of my students read a book about cutting and was able to cry for hours over her parents’ divorce. She’s not a cutter, never will be, but she connected with the emotional desolation of the character. Other times, the society changing purpose might not have been the intent of the work, but it’s still the outcome. Words like rape and incest don’t have to be whispered any more.
So yeah, I get you. I don’t agree, but I understand.
Find Gurdon’s article here.
NPR segment with YA author Maureen Johnson and Gurdon
P.S. Years ago we ran a package in The Chronicle about teen pregnancy. A reporter shadowed a new mom for two days. Another wrote a story about a girl who gave her baby up for adoption. Another wrote a story about a girl who chose abortion. Over half the faculty signed a copy of the paper and a note letting me know I was encouraging teen pregnancy by allowing my students to write the stories. One teacher came back with an apology and a card with this quote inside: “I may not agree with what you say, but I shall defend to my death your right to say it.” The quote applies here.