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Best Book vs. "Garbage"

I’ve always been of the mind that getting your book on a list—any list—is always a good thing.
Even this one: American Library Association Peddles Garbage to Teens by “Mommy Life.” I find the fact that SAY THE WORD was used as one of the 5 examples (out of the 90 books on YALSA’s BBYA list) exciting in a twisted sort of way.

I was an avid reader from the age of five and my parents never screened my reading material. At ten, I tackled my grandmother’s bookshelves and read “Peyton Place,” “I, the Jury,” and “Mildred Pierce.” At twelve I was confronted by a science teacher because of a copy of “Valley of the Dolls” I happened to be carrying around. At the same time, however, I was also reading the more traditional classics, and still re-reading the books I loved when I was younger, such as the “Little House” books and “The Secret Garden.”

My fascination with the more “adult” fare by no means corrupted me; I did not grow up to be a drug addict, sex fiend, serial killer, or even a remotely bad person. In fact, hearing about real-life murders on the 6:00 news disturbed me much more than any work of fiction I read while growing up.

The fact is, kids have sex, use drugs, hurt or kill others, masturbate, curse, mouth off to their parents, drop out of school, run away, get pregnant, acquire STDs, have gay parents or are gay themselves, are mentally ill/have mentally ill family members, attempt suicide, are abused by others—the list goes on and on. By reading these stories, kids in these situations learn they’re not alone and may also learn how to deal, and where to go for help. Kids not in these situations learn to empathize, and possibly to recognize what’s going on with someone they may know.

If SAY THE WORD, and others on YALSA’s BBYA list, are not required reading for school, then what's the problem, Mommy Life? Don't buy them. If these books do become required reading, then parents who object have recourse; they can request that they be removed from the list (which many do, because, of course, if THEY don’t want their kids reading them, then NOBODY'S kid should) or suggest a suitable substitute. Or they can picket the school, file a lawsuit, and notify CNN.

Mommy Life asks: “How did we get to this place where teen books have become an agenda-ridden swamp of psychotherapy/self-help/soap opera/propaganda by people whose access to teen minds should have them on the Most Dangerous list?”

We got to this point because--like it or not, Mommy--there’s a market for it. Gone are the days when teens were content to read about girls who want nothing more than to be asked to the prom, or boys who defy their parents to hang onto the stray dog they’ve grown so attached to. Though there are certainly teens out there who enjoy those kind of stories, there are many more who prefer “issue” novels. This may be because they, unfortunately, are experiencing some of these issues of their own and strongly identify with the characters. It may also be because they’re not in those circumstances, yet they find the subject matter compelling, and feel, or learn to feel, compassion toward those characters who, at some point in the past, present, or future, may be classmates, relatives, or friends they know in real life.

These issues are not invented by “dangerous” authors whose agendas are simply to corrupt children and outrage parents; these are serious issues that many children experience every day of their lives. Since they can’t tell us their stories themselves, we, the authors, tell them instead. And yes, other children are eager to hear them.


( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 10th, 2010 04:36 pm (UTC)
I find it amazing that the objection is based not on the books, but on their descriptions. Wait -- it's not amazing. It's typical. Sigh.
Aug. 10th, 2010 05:52 pm (UTC)
Absolutely typical. They do the same thing with movies.
Aug. 10th, 2010 04:44 pm (UTC)
Wonderfully put!!! Thanks for taking the time to reflect so thoughtfully on this. And I'm really honored to be in such great company!

Aug. 10th, 2010 05:53 pm (UTC)
And I am equally honored, Jo! ((((HUGS))))
Aug. 10th, 2010 04:49 pm (UTC)
Also, from what I understand, though some girls read (and some loved) the "girl goes to prom" stories, a whole lot of girls switched over to "True Confession" magazines and so forth in order to real about what they really were interested in.

The sales of YA during the past ten years are a real wake-up call.
Aug. 10th, 2010 05:54 pm (UTC)
OMG, I loooooved "True Confessions" and I still remember one of my favorite stories: "My Baby Was Born Insane!" (remember how the titles usually ended in exclamation marks?)
Aug. 10th, 2010 05:32 pm (UTC)
I think it's ridiculous to think that a teen novel is bad because it deals with sophisticated and harrowing issues. I think that there's a huge need for these and that many of these types of books are great works of literature.

However, I do think there's a bias sometimes from ALA committees and other judges of literary merit that a book that deals with death or incest or drug addiction or other terrible things is regarded as better than a book that concerns "lighter" issues such as first love or friendship.
Aug. 10th, 2010 06:07 pm (UTC)
Skimming the descriptions, you may be right, but I wonder why: is it because there are so many of these types of books? Does the panel, like many young readers, prefer these issue novels over the lighter stories? Because they're so popular? I have no idea.
Aug. 10th, 2010 06:04 pm (UTC)
Her bio is what scares me:

"Montessori megamom serves up smorgasbord of parenting, cultural, political, and spiritual wisdom.
Because she can."

So she is a supermom who is wise in all matters? Maybe Obama should hire her.

And I am always amazed how adults forget the content of books from their own teen years. The savagery of Lord of the Flies (which was assigned reading when I was a teen) wasn't exactly easy reading. It's a classic I bet she doesn't bat an eye at. And what about To Kill a Mockingbird? Hard and very disturbing issues. I was assigned The Good Earth to read in high school. The female MC gives birth to a child and then immediately chokes it to death. Teens can handle reality between the pages. They see it and live it everyday in real life.

Proud to be on that "dangerous ALA list" with you.
Aug. 10th, 2010 07:19 pm (UTC)
"Proud to be on that "dangerous ALA list" with you."

Same here, Mary! :)

My friend Savannah Thorne posted similar thoughts on FB: "--Weren't OLD YELLER and WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS really 'issue' novels? Maybe there wasn't any sex or drugs, but there was death. There were major issues in YA literatue all along. In fact I contend that 'YA' has healthy roots in pre-Grimm 'fairy' tales that told of menstrual blood, being devoured, rape (yeah, Sleeping Beauty's prince made love to her, and got her pregnant, while she was passed out), murder...the list is endless."
Aug. 10th, 2010 09:33 pm (UTC)
I couldn't agree more!
I did not have a list of books to avoid; I read a great deal and a variety of genres. No one quested me about the book I read; they only questioned whether or not I'd gotten any physical exercise before settling into my book world. I believe being able to read whatever title pulled at me helped make me a more well-rounded individual as an adult.
Of course, you've said it much better.
Aug. 11th, 2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your input!
Aug. 11th, 2010 12:47 am (UTC)
Give 'em hell, darlin'. I'm right beside you.
Aug. 11th, 2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
I know you are! :)
Aug. 11th, 2010 01:57 am (UTC)
I see there isn't any opportunity to comment or give an opposing view on the site. Sad really because there are so many gems to toss back. In addition to those already mentioned let's not forget The Scarlet Letter, The Grapes of Wrath (which was truly nightmare-inducing), and (gasp) Romeo and Juliet. You know, because there were no adult issues in those novels at all.
Aug. 11th, 2010 12:47 pm (UTC)
"I see there isn't any opportunity to comment or give an opposing view on the site."

I noticed that. Again, so typical.

Thank you for your comment!
Aug. 12th, 2010 02:30 am (UTC)
That woman's a screaming nutjob. (I know, tell us how you *really* feel.) I loved how one couldn't comment (I guess one would have to be a Montessori homeschooling Catholic mom [oxymoron much?] to gain entry into the elite "yes yes" comment school.
I'm even further offended by the woman's anti-gay, anti-black, anti-feminist polemic. (I made the mistake of reading more of her blog - I had trouble believing that entry wasn't a joke...)
Aug. 12th, 2010 04:41 am (UTC)
Yanno, believe it or not I *am* somewhat conservative (politically, anyway) which makes me a total mutant in the literary world, but I merely skimmed the titles of her blog posts and couldn't stomach going any farther.

Yeah, and I LOVE how she ends her post with a QUESTION--and then leaves no comment area for you to ANSWER it!!! Cluck, cluck.

*Edited for some ridiculous typos.

Edited at 2010-08-12 02:39 pm (UTC)
Aug. 12th, 2010 09:28 pm (UTC)
There is nothing wrong with conservativatism (as we define it here), even if I sometimes identify my political affiliation as "bleeding heart liberal".
What is hard to take is when people put their heads in the sand like that. The world marches on. Our kids scandalize us, we scandalized our parents, our parents scandalized their parents, et cetera, et cetera (Hello, Yul Brenner!). I vaguely remember that even the some of the Roman and Greek philosophers decried the degeneracy of youth!
Ignoring social issues won't make them go away. (I really pity her kid's introduction to the real world. Let alone if one of them is *gasp* gay, or marries a non-catholic!) Education might help. (I am a science science fiction fan in part because my first exposures to it included Madeline L'Engle's (relatively) strong, capable girl characters.)
Dangerous list ahoy!!! Good on you!!!!
Aug. 12th, 2010 09:29 pm (UTC)
For "here" in the first parens, insert "U.S.A.". Meaning that other countries may define it differently.
Aug. 12th, 2010 04:46 am (UTC)
People like that scare me. I have no problem with people who have different morals - I'm fairly conservative myself, but I lose all respect when they show no respect.
Aug. 12th, 2010 02:37 pm (UTC)
I think you and I may have a lot in common. :)
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 23rd, 2010 01:47 pm (UTC)
Thanks for chiming in, Deborah!!
Aug. 22nd, 2010 03:29 am (UTC)
"In fact, hearing about real-life murders on the 6:00 news disturbed me much more than any work of fiction I read while growing up."

YES. This is exactly why I hate watching the news but love reading books.
Aug. 23rd, 2010 01:46 pm (UTC)
I didn't restrict my kids' reading material at all...but I would NOT let them watch the news at least they were in 6th grade, lol.
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )


Jeannine Garsee

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