Monday, June 20, 2011

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

A reaction to Meghan Cox Gurdon's ignorant article in the Wall Street Journal about contemporary Young Adult Fiction.
By Alex Nagorski 

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Recently, one of my friends asked me if I had read any good books lately. Immediately, I started gushing about The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.  I picked up the first book out of curiosity based on a co-worker’s recommendation and immediately devoured the entire trilogy.

Set in a dystopian world ridden by poverty and famish, The Hunger Games tells the story of 16-year-old Katniss' struggle to survive during the Hunger Games -- an annual tradition set forth by the Capitol to punish its twelve districts for once attempting a rebellion. In these games, one male and one female are selected from each district to enter an arena where they must battle until there’s only one survivor left. Oh, and the entire thing is broadcast as reality television live to all the districts … who are forced to watch their children fight to the death.

The other two books see Katniss turn into the symbol of rebellion as she wages a war against the inhumanity of the Capitol. From a poor girl to the leader of an army, Katniss is a teenage girl who defies convention and works towards overthrowing the totalitarian regime oppressing her country.

When I explained this to my friend, her first reaction was, “isn’t that a little dark to be a young adult series?” I was so surprised to hear those words leave her lips that it took me a second to even react.  

Go-ask-alice On June 4th, The Wall Street Journal published an article by Meghan Cox Gurdon’s entitled “Darkness Too Visible.” The piece proclaimed that YA fiction was too dark and too destructive for today's teens. “If books show us the world, teen fiction can be like a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is,” Gurdon wrote. Um ... WHAT? The wold is a dark place, is it not?

Reading this article, I was as flabbergasted by Gurdon’s claims as I was by my friend who thought The Hunger Games was inappropriate for teens to be reading. These books are not about condoning the ugliness of the savage times we live in but rather aim to provide a sense of hope.

When reading The Hunger Games, I didn’t see it as a book about children being forced to kill one another. What I took away from it was a story of a girl who must rise above the brutality society is inflicting on her and her community. The series was a brilliant commentary on how bloodthirsty we are in what we define as entertainment. But most importantly, it was about sticking up for what you believe in and not succumbing to oppression. You’re really going to try to argue that this is not a message appropriate for today’s youth?

If that’s the case, then perhaps books like The Diary of Anne Frank, Lord of the Flies, and To Kill A Mockingbird should just all be banned from our school systems. After all, none of those books take place in a smiley world of rainbows, cupcakes and glitter. Yet they are still engrained into arguably every American middle schooler’s curriculum.

The point of these books is not to promote the Holocaust or racism, but to tell the stories of the heroes who were able to serve as inspirations and fight for their beliefs despite the obstaces they faced.

For Gurdon to be writing that books like The Hunger Games are too violent or brutal is actually insulting to today’s youth. These claims are stating that teenagers are so stupid and their brains are so easily skewed, that being exposed to harsh or ugly situations will permanently damage them. It is as though Gurdon is stating that anyone who reads Go Ask Alice will by default be psychologically damaged beyond repair simply because reading the book will make them aware of the meer existence of narcotics.

So what is her solution? Censorship. Gurdon’s argument is that pretending like brutality doesn’t exist will shield teenagers from the truths of the real world. Hell, let’s just have a book burning party! If nobody reads Scars, nobody will cut themselves, right? If nobody reads Shine, then hate crimes and sexual assault will never happen again, right?

The internet reaction to Gurdon’s article was tremendous. Most notable, a Twitter hashtag, #YAsaves, went viral by thousands of users who wrote about YA books that touched and sometimes even saved their lives. 

SCARS_cheryl_rainfield Get a grip, Gurdon. Your claims that these types of books are harmful for today’s youth is nothing short of ignorant. Reading an account of an anorexic girl’s downward spiral is not meant to serve as a diet manual but rather to teach how damaging eating disorders are. We live in a time where suicide bombs and tsunamis dominate our news channels and Twitter feeds. Our teens aren’t shielded from the truth, whether it’s ugly or not. So what’s wrong with showing them the silver living?

The fact that Gurdon included two suggested lists of books for "young men" and "young women" is a whole different topic that I won't even begin to get into. But like, C'MON!

My friend ended up reading The Hunger Games series and loved it just as much as I did. We spent hours discussing the genius of the trilogy and how they are truly beautiful and inspirational books. I may be slightly older than the target audience of the novels, but if I were still in high school, I know that The Hunger Games would have had a tremendous impact on me.

So to Ms. Gurdon, you can have your beliefs about monitoring everything our children read. Hopefully if things go accordingly to your plan, the next generation will be a bunch of braindead clones unaware of the reality of the world we inhabit. Moron.

Originally published on Crazytown Blog