The Young Adult Controversy
Story by Nicolette Sarmiento
On a late Sunday afternoon at the local Barnes & Noble, I scanned for nothing specific. Standing at one of the display tables, a girl of about 12 squealed with delight: she found her next book. I watched her run to whom I assumed was her mother. I caught a glimpse of the cover and recognized it immediately–coppery red with big, block letters underneath a golden bird. I smiled, reminded of how I picked up the same book–still one of my favorites–when I was about her age. Then I noticed her mother’s scowl. The conversation was short as her mom shook her head. With a sigh, the girl moped back toward the display and returned the book. Her mom apologized before walking out. She said, “You can read The Hunger Games when you’re older.”
Young adult literature has evolved over the years, barriers knocked down more and more. Writers like Judy Blume confronted serious issues–sex, drugs, self-mutilation, abuse, puberty. However, instead of being commended for tackling ‘tough stuff,’ most end up on top of banned books lists worldwide.
At the 2012 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at USC, I attended a panel of four authors who are considered the most controversial young adult authors of the generation. Four of my favorite YA authors.
Maureen Johnson, Lauren Myracle, Maggie Stiefvater, and Jacqueline Woodson all write fiction, yet their stories earned them negative reputations in the reading (and blogging) world from conservative readers.
The moderator asked how it felt to have parents restrict their children from reading their novels. The four all said something sarcastic, but Stiefvater, author of The Scorpio Races and The Shiver Trilogy, shared one experience. Notorious for her sexual and profane content, she laughed, “I got a letter from a dad telling me he made his daughter put The Scorpio Races down in the first fifty pages and went on about how bad my writing was. And thankfully he didn’t mean my prose.”
She continued, “Apparently, the language used in The Scorpio Races was ‘appalling.’ I was surprised because I think the worst word in the book–at least in the first fifty pages–is ‘tits.’” This is true.
I am part of their readership and know their writing is inappropriate for certain audiences; still, their material needs no censor.
Myracle, known for her series “TTYL,” embraced the fact that people classify her as controversial.
“Someone is always going to be offended,” she shrugged. “But really, what’s wrong with a group of teenage girls talking about sex? I think it’s important that young people learn about this stuff.”
Generally, young adult audiences range from 12- to 19-year-olds (with some exceptions). Parents argue certain topics are “too adult” for readers. Authors counter that writing fiction is writing reality.
The Wall Street Journal ‘s Megan Cox Gurdon ran a story about growing darkness in YA, saying “books focusing on pathologies help normalize them.” The article received backlash from both young adults and parents who promote YA literature.
An NPR blogger wrote a piece defending YA literature just a few days later. Linda Holmes claimed–after poking fun at “Twilight”–that “stopping–actually stopping–a YA reader from picking up a particular book because it describes behavior you don’t want him to emulate potentially cuts him off from something that might reach him.”
Now adapted to film, Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” has received more hype than before. Expected to be the next franchise after “Twilight,” it appeals to a more diverse audience–particularly in the male demographic. However, the idea of children fighting to the death in an arena didn’t sit well with parents and it has jumped into third place on the American Library Association’s Frequently Challenged Book List.
Yet “The Hunger Games” has three books in the top 10 on BN.com and Amazon.com.
Banning books does not keep adolescents from reading. As long as there is controversy, there will be censorship. And something is only as controversial as people make it.
At the end of the day, parents have the last word. If they don’t like it, then their kid doesn’t read it… at that moment.