We read with interest this Wall St. Journal article on young adult (YA) fiction about how (distressingly, for many parents) today’s YA fiction seems to be getting darker and darker. According to the selection in many bookstores, today’s avidly reading teens can find themselves “immersed in ugliness.”
The part of the article that stands out most to me is this: “Reading about homicide doesn’t turn a man into a murderer; reading about cheating on exams won’t make a kid break the honor code. But the calculus that many parents make is less crude than that: It has to do with a child’s happiness, moral development and tenderness of heart.”
We think about this a lot for every Ashland Creek Press title we publish: How will this book both entertain and enlighten? Will this book offer something positive in an all-too-often troubling world? Will this book inspire readers to engage with the world in which they live in an optimistic way? This is more important than ever with young adult books.
Our first YA title, Out of Breath, belongs to a genre that teens have been devouring lately. There’s a little romance, a lot of paranormal, and yes, you’ll meet a couple of vampires. It’s certainly not as dark as some teen fiction out there — there’s no serious violence, no profanity, no sex, and no child abuse, self-inflicted or otherwise. And what we hope will surprise readers about this novel is that even amid the darker elements of the story, the book celebrates the earth and nature and shows how we can all connect to it a little more closely.
It’s good to see this article and to know that the tide may be turning — not that we need to create unrealistic, utopian worlds for teen readers but because, as the article notes, “books focusing on pathologies help normalize them.” And it’s not that we should ignore the realities of what teenagers experience — but literature can be one of many ways in which to show them that there is as much light in the world as there is dark.