Are young adult books too dark and too confronting? According to Meghan Cox Gurdon, author of the article Darkness Too Visible (featured on the Online Wall Street Journal), they are. Of course, it would be easier if young adult fiction only depicted happy shiny lives with no pain or relatable issues, but there’s no such thing as completely happy people, even in fiction.
The article is quick to point out that books where a character self harms or goes through other self-destructive behaviour is giving voice to issues that would otherwise be silent. It posits that these behaviours might become a choice for young people if they read about it. It’s true that there is reason to be cautious as an author writing about self harm, abuse, sexual behaviour, drug or alcohol use that you might lead someone down a path that was otherwise unknown to them.
That being said, if a parent is aware of the issues that come up in the book, it could open up discussion within the family about healthy coping mechanisms and where real help can be found. These issues will always be around us, they’re just not being talked about as openly as they should be.
Young Adult fiction books reflect aspects of life that some teenagers endure. The monster at the end of the book is ignorance if we pretend otherwise. Yes people are hurt by others. They also hurt themselves. They use drugs or alcohol to escape from their pain and they question their sexuality. Refusing to read a book that depicts these things will only help you to remain ignorant to them.
Just because you read about these things does not mean that you’re going to make the same choices as the characters. That should be the message that parents should try to share with their kids when they ask questions about the issues raised in fiction. Being aware of how and why these things happen will help people to be more socially aware and able to cope when or if they are ever confronted with these issues in their own lives.
Literature needs have changed. A genre that didn’t exist until the 1960s is now a prevalent part of the bookstore. Young readers are being drawn to the dark gritty covers, hoping to find within them a world that they can somewhat connect to.
Maybe a rating system or warning label on the cover of books is where the publishing industry is headed. I wonder though if it would make a difference to the reader?