This week, there has been a lot of talk online about an article in the Wall Street Journal. The article claimed that the dark themes in the current popular YA books are bad for kids. There was a huge outcry. I won't repeat all of the arguments here. The #YAsaves on Twitter and a subsequent article in WSJ answer these questions better than I can as an author who doesn't write YA.
I don't have anything much more to add as an author, but I do have thoughts as a parent. I think the article approaches the question in completely the wrong way. My teenaged daughters have read scads of the more sober themed YA books.
Some they didn't like the difficult themes. Some they didn't finish because they felt uncomfortable. Some they loved despite the darkness. Some changed their lives.
But those are my kids reactions. Even my kids, who are fairly similar in tastes, don't agree. Prudence loved I am the Messenger. But it broke her heart so she won't touch The Book Thief, Patience's most favorite book ever. Not every kid is the same. The Goosebumps series was wildly popular when I volunteered in the school library. My girls never read Goosebumps and aren't going to see any of the latest horror movies. They are easily spooked. That isn't an indictment of RL Stine. That is just my children.
As parents, it's our job to know our children's limits. And YA literature covers a broad age range. Not many 17 year olds are reading what their 13 year old siblings enjoy. And it's supposed to be like that. I have sent books back to the library or book store unread. It wasn't a popular choice, but after a couple that slipped past me lead to nightmares, they understood.
Now that they are older, my kids censor their own reading. There are a few books that went back unfinished to the library. It's very hard to find Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance with relatively light sexual content.
There has been rape and eating disorders, murder and casual sex, violence and mental illness. But I don't think my kids were harmed by all of the things that they have read.
The book that cause the most tears to be shed in our house is an autobiography. I think the real tragedies of someone's life are worth my daughter's tears. I know she is a better person for having a literary relationship with that author.