There has been controversy rumbling this week in the young adult literature world. For those of you already following it, go ahead and skip down to the next paragraph to avoid the regurgitation. For those of you who aren’t, an “article” (really an opinion piece although it was never clearly labeled as such) was published in a major newspaper that denounced the current climate of YA fiction as being rife with explicit abuse, violence, and depravity, and suggested these topics are not appropriate for teenagers. I’m intentionally not linking to the original article because it’s been linked to enough already, and my personal annoyance with the piece was that the writer seemed to be more interested in drumming up attention and outrage than intelligent discussion about a topic she genuinely cares about (which she clearly did not or the article would have been better informed and researched). If you haven’t been following this and would like to know more, here are some fantastic essays that have been written in response here, here, here, here, and here. (I could keep linking. The amount of thoughtful, intelligent responses to this, not to mention the #YASaves hashtag trend this generated on Twitter, would be absolutely jaw-dropping to me except that I already knew the kid lit and YA community was filled with thoughtful, intelligent, and awesome people.)
While I’m not really interested in debating this article further (there are a lot of places online you can find for that–see above links for starters), all the talk and discussion about dark and edgy YA sparked an idea I thought might be fun. And there’s nothing I like more than turning something annoying and exhausting, like the attack and defense of a literary genre I care about deeply, into something fun.
One of the many things this discussion has shown me is that there is a widely-held perception (like Grand Canyon-wide) that the majority of modern YA is dark and edgy. This perception has been reinforced not just through rabble-rousing articles like the one people are protesting, but also through the limited selection that can be found at chain bookstores and big box stores, and for writers, the frequently heard feedback from editors and agents that what they are looking for are “edgy” books and that “quiet” books are a tough sell.
This might sound crazy, but I didn’t realize that perception went as wide and deep as it does until all this discussion was provoked. Yes, I see all the same books everyone else is referring to: the black covers that emulate Twilight, the bodies floating in water, the blood spatters. But I guess 1.) I have read enough of those books to know that they are often not as dark as the cover might lead you to believe, 2.) I tend to be drawn to light and funny YA so I’m familiar with a lot of the other options out there, and 3.) My threshold for what I consider truly “dark and edgy” is pretty high. Swearing, for example, isn’t an automatic marker of dark and edgy for me. A book like Looking for Alaska by John Green isn’t something I would consider dark and edgy even though it has sad moments, swearing, and minimal sexual content. It also is incredibly funny, thought-provoking, completely in keeping with its characters, and left me feeling hopeful, satisfied, and like the story had stretched me in interesting ways.
I didn’t really think about how I find all the YA I read until I came across comments from numerous people, on various websites, saying that while they didn’t entirely agree with the article, they did have difficulty finding anything other than paranormal or serious, issue-driven books. These people wanted suggestions for how to find alternatives. In response to this, numerous people advised something along the lines of, “skip YA and go straight to adult or seek out YA of decades past.”
Boy, that depressed me.
To give up on YA altogether would be missing out on the rich variety of writing that is out there. The perception that there’s no variety in YA isn’t true. Dark and edgy may be popular, and it absolutely deserves its spot on the shelf, but there are plenty of options and variety for people who are seeking something different.
But the problem is, how to find it? You can be looking in a crowded cupboard for salt, and someone can tell you the salt is there, but if you can’t see the salt yourself you won’t be able to pull it off the shelf.
THE LIGHT AND ROUND PROJECT
My idea for The Light and Round Project is that it will be a weekly roundup of suggestions for YA books (and upper middle grade–the two tend to blend) that are light to absent on the dark and edgy elements. Similar to what book blogger Charlotte does for middle grade fantasy and science fiction. Anyone can participate. If you are a blogger, email me a link to your post about a book you feel fits in this category, and I’ll include it in the roundup. If you aren’t a blogger but want to recommend a book for the round up, email me the book title, author, anything you’d like to say about it, and a link to the book page. (Most authors have pages dedicated to their books on their website. If they don’t, then the publisher should have a link on their website. If they don’t, then I’m scratching my head at the marketing attempts for this book, and we can link to an Indiebound page instead.) Email me at fromthemixedupfiles(at)gmail(dot)com and please put The Light and Round Project as the subject heading. You can send me as many recommendations as you’d like.
I’ll post the latest roundup every Wednesday. (Being “hump day” it seems like a kind of light and round day, don’t you think?) Below my banner I’ve add a link to a page for this project where I plan to keep a running list of all the books that have been suggested, and links to your posts. (If multiple people submit a review/blog post for the same book I will include all links under the book. I figure the more opinions for people to filter through when trying to decide what will suit their taste, the better.)
The next time you hear somebody complain that all books for teens are too dark, you can refer them to The Light and Round Project page for reading suggestions.
I will also add that what constitutes “dark and edgy” is completely subjective, and I don’t want to be in a position to place judgments on books. If it meets your criteria and you think it will meet the criteria of a lot of other people too, then please share it. I’ll post a note on The Light and Round Project page that the list is comprised of suggestions only, and to use your own personal taste to guide your choices.
What do you think? Anyone game?
I like this idea a lot! I don't have a book to share yet, but when I do, I'll certainly share it with you! 🙂 and I am looking forward to seeing the responses you get. I have a teen who loves to read – and I don't necessarily want to only read "dark and edgy". She Light and round, too! 🙂
Thank you, Donna! I hope we get a good assortment of responses. 🙂
Love this idea, Jenn. I have heard similar comments, and I do think the wonderful lighter stuff out there is hard to find because of how stocking decisions are made in some stores.
Let me touch bases with my fellow bloggers and we'll come up with a plan to play along 🙂
I have a blog where I keep reviews of YA, and the vast majority (um, maybe all) of them are not dark or edgy (because I don't really enjoy dark and edgy books that much). Now, this is definitely based on my own opinion of dark/edgy — but although I have a pretty high tolerance of many things, to me, any book which isn't hopeful or has too much swearing/sex/violence would fit in the dark/edgy category. Anyway, here's the link, and you can see if it fits your plans 🙂 http://www.robinreadsnwrites.com. When you look under the book review tab, you can see all the books I've listed so far this year — these are only the books I've LOVED, and they are posted in categories (if you scroll down the page, you'll see them all).
Thanks for your comments, guys! I'm so glad you like this idea.
Jeannie, I'm so glad you want to play along! Keep me posted on what your fellow bloggers say.
Robin, your reviews are great! I will definitely be including a few of them in next week's roundup, if that's all right with you.
If anyone wants to help me spread the word about this, please feel free to tweet, blog, share on FB, email. . . it all helps. 🙂
I haven't figured out how to e-mail you, but I just posted your idea on my blog & mentioned one book for your list. It's a great idea to find more YA recommendations, but I do truly think that you are correct in that each person's tastes are so different. Thanks for the action!
Here is the link: http://teacherdance.blogspot.com/2011/06/response-to-wall-street-journal-article.html
Thank you, teacherdance! Your link will be included in the roundup. 🙂
I like this idea lots! It sounds like fun, and I'll be keeping it in mind. And thanks for the link!
What a great idea, Jenn. I have been a little dismayed lately at how visually bleak the YA section looks in the big bookstores (really, I think it's a dichotomy: grey/black on one side, sleek/pink/luxe on the other). But that's marketing, and when have adults ever had a bead on what is really going on inside teens?
I look forward to participating and also to seeing what everyone comes up with.
Quick question: are we limited to recent releases (say, since Twilight or Hunger Games hit) or can we draw on classics as well?
Thank you, Charlotte!
Maryanne, you are so right about the dichotomy in covers! It's a piece of the marketing process for a trade book that I've never quite understood and am fascinated by, because to me the objective is to get a book to stand out visually as different from the others. But I'm sure there's a bit of psychology that feeds into designing covers that emulate others, or that certain types of covers tend to draw attention regardless of how many others like it there are. (Like the hot pink ones. It IS hard to not notice hot pink.)
And you raise a really good question. I think, in general, this project is about trying to showcase the variety in YA and that there's more to it than simply dark and edgy, and classics are certainly a part of that. If you have recommendations or reviews for older YA certainly send me links. But depending on how many responses I get, I may save links to older YA (Older meaning anything that would be considered of a different generation here) for the following Wednesday.
Fabulous idea, Jenn! I posted a plea for lighter suggestions on my FB account (on June 5) and got a lot of good ideas; feel free to take a look there. Eagerly await your posts!
OK, Jenn, I had a feeling you would say that. I'll keep the focus on current fiction for now, and save the older stuff for later.
Hope to have my blog post out by end of day today; if not, by tomorrow for sure.
Book list is on the way to you. Love this article and your thoughtful response, YA Writer of America.
This is such a great idea. Thanks!