Sunday, November 8, 2009

Morality and Young Adult Literature

The following is my response to an article at She Writes. I was able to edit my off-the-cuff post here though that doesn't mean this piece is error-free.

Let me open by saying I'm a vocal, very active literacy advocate and I focus on YA literature. I founded and ran a real life group for teens as well as built a library collection and ran the library for years so when I speak I'm pulling on experience with real teens. I'm also the mother of two daughters ages twenty-four and fourteen. I don't censor their reading and neither of them is scarred from their choices of reading material. Now the music and entertainment influences, that's a discussion for another time.

Do writers have a moral duty to protect the young minds of their readers?

Define young. And who determines what is appropriate and moral? Usually the drinking, drugs and promiscuity in most YA books are not there for a titillation solely. On the other hand I could rant for days how Twilight is soft chaste porn and this is read by mothers and daughters. All the titillation you could want, but that's okay because they get married before they do the deed. Mothers, teachers and other adults lavish praise on Meyer. I digress.

Back to your question about responsibility. No, it's not the writers' responsibility it's mine, the parent. Frankly, I'm tired of parents abdicating their responsibility and screaming everyone else should be held accountable for their children's moral and social development. A writer's responsibility is to write authentically. She should be neither condescending nor preachy. Tell the story as she knows it and respect the reader to draw their own conclusions. I loathe those simplistic, overtly didactic stories.

I'm a literacy advocate and while there is something to be said for morality and responsibility, there is also something very dangerous about censorship. Don't think something is appropriate for your child, by all means don't allow them to read it. But I don't want someone else (and those others rarely bother to ask or educate themselves about what I value) dictating what is appropriate for my child or anyone else.

Regarding your point about the vast age range and diversity of what is being marketed as YA, it falls back to parents and readers to educate themselves about the genre. Educators and librarians are trained to know standards and to shelve books based on them. Since it is their business to know, I trust their assessments as a benchmark and then it's up to me to decide what is appropriate for a particular child.

Today's YA has evolved in significant ways from the days when I was a young reader. In fact, if what is available today had been available when I was younger, I would have read more of it.

For me, the media and entertainment industry is where I'd like hold folks feet to the fire because in these arenas gratuitous sex, negative body images and misogynistic messaging is the norm.

Literature more often than not at its core is an examination of who we are, what we want and value and how we correct or embrace what we think of ourselves and our societies.

I'm not arguing anything goes. I am arguing responsibility rests first with the parent not the writer. No writer sets out to corrupt children.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

Your comment:

"For me, the media and entertainment industry is where I'd like hold folks feet to the fire because in these arenas gratuitous sex, negative body images and misogynistic messaging is the norm."

yes, yes, yes! (not to quote Molly Bloom here, but to endorse your opinion and register my total agreement!) All in all, well said!!!

Jessie Carty said...

I couldn't agree with you more on this. My mother and I would share books when I was a kid and almost always had read whatever it was I was reading. I think it is completely with the parents to do their own research about what is and isn't appropriate for their child.

My sister always asks me for suggestions for her two kids on books and movies and when I tell her my opinion, I put it through the slant of what I know she wants her kids exposed to. Maybe for her young on "Where the Wild Things Are" is not appropriate but I can think of other kids who it might be (speaking of the movie here).

Terrific post!

Lorin said...

Brava! Excellent post.

susan said...

Thanks ladies.