September 18, 2018

Is young adult literature too dark?


Is YA literature breeding pessimism in today’s youth? Has YA become, dare we say, too woke? 

Such is the verdict from the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed piece in response to the recent Summit on the Research and Teaching of Young Adult Literature, held this past June at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Contrary to the summit’s praise for novels like How It Went Down, Loser’s Bracket, and The Hate U Give for their honest discussions of violence and trauma, as journalist Steve Salerno proclaims that these books make “the vast majority of students, who don’t live amid such [abusive] conditions, feel as if they do.”

However, is it really right for any of us to say how students truly feel? Nobody at the Wall Street Journal can speak for the teens of today, and neither can anybody at MobyLives. In reality, the argument here is less about what teenagers do or don’t want to read, and more about what the adults in their lives should be encouraging them to read. Should we be raising the next generation to see the world as a sociopolitical hellscape? Or, should we be raising them to see it as a “more hospitable place to be”? Well, that all depends: which one is closer to the truth?

At the end of the day, these writers write what they know, and the authors of these “dark” YA books are no different. Loser’s Bracket was written by a family therapist who works closely with children; The Hate U Give was written by a black woman who witnessed a shooting when she was young. Their books may not reflect the reality of every single American teen, or even the “average” adolescent, but they do reflect the very real, lived experiences of their authors and the people around them. “Dark” YA literature isn’t just an edgy dramatization of everyday life; for many, it simply is their everyday life.

But then, what about that “vast majority of students” who don’t know what it’s like to live that way? How could any of them possibly relate to characters like Starr Carter or Annie? Best to stick to books about white men from the 20s, we suppose. (We think not).

Alyssa Monera is an intern at Melville House.