Young Adult Fiction Is Not All Doom and Gloom

Josie Leavitt -- June 6th, 2011

This weekend the Internet, specifically Twitter and Facebook, have been seriously abuzz about an article in the Wall Street Journal Saturday written by Meghan Cox Gurdon. In the article “Darkness Too Visible,” the writer has focused on a few admittedly dark novels and classified the whole genre as bleak and fairly unredemptive.

As a bookseller, I was struck immediately by the first two paragraphs:

Amy Freeman, a 46-year-old mother of three, stood recently in the young-adult section of her local Barnes & Noble, in Bethesda, Md., feeling thwarted and disheartened.

She had popped into the bookstore to pick up a welcome-home gift for her 13-year-old, who had been away. Hundreds of lurid and dramatic covers stood on the racks before her, and there was, she felt, “nothing, not a thing, that I could imagine giving my daughter. It was all vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff.” She left the store empty-handed.

Well, if Amy Freeman had shopped at an independent bookstore someone would have asked her if she needed help. The staffer would have offered help and most likely, the indie would have been well stocked in other types of YA, say Sarah Dessen, Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, or David Levithan, to name just a few.  There is never a reason for someone to leave a bookstore empty-handed, especially when they’re on a mission as broad as wanting a book for a 13-year-old.

On one hand, I agree with one point the author is making: there is a glut of gory, dark and somewhat gloomy YA literature out there. But, to some extent it reflects the times we’re in. Teens are committing suicide because of bullying, eating disorders are common, even kids in “nice” neighborhoods have drug problems, and kids sometimes get pregnant. And sadly, some kids grow up in abused households with alcoholic parents. Reading about kids with alcoholic parents can make a kid feel better. Kids reading about cutting will not make them cutters. It might, however, make them recognize when one of their friends is cutting and could use help.

“Issue” books have always been popular with teens. They’re popular because they discuss things kids feel or talk about. While I didn’t have a drug problem and was not a runaway, I loved Go Ask Alice. And if I were a teen now, I’d be reading Crank, Wintergirls, and Empress of the World. Teens seek out issues that are applicable to their lives or just to learn more. When I sell these books, I tell the parent, or the teen, what the book is about and how honestly it deals with its topic. Wintergirls is a tough read, but oh so powerful. I understood anorexia so much better for having read it. Imagine how a teen would feel reading it if they had a friend they were worried about, or they were worried about themselves. To read someone else’s intense struggle with an eating disorder, and the redemptive ending, can give someone hope.

There’s a Twitter group right now called #YASaves and its focus is on the good that young adult books can do. They can save lives by exposing kids to things. We had a young man walk six miles round trip to our store once a week several summers ago. Why was he walking to our store? Because he felt safe at our store, and he was exploring his sexuality through our book recommendations. We suggested some Alex Sanchez books, and suddenly this kid didn’t feel so alone, so hopeless. Several years later his mother called us and tearfully told us that we had saved his life because he was feeling suicidal until he started reading those books. We didn’t save his life; reading about other gay teens saved his life.

The article ends with this: The book business exists to sell books; parents exist to rear children, and oughtn’t be daunted by cries of censorship. No family is obliged to acquiesce when publishers use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children’s lives.

Where are the booksellers, the librarians in this woman’s argument? Experts exist for a reason. If parents, or teens for that matter (who actually do a pretty damn good job of self-selecting what they’re comfortable reading), are feeling besieged by what they think are the only books out there, then talk to a bookseller about what you feel is appropriate for your child to be reading. Any bookseller or librarian worth his or her salt can recommend a list of books as long as your arm to counter the gloom that can be found in the YA section, that both parent and teen will be happy to read. The author spoke scathingly of Lauren Myracle’s Shine, a tough book to be sure about gay bashing, but hardly fitting for the 13-year-old whose mom wanted to get her a book. Why not get her Myracle’s other YA book, Peace, Love and Baby Ducks, instead? There is balance to everything, and it’s just so unfortunate that Meghan Cox Gurdon’s article had none.

51 thoughts on “Young Adult Fiction Is Not All Doom and Gloom

  1. kate

    A new teen/YA book out there that is not all doom and gloom but has enough twists and turns to keep it interesting is “Push” by D.P. Davidson. Also, no sex, which many parents don’t want in their teens books.

  2. Kitty

    I worked for Barnes and Noble for almost five years. I can tell you right now, she would not have left empty handed had she come to our store. However, that doesn’t make for good sensationalistic writing. A mother in the middle of a bookstore who can’t find anything for her daughter but dark, depressing books so she leaves empty handed does make for good fiction.

    And honestly, I think that’s what it was. Most booksellers worth their salt have a few titles they can recommend, or know a person in the store that would be better able to help the customer. That’s why I think the “mother” in the original article is fiction.

  3. BiblioMatsuri

    On Friday June 10th, the local YA librarian mass e-mailed all of the teen volunteers/members of the Teen Reading Club a link to “Darkness Too Visible”, along with some questions about what we ourselves felt was “too dark.” Surprise, surprise, my answer was similar to a few previous comments. Books that deal with serious subjects are hard to read, but useful for the emotional catharsis they can give. As an actual teen reader, I can only speak from my personal experience here. I do read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, often to the exclusion of other genres, but I’m picky. I know what I like, and I stick to it.

    Paranormal YA books aren’t all like Twilight – within the “vampire fiction” subset, Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalize trilogy is hardly a classic for the ages, but it’s done well enough that one can ignore a few stretched assumptions. Diana Wynne Jones’ The Merlin Conspiracy is a comedic fantasy with its share of heroes and villains, but (spoiler) it has a pretty happy ending. And I am not ashamed to admit that I cried reading Robin McKinley’s Chalice. Parents reading this, if your kids insist on reading paranormal fiction, go ask a librarian. Go to the local library, talk to whoever’s in charge of the YA section, and go from there. Don’t forget to mention your kid’s age and reading habits. If you don’t know the latter, asking isn’t “being the book police” unless you’re mean about it.

    Fads fade. Reading is a great thing. Don’t let a few trashy novels ruin it!

  4. Pam

    If you’re looking to read books for teens with problems and healthy ways to overcome, I suggest Melody Carlson. I love Sarah Dessen, too. You feel what the character feels, and Sarah and Melody definitely leave the reader feeling satisfied. I’ve never been disappointed in their books.

  5. Lauren Myracle

    Yeah! You go, Josie. In fact, if anyone know Amy Freeman, or how to find her address, (or if she exists???), I would HAPPILY send her a copy of Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks. Or even–shocker!–Thirteen!

    Cheers, lady!

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  7. Kathy

    As a librarian, I’m coming a little late to this conversation, but I’d like to add my 2 cents. I’ve found that teens (and mothers) don’t always want to ask for help – many times they prefer to look for books by themselves. It’s a difficult trick to offer help before someone gets too frustrated, but not before they’ve had time to explore on their own. That said, I’ve also found that some of my students are prepared for dark books and some are not. I worry that a sheltered teen will stumble on a book that is way too dark for them and still feel compelled ( by peer pressure – or by the belief that, because it’s in my library, it must be OK) to go ahead and check it out to read. I’ve had girls who got dark novels come back rather shell-shocked. For this reason, I try to keep an eye on my kids, but I also feel that I shouldn’t buy a book that is inappropriate for most of my students. It’s admittedly a fuzzy line, but one I’m always conscious of straddling. I appreciate publishers who can provide both dark and light materials – I need both.

  8. Rachel Seigel

    Thank you for your comments! I have now worked in children’s books for over a decade, and in all of my experience, I have never NOT found a book for a customer-adult or child. Choosing from shelves of books can be an overwhelming experience when you aren’t familiar with them, but that’s where asking an expert becomes invaluable. Perhaps if she had, this entire scenario could have been avoided.

  9. Zo Newell

    Allow me to recommend the YA novels of Tracy Barrett, which are entertaining, responsibly researched, and thought-provoking without being “dark”. Barrett’s books include historical fiction, mysteries solved by Sherlock Holmes’ grandchildren, and a “ghost” story which I read recently, “Cold in Winter”, set in contemporary Tennessee. I’m a grownup who still really enjoys wellwritten YA books, and Barrett is one of my favorite writers in this genre.

  10. Joey

    I’ve been helping teens find books for 10 years now and I have never had a problem finding something appropriate for the younger ones. There will always be an abundance of Book of the Moment (remember the tide of Mean Girls books from a few years ago?), but there is always a balance.

    By fluke, I came across this Tolkein excerpt this morning and it seems fitting to the topic:

    Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

    Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

    Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.

  11. Stephanie Greene

    While I agree there seems to be a surfeit of dark/vampire/dystopian YAs out there these days – in part, because publishers are as eager to make a profit as any other industry – parents need to relax and understand that their children read the way adults do: they read what speaks to them. If those kinds of books don’t, they won’t pursue them. If they do, then it’s probably for a good reason. They will weed out the bits that inform them and ignore the rest. Reading is a self-selecting process in old and young, alike.

    I’ll always remember the 10-year-old I talked to about Paterson’s THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS. “Didn’t you just sob at the end?” I said (because I had.) She looked at me with a complete lack of sympathy. “No,” she said. And that was that.

  12. Hunter Liguore

    One thing not mentioned is the obvious “black” covered books in certain YA sections. Regardless of the content, shelves teem with black or dark covers. A marketing tool of publishers to look like vampire books? Perhaps this person didn’t look much further than the cover to presume a dark book was hiding within.

  13. SD

    YA fiction has books filled with problems. I don’t think there are that many that can be described as truly ‘dark’. I’ve never had a problem self-selecting what I wanted to read. There are a ton of YA books I love, but the heavy-issue ones do depress me. I read them only if the story looks really good.

  14. Linda Cohen

    Thanks Josie for a great article!! By the time I was 14 or 15 I had read all of John Updike’s Rabbit books. As long as it was less than 25 cents my mom didn’t care what I read.(and I turned out fine)
    And speaking as a bookseller who has worked at both chain and indie stores I can tell you there are tons of great books that are not dark & gloomy for 13 yr olds. Maybe they should have checked thru the mid-readers instead because some of the titles mentioned seem a little mature for a 13 yr old.
    I work the kids section & I know my stock. I try to read as much as I can for my section so I can honestly say whether or not a book is good or age appropriate. I also go on-line to websites like Goodreads to check reviews & ask my fellow staff for recommendations. Seems like she just wasn’t prepared & wanted someone to blame. I just can’t imagine not finding one appropriate book.
    In reference to the list of titles given in the sidebar-unless the author went into a huge store some of them are older and probable won’t be in stock(my guess would be at least 4 or 5 of the 11 would not be in stock under normal circumstances at most average stores)

  15. Aaron Shepard

    As a children’s author, I’m appalled by the current focus of children’s publishers on dystopian novels. If teen literature is mired in such overwhelmingly negative images, how are teens supposed to develop the positive visions to create a better world?

    1. Stephanie Scott

      The point of many dystopian novels is to mirror aspects of our own world and shed light on issues. Suzanne Collins has spoken extensively on the reason she wrote The Hunger Games, and it is to portray the harshness of war and its effect on children. If you read the book, you see that there is heart, loyalty and sacrifice demonstrated by many of the characters despite their harsh reality. It is not gore and war to be sensational. Collins does an excellent job with a tricky topic.

      I cannot vouch for every dystopian novel, but I have personally met authors of the genre, like Julia Karr who wrote XVI. the book is about a government meant to protect young women but the reality is different. She has very thoughtful views on how our current society oversexualizes women. She is writing in RESPONSE to that. It is nuanced, it is not sex for shock value. Again, I encourage you to read it.

      Going back to Orwell’s 1984, and I’m sure other books before that, the dystopian genre is often meant to shed light on our own society’s issues. To dismiss it as negative without recognizing any redeeming value is to overlook the entire point of the genre. Good dysptopia ends with the character realizing a positive revelation. You just have to get to the end to see that for yourself.

  16. Linda Austin

    Thanks for this, Josie. #YASaves is rabidly against the WJS article, but I thought it made a lot of sense. My arguement is that surely (I hope) YA these days is not all about abuse as the article says – and that’s all #YASaves talks about is abuse stories and how great they are. My child is entering the YA realm – so far, she is disgusted at the vast array of vampire-werewolf stories, totally not interested in the teen sex (yet), and not too interested in abuse stories (at this point, they are “prurient interest.”). I think she’ll skip right into Adult. I did ban her from reading Go Ask Alice in middle school as I felt that was a high school book, mostly due to type of sex scenes – we talked about it. But we enjoyed Wintergirls together which really opened our eyes to what eating disorders are about.

    I tend to agree with the WSJ article’s take on school offerings and reading requirements. Parents have to trust schools re books, and they really can’t if they are conservative – often parents have no idea what their child is reading at school, and you hate to be the crazy book police grilling the kid every week. Mostly, I just want the option to talk about a book with my child if I think it might be inappropriate for her age. I think some middle school libraries need a “parental approval” pop-up warning in their computer checkout. IMO, public libraries and bookstores are a different story, free-for-all and we (usually) see the books laying around the house.

    1. Stephanie Scott

      Just a question, but why not be the crazy book police for your own child? Don’t you want to know what your child is reading? I don’t think anyone else is going to do that for you. I hope you keep talking to your child about books. And try out some contemporary YA! How about Liar’s Society by Lisa and Laura Roecker?

  17. susan

    Did anyone else detect a bit of sexism in the WSJ article’s separate lists for girls and boys? Why can’t girls read Ray Bradbury?

  18. Brenda Hiatt

    Excellent response to a biased article, and I agree with most of the comments posted here. However, I do have to weigh in on one matter: as a previously multi-published author (of historical romance) trying to sell my first YA manuscript, a consistent “but” I keep hearing from editors is that it’s not “dark enough for today’s market.” (This despite the fact that my heroine finds herself in a life-and-death struggle by the end of the book, along with much teen angst…leavened by humor.) This does lend credence to the idea that there IS a bias toward “dark,” at least among acquiring editors who ultimately determine what ends up on the shelves.

  19. caroline bock

    I did read the article — and what was missing was closer critique of realism vs. fantasy vs. dystopia in YA literature. But what bothered me as much was the looking back, the nostalgia, her idea that the past was somehow a better place in literature than the present. I think right now is one of the most exciting for literature for emerging adults. I love classics, but I’d hope a major article like this would focus more attention, some attention? on new YA authors (and yes, I’m soon to debut my first YA novel, LIE, from St. Martin’s Press). Lastly, to all these booksellers who commented here, yes!! what I love the most as a reader, a book buyer of middle grade books for an avid 5th grader reader, is an insightful bookseller, often so rare, but always so wonderful!!

  20. caroline bock

    I did read the article — and what was missing was closer critique of realism vs. fantasy vs. dystopia in YA literature. But what bothered me as much was the looking back, the nostalgia, her idea that the past was somehow a better place in literature than the present. I think right now is one of the most exciting for literature for emerging adults. I love classics, but I’d hope a major article like this would focus more attention, some attention? on new YA authors (and yes, I’m soon to debut my first YA novel, LIE, from St. Martin’s Press). Lastly, to all these booksellers who commented here, yes!! what I love the most as a reader, a book buyer of middle grade books for an avid 5th grader, is an insightful bookseller, often so rare, but always so wonderful!!

  21. Rie Conley

    Or get on YA book blogs and you’ll find people who love books saying hey, if you are young you might want avoid this one. Most book blogs will give you a heads up.

    Do general search before you leave the house on YA books. Heck ask the other people within the bookstore!

  22. Lisa Von Drasek

    Thank you Josie,
    I wouldn’t have spent my Sunday evening writing my own response to the WSJ article. I could have just pointed our readers to you. Your points are sound and reasonable. Parents have choices to make and this twelve year old is not like the one down the block. The most important point is that every book is not for every child. http://www.earlyword.com/2011/06/06/there-they-go-again/

    oh and wasn’t anyone else disturbed by the “recommended reading” in the sidebar was divided by gender?

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  24. Stephanie Scott

    How about the wonderful Meg Cabot of Princess Diaries fame? She has literally dozens of books and entire series that take up a few shelves in most YA sections I’ve seen. My Borders has YA split up btwn contemporary and paranormal, or something like that. It could literally be a matter of looking at the right shelf. Even a chain bookstore rep can help you with a request like “I want a teen book that is not about vampires or the occult.”

    I feel pity for the mother in this article that she was too timid to ask for help. I’ve read wonderful YA books that have nothing to do with gloom and doom, and I didn’t have to scour obscure places to find them. Also, those “gloomy” books absolutely have their place, and it’s a shame WSJ article dismissed them.

  25. Georgia McBride

    In general, I found the article to be rather one-sided, opinionated and negative. It does not represent a fair or open-minded view of YA literature today. It is not even a piece which serves to warn parents of the perils of the darkness that can be found with advice on how to counter it–suggested book list aside. It felt more like a scolding of YA writers and editors responsible for the dark materials on today’s shelves. I could see if it was an opinion piece (which it seemed to be–in disguise), then I would have no issues with it. It would be the author expressing an opinion which she is entitled to. However, journalism is supposed to be fair. This was not.

    I find it curious that as a parent, this woman walked into a bookstore without first knowing the types of books her daughter likes to read, and searched randomly in the YA section for an “appropriate” book. As a parent, I think there are ways to counter the confusion about what is age-appropriate for our kids vs. what’s on the shelves. Online is an option, but so are librarians, teachers, and our kids themselves. See what kinds of books the child already has, what she likes to watch, talk to her teacher and or librarian about what is good/new in books for kids her age.

    As a parent, I believe the one in the article chose to blame the bookstore and YA at large for her inability to find an appropriate gift for her daughter, when in fact, there were plenty of gifts sitting, waiting to be purchased. Had she done her part–figured out what her daughter liked to read/was interested in and gone to the store armed with that knowledge, she could have had an intelligent and informed conversation with the sales associate, even if (s)he was not as well trained as some have implied. Additionally, one can always ask to speak to a manager. We tend to put in more effort at Holiday time when there are no more of the must-have toy on the shelves.

    As a journalist, Ms. Gurdon is likely getting more exposure than she deserves because YA is so popular. That is the true shame in all of this. At the end of the day, the shelves in bookstores reflect what is selling–the appetite and interests of the majority of folks who buy the books.

    I wonder if our journalist and mom have ever seen a Disney cartoon or read a Disney book aimed at much younger kids than 13 year olds. Witchcraft, sorcery, poison, theft, kidnapping, beasts of every kind, lying, murder, assault, etc. And don’t get me started about the cursing in Rango.

    I could go on, but I will leave it to you smart folks. #YAsaves

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  27. Heather Savage

    As the others above have said, and I know many are thinking, thank you for the calm, well thought out response to an article that might not have come from such a balanced place. Our household gets the WSJ and normally we like it. Yes, it tilts right, but that is okay, our local paper tilts left and we feel we get a good feel for what’s true in between.

    As a new publisher reading and reviewing a lot of new YA material, I have to say that some of what is out there is dark, but let’s not forget how it feels to be a teen. Sometimes our thoughts are dark. But what I see in the subject matter (in general, obviously not every single work, but most) is uplifting. People’s struggles but I’m seeing a lot of triumphs and I think for many that is uplifting. And of course as a parent of a young girl, I find that these types of books can open up an avenue to discuss things that might otherwise be too uncomfortable to tackle.

  28. Katy Longshore

    Thank you for such a balanced rebuttal to Ms. Gurdon’s article! One of the things I love most about YA literature is that there is such a variety of topics and approaches available. A librarian friend of mine says she sends teens to the YA section to experience the world. Thank goodness they can in a safe way without having to do all the things they read about.

  29. Jonathan N

    Did Josie read the entire article, or just the first and last paragraphs? Besides getting the wrong Myracle book, she claims Gurdon’s artucke had no balance. Yet Gurdon articulated Josie’s article (far more succinctly) half way through. Did she also not notice that Gurdon recommended several YA books? Yet Josie claims Gurdon “classified the whole genre as bleak and fairly unredemptive.”

    I can understand Josie feeling defensive as a bookseller, but that’s no excuse for misrepresenting Gurdon’s article. True, it’s possible Amy Freeman, the customer mentioned in the article, might have found a decent book (such as the ones Gurdon recommended) had she searched longer, or consulted a staff member at B&N, but I doubt even Josie disagrees with the observation about what types of YA books dominate the displays.

    Unfortunately, Josie’s article itself lacks balance by skipping past Gurdon’s two point about the psychological impact dark YA literature can have and the responsibility of parents.

    1. Josie Leavitt

      First off Jonathan, I’m not defensive as a bookseller. I’m proud. Why am I proud?Because the YA displays in my store are not full of the books that create the gloom and doom in YA. My displays, and many at indies, represent the broad range of the fabulous books out there for teens.

      As for the dark psychological impact, I don’t necessarily agree with her comment. In my previous reply to your earlier comment, I said Gurdon’s focus for good books came from older books. And I believe I addressed the comment about the responsibility of parents by saying, seek out the experts for help.

    2. Stephanie Scott

      Some of the recommended books in the orginial WSJ article are classics that have been around for years. Classics defnitely have their place, but it would have been great to see more newer titles – they DO exist. I found it ironic that Farenheight 451 was on the list… I would have LOL’ed if not for the demeaning tone of the rest of the article.

      I have too, stood in the YA section, looking at all the similarly colored and themed YA books. You can judge books by their cover, but should you? Isn’t it a bit dismissive to look at a book that seems “dark” and assume there is no redeeming value in the story? Honestly, the word dark is vague and trivializes some of the important issues brought up in YA.

      There is an entire section of Bonnet Fiction, about the Mennonite and Amish. Perhaps that is “safe” enough for teens?

  30. Kendy Sproul

    Loved your article! Yes, indies are a great option but help is also available at B&N if you only seek it. The YA genre is like any other genre in there are light and dark options available.

  31. Thinking CatCat

    I can think of twelve (plus) positive fun YA books right off the top of my head, that I’ve recommended for quite a few of my friends’ kids. Seriously, how hard did she look???

    1. Jonathan N

      Thinking CatCat, you’ve identified one of my objections to Josie’s article. You apparently didn’t read Gurdon’s article, either, because Gurdon did recommend 11 excellent YA books, a key part that Josie simply ignored.

      1. Josie Leavitt

        Jonathan, you’re right that I did not focus on the books she recommended. Rather, my post centered on her overall take on YA literature and the tenor of her article. The few books she seemed to like are decades old. I was responding more to her view of the current state of YA literature.

        And this is the beauty of discourse: we’re all free to have our own opinions.

      2. Rachel Seigel

        And I seriously wondered how many of those she’d read.
        “Shipbreaker” for example is an amazing read, but it is also a dark and frightening book. A Drug-addicted, alcoholic, abusive father, a violent society and a dog-eat-dog civilization are light?

  32. Sewicked

    And this woman, who was apparently incapable of asking for assistance, also couldn’t take another 10 minutes or so to check online for reading lists. Perhaps, she has social anxiety or some other reason for not asking some staffer for help, but there’s loads of help online, too.

  33. Lainey

    “The author spoke scathingly of Lauren Myracle’s Bliss, a tough book to be sure about gay bashing”

    I think you mean Lauren Myracle’s Shine. Bliss is about queen bee wannabe that is also pretty dark but Shine is the one about an abused gay teen.

    Anyways, I was also struck about the mother who couldn’t find a book for her teenager. Really? She couldn’t find anything fitting for a thirteen year old in a bookstore? And nobody could help her?

    1. Josie Leavitt Post author

      HI Lainey, Thanks for catching my original mistake. I’ve corrected the title from Bliss to the right one of Shine.

  34. Alex

    Great response… That article was terribly one-sided.

    I think the Lauren Myracle book she was referring to was SHINE, not BLISS, though.

  35. Tabatha

    Maybe it would help buyers who are looking for more upbeat YA if there was a list of those available? Maybe there already is.

    1. John

      There are tons of lists out there, it’s just a matter of doing a little research. If the mother from the original WSJ article had done a little research first, she could have walked into the bookstore armed with a little knowledge to at least point her in the right direction.

      1. Jayne

        But that would require, gasp, EFFORT! Parenting should have an entire said of readily-approved lists on which to go by, and if those methods fail, parents should have a readily available list of legal repreentation to sue.

        This apparently is parenting in the modern age. Forget the idea of actually asking your child about the content of what they read!

  36. Steffie

    An amazing article and great response to those ongoing discussions! It says it all without judging too harsh and that’s how it should have started with Meghan Cox Gurdon’s words about YA books!

  37. Rachel

    As a former chain bookseller, I think it’s important to mention that not only indie stores have knowledgeable booksellers. I bet if she had asked the bookseller at B&N she could have found something appropriate, too. And I’m going to bet they have all the less-gloomy titles on their shelves as well. It’s simply a matter of getting an expert opinion instead of giving up.

    1. Andrea Vuleta

      @Rachel (and perhaps some others).
      In the WSJ comments, the mother identified in the article responded saying that there was a staff member there, and they looked at 78 titles together without finding one suitable. Having come from a box store environment, I can attest that you often get the employee available, and not the best-trained or most knowlegeable individual to help. It is possible that books they were seeking were on the very next aisle, but with no one trained to point in that direction.
      I too found the selection of recommended titles a little sparse, and off-kilter. Not sure I’d select “What I Saw, and How I Lied” to an unknown 13-year-old. A fine book, and I’d let my 12-year-old read it. But my daughter and I actually discuss her book selections.
      I keep revisiting a BEA conversation I had. I was explaining how terrified I was to let my daughter read “Bridge to Terabithia” at age 7. All the movie hype made it very appealing. So she did read it, and cried horribly at the sad part. But Ms. Paterson pointed out that it was perhaps wiser to have done so. And if the time should ever arise that my daughter would lose a friend, this might be a book to come back to. As she (Ms. Paterson) also pointed out – you wouldn’t want to give a book where the parent is dying of cancer to a child whose parent is dying of cancer – they are already having that experience – a book won’t tell them it is any better or worse than what they are living through. It should be a reservoir of experience we seek to build, that we can turn to in times of need.

      1. Holly

        Speaking of not knowing to look in the next aisle over… how much do you want to bet that it never occurred either to the mother or the employee to look in the science fiction/fantasy section? It is perhaps a separate problem that bookstores, especially the big chains, don’t always stock a full selection of some older, classic works. And probably neither the mother nor the employee was knowledgeable enough about either genre to figure out what a 13-year-old girl might like (or was at a level to appreciate).

        It’s just sad that the YA section stocks a whole raft of fantasy-inspired works, but it also segregates “works for young adults” from other works that are perfectly young adult suitable. But then, I speak as an adult who at age 13 had already read LOTR, Anne McCaffrey, and the works of most of the Hugo winners (certainly I never shied away from reading Asimov or Heinlein or Clarke). And you may say I had unusual reading tastes for a girl, but I don’t see how that’s true. The mere subject matter of science fiction and fantasy can’t be a turn-off to girls, or Harry Potter and the Twilight books would not be as popular as they are. Possibly, with some girls, it requires them to be introduced to the idea that they might enjoy John Crowley or Patricia McKillip. But to do that, somebody needs to be able to point them in that direction, and not merely in the direction of the YA aisle.

  38. Julia Karr

    Brilliant reply. Thanks so much for putting this out there! And, yes – as you noted – Indies and Librarians are so important, as they are (or certainly should be) knowledgeable about their products and able to point seekers in the direction of the plethora of good books available.

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