Why are YA books so dark?
By "dark," they mean stories featuring sex, violence, depictions of drug and alcohol use, suicide, foul language
but also, depending on the particular adult, might mean stories that center around racism, homosexuality, any religion not Christianity, or books containing magic or witchcraft (I met a librarian in Florida who worked at a school where several parents in the community held a real-life book burning of Harry Potter books).
When I get the Why Are YA Books So Dark question, I usually ramble on about how there's a range of YA books out there and not all of them deal with stuff that makes adults uncomfortable, but I also try to put in a plug for these books,
that I believe stories for teens are important, essential, even, at helping them navigate the world, that books are probably the safest place to explore complicated and controversial issues, that there's nothing in these books that kids haven't heard in the halls of school or seen in movies or on the internet or experienced through friends or in their own lives--
But often, as I am talking, I can see in their faces that these anxious, concerned adults
don't remember what it's like to be a teen.
Or they do, but are either willfully forgetting the trouble they got into, the idiot mistakes them made, or they stubbornly insist that times have changed.
And not for the better.
YA books, back then, were not dark.
Not dark, anyway, like this:
A fifteen year old girl is new in town. Wanting to fit in, she starts taking drugs. She loses her virginity while high. Later in the book she runs away from home and is raped. In the end, she dies.
A girl meets a boy at a party. They fall in love and the relationship turns physical. The two have sex and it's fairly graphic. For example, the boy tells the girl the name he's given to his penis. Also, the girl's best friend is dating a boy who tries to hang himself.
A girl's father dies and the grieving and financially-struggling family move into the mother's childhood home. The siblings live in the attic. The brother and sister have sex. The youngest sibling is poisoned to death.
In case you're wondering these books are
Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks, published in 1971
Forever by Judy Blume, published in 1975
Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews, published in 1979
They were read by nearly everyone I knew (some of us reading the books multiple times), but weirdly, eventually, we forgot how we passed them around, how we poured over the descriptions, giggling or squirming uncomfortably, expressing shock or understanding at what we found in the pages,
the flawed people, the neglectful and/or well-meaning but not-quite-getting-it parents, the stupid choices, the heartache, the fear, the love, the violence, the ridiculousness,
and then we grew up, and had our own children
and freaked the hell out at what they were reading.
|*bonus points if you know the name of Michael's penis|