05 June, 2011

Live to Read, Read to Live (YA Saves)

The YA litosphere is exploding over a Wall Street Journal article which criticizes contemporary YA for being too dark. As an advocate for young adult literature it riles me no end when people describe YA as too light or too heavy. Make up your minds, people! For that matter, read some of the books. I made a handy-dandy Goodreads list for your perusal.

YA superheroes Maureen Johnson and Libba Bray started tweeting the hashtag #YAsaves, which became the #3 trend in the world in about 30 minutes. Small wonder. Whether you grew up with YA books or not (I didn't, in fact), you probably grew up with a real life. I did.

Zombies aren't the
only living dead.
This book gives
hope and strength to
those living in the dark.
I know my parents love me and would, even now, wish to protect me from all the bad things in the world, but though I know they tried, they didn't. I was sexually abused as a small child (by a "family friend"). Early in childhood it was easy for my mind to block out the memories; but as they began to resurface later (I was about 10) I became--strange. 

There was a general feeling of wrongness, but I couldn't understand what exactly was wrong. I drew inward socially. Was it my fault? I knew for sure "he" was guilty, but I couldn't help but feel like it was my fault too, for being too weak and stupid to do something about it, at the ripe old age of 4 or 5. And as far as I knew, you didn't talk about those things. So I didn't tell my parents. I felt like a sinner. I felt like dying. I was angry at God for not protecting me. So much for the all-powerful.

I read books. Lots of books. We couldn't always afford to buy them, so I borrowed whatever I could from the library, and kind neighbors: books about dragons, and murder, and other worlds. They didn't relate to my real life, but they did help to keep my mind off it. I stayed away from boys.

I read about a kid who lived in the subway, and one who lived in secrecy and fear. I read about sex. They were great books, but there was still something missing--something unrelatable. I could comprehend the literature, but they seemed so far removed. I could understand them; but try as I might, I couldn't understand me.

Yelena from
Maria V. Snyder's
Poison Study
rose out of the
darkness and
gave me hope. 
I love books about fighters. Especially girls who brook no nonsense. Books did give me a little understanding of life and its harshness. I read some more. Over the years I became a little braver. I opened up to people and asked for help. I reached out beyond my books and found friends, support, and love. After many years, I thought to myself, finally, I'm ok.

It wasn't until I read Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott that I felt something click into place inside me--an understanding that I was not alone, and that it's not about what happened to me--it's about what I did after. And what I didn't do. And what I will keep on doing.

That was in 2009. After 27 years of silence, I finally told my parents. And I finally felt free.

I like to think that contemporary YA fiction could have sped up the healing process a little. The truth is, we're ready when we're ready. There's no forcing it. But YA helps.

Read author Laurie Halse
Anderson's blog post on
"Darkness Too Visible"
I read books about annihilation, oppression, and despair. I read about young people thrown into impossible situations. They are outcasts with low self-esteem, no supportive family, and loads of uncertainty. I cheer for them when they find hope and the strength to break free. I draw strength from them and hope I'm not the only one. I work to spread the word about these books so that somewhere, some poor kid who's being beaten, or abused, or whose life is going down the drain can stop, read, and think about what it means to be alive. Think about who's controlling their life--who's in charge here, anyway? Isn't that what learning to become an adult is? Responsibility, self-awareness, and self-control... These aren't things we learn in books where everything is fine. We don't learn to be sensitive to other people's pain, or our own, by reading happy fluff. Fluff is for people who have never been poor, or lonely, or hurt--or for people who want to pretend those things don't exist. 

YA literature helps young people connect the dots--draw conclusions between fiction and real life--reveals information and perspectives to help them navigate the dangerous outside world, and the even more treacherous terrain of their hearts and minds.

 You can't tell me it's not worth reading or writing it, or that kids should somehow be sheltered from it, because YA saved me.

If it saved you, leave a link--I'd like to know how.

You can use this image to link back, if you like. (Image by Kudryashka, license purchased from Veer.) Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for letting me know about the article. 

If you come across any author posts too, they can go in the Linky. You can grab the script below.

<script src="http://www.blenza.com/linkies/autolink.php?owner=frootjoos&postid=05Jun2011" type="text/javascript"></script>


  1. Beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing your story and showing us by example how and why YA really does save. I honestly can't believe WSJ would publish something that ignorant. Now it just gives book banners more ammo for their cause.

  2. What a stunning post. Thanks for you opinion. YA is powerful and something that reflects the real life WSJ talks about all the time. I'm shocked that they published such an article, but it just goes to show that some people aren't strong enough, like you were, to overcome and move on. Thank you for your thoughts.

  3. Thank you for sharing, A. Gorgeous post.
    I'm very sad to see that article. YA does save. There is so much going on at that age. Everyone is changing: physically, mentally, emotionally. Parents aren't always there, and even when they are, teenagers don't know how to approach certain topics or feelings. The darker topics of YA, just like the lighter ones, help readers experience/deal with many things.
    I didn't read YA when I was growing up. I read Michael Crichton, Mary Higgins Clark, and any other book I bought at the supermarket that week. But it would have been a wonderful/different experience to also be reading books like Little Girl Lost, Wither and Paranormalcy. I feel bad for the people who discount the power of YA books. They are missing out on an important genre of literature.

  4. Thanks, everyone. If you're feeling a little mad, like I am, go read Courtney Summers's post (I added it to the linky above at #3). She made me LOL.

  5. Thanks Alethea for your courage in sharing your story and your righteous indignation for this article and what it is communicating.

  6. Alethea I just want to give you a big girly ((((((hug))))) and now I'm going to weep.

    The wsj article made me mad - but it's also amazing to see the sensible, thoughtful, insightful and sometimes crazy-funny responses from readers all around the world.

    So many things have irked me this week - the LDS (I nearly typed LSD, now there's a Freudian slip!) article about how romance novels destroy your marriage, then VS Naipaul bangs on about how women are only capable of writing 'feminine tosh', and then the WSJ wanting to 'protect' teens by not letting them read books that will help them sort out thoughts, feelings and fears in the safety of a book.

    The WSJ article was so cack-handed.

    Thank you for being amazing and for responding with such grace.

    and I still want to give you a hug. *(*(*squish*)*)*)

  7. Thank you for being brave enough to share your story. I heard about that review and plan to discuss it with friends.

  8. beautiful words. thank you for being brave enough to post them. this article really makes me mad. has the writer even read any of these so called "depraved" books? sheltering young adults from dark issues doesn't mean they don't exist. sure, young adult books are darker than they used to be. but maybe that's because there is greater freedom and demand for books that deal with tough topics. people underestimate young adults by saying that a book is going to make them cut themselves or that something is too dark. sure, as a parent, i think you should be aware and maybe even read (gasp!) some of the books that your child is interested in but to discount a genre based on generalizations is sheer folly. i, for one, am happy at the recent popularity of young adult fiction. so many fantastic books have come out of it and i hope there are many more to come.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It only adds weight to the YA Saves campaign and shows us what's at stake when book banning occurs.

    Also, thank you for adding me to the linky's! Your comment was considerate and thoughtful and I really appreciated it. I love this community.

  10. There are too many books that saved me from loneliness, sadness, and boredom. To me, books are friends, more than just natural sleep aids or bound pieces of paper.