As I write this, we’re about 2/3 of the way through the month, and I’m seeing a pattern in these posts. Overwhelmingly, when we talk about “criticism of YA books,” it seems the main criticism is that the books are too edgy, with a side helping of condescension about YA books being lesser forms of literature.
I used to get upset when opinion pieces featuring these viewpoints would appear in major media outlets (many of them written, inexplicably, by people who seemed unfamiliar with actual current YA literature). But it didn’t take long before I stopped caring. Now every time distress over such an op-ed sweeps through my Twitter stream, I don’t even bother to click the link.
As for the censorship that sometimes grows from such criticism, I keep trying to understand it. I can still hardly believe that of all the real-life problems teenagers face—drugs, bullying, disease, poverty, war, bigotry, the difficulty of getting an education, and on and on—censors will focus on a book as the serious threat that requires their energy, attention, and action. It’s difficult enough getting books into kids’ hands; why should we be trying to take them out?
My current thinking is this: All those dangers I mentioned are big and scary and overwhelming. People don’t know how to keep their kids safe from them all, because it is simply not possible. Life is full of risk and trouble. But a book is a concrete thing. Banning a book is a concrete action that is easily achievable (sadly, I have heard of too many cases in which a single complaining adult—or even the fear of a potential complaint someday—has kept books off shelves). It gives the illusion that an adult has done something to “keep children safe.” In such situations, books stand in for the real dangers that are still out there in the world.
For me, books have always been the opposite: they have been my armor and my tools in facing those real-world dangers. This was especially so in my childhood and my teen years. It’s one reason I have spent so much of my adulthood writing for this age group.