Sunday, June 5, 2011

YA Saves - a response to the Wall Street Journal's article "Darkness Too Visible"

I’m not sure I can add much to the amazing comments that the bullshit article printed by the Wall Street Journal spurred last night. But I can tell you why, as an adult, I both read and write Young Adult books.

I went to junior high and high school at schools where the Caucasian population was literally less than three percent. Now, I will not take away anything from what the US considers minorities, but believe me, that was a terrifying six years of my life. My friends and I were picked on, bullied and threatened relentlessly because we were white in predominately nonwhite schools. And we were all nerds. So even my friends who were of color were not immune to the bullying because they made the fatal mistake of caring about their grades and joining extracurricular activities.

I graduated high school in 2000, Barnes and Noble and Borders did not have a Young Adult section. And obviously teens would not be caught dead in the Children’s section, so if books that would’ve helped us get through the threats on our lives – no I am not exaggerating – existed, we didn’t know about them. I had gay friends, both female and male, dealing with their sexuality. Dealing with their rejection. Dealing with thoughts of suicide.

I had one friend who had been raped more than once by boys she knew and was dealing with the concept that maybe she was a lesbian. She too nearly killed herself just to escape the nightmares.

I cannot even begin to tell you how many students at my high school had children. How many girls tried to get pregnant because they were afraid their boyfriends were planning to break up with them. How many got pregnant because their home life was such shit they wanted someone they could love and be loved by unconditionally. I am sad to tell you that some got pregnant because it was part of their culture and expected of them by the time they were sixteen. This shit is real.

I had friends with older and younger siblings doing better than they were, getting praise from their parents. My friends being belittled and criticized by their parents, hating their brothers and sisters with a rage unmeasured by books assigned to us by our teachers.

I had emotionally abusive boyfriends and was cheated on and pressured. And sadly I wasn’t the exception.

I was a cutter. My best friend was a cutter and anorexic. Many of my friends flirted with cutting. I personally saved the lives of three of my friends. Sadly, I even knew kids that hurt themselves because so many of their peers were doing it and they didn’t want to be left out. The pressures we faced, leveled on us by parents, friends, school, ourselves is all so overwhelming and we are in no way mature enough to understand that, given time, we may be able to get through it all and have a better life away from all this darkness. Hopefully. I am sad to say that not everyone made it out of my high school. Some murdered, some killed themselves. Tragic.

Even something as small and insignificant as being the first girl in my class to develop can crush a girl’s spirit. Even today, at the age of 28, I still have bitter angry women try to belittle and hurt me because of my bust size.

The books that are around today that address all of these issues and so many more are a lifeline to girls like I was and the kids that were my friends. I am sad that they weren’t around when I could’ve used them, the closest we had was Catcher in the Rye and believe me that was one of my favorite books in high school. To try and say books that deal with these issues are depraved is a slap in the face. The kids that need these books are not depraved. Even as an adult these books give us a chance to heal old wounds.

I did not write my books to be life changing or profound, after all they are “Fantasy” but I did not shy away from the issues kids face. I write books that are an escape from reality because sometimes that’s what you need. I want to remind everyone it is okay to still believe in magic and Santa and fairies and the monsters that live under our beds. But in my books there is a girl, abused by her boyfriend, there is a sweet-faced boy dealing with his homosexuality, there is a boy wanting to kill his brother, because these kids exist in real life and deserve a voice on the page.

You don’t get to decide what TV shows I watch or what movies I go to see and you sure as fuck don’t get to decide what books I read.

As for the mother quoted in that article, I am terrified for her 13-year-old daughter. Books give you the opportunity to open a dialogue for uncomfortable conversations, and can even address issues you are too scared to address yourself. You are only damaging your potential relationship with your daughter by shielding her from the real world. Making her feel even more ashamed or embarrassed by her own issues. I feel sorry for you and your children. I hope they choose to read as a form of rebellion rather than turn to blades, drugs or abusive relationships because they don’t know better and you didn’t give them a chance.

And even all of that doesn't begin to scratch the surface of my adolescence. So I will simply close with the comment I made on Twitter last night: Are you seriously saying that all the YA books out there are depraved because they help kids deal, WSJ? Well here’s depravity for you, fuck you.


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