Of Ship Breakers & Hunger Games: About That WSJ Article…

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Ugh. I can’t imagine I’m alone when I say that I’m really tired of hearing about this. EVERYONE has talked about it, & now, so am I.

If, by some miracle, you don’t know what I’m talking about, skim through the offending article. It’s pretty terrible, but to be perfectly honest, my first thought was one of sarcasm, rather than alarm. I mean, come on, YA people. Someone is attacking teen lit? Is it a day that ends in Y? Defending teen lit comes with the territory. Why was this particular article so shocking & alarming? Frankly, I’m still reeling from James Frey’s “teen lit is easy to write” comment far more than this is bothering me.

But, I’ll throw my two cents in if I must. Here’s what I think: THIS WOMAN HAS NO IDEA WHAT SHE’S EVEN TALKING ABOUT.

Let me tell you why…

She begins with a tale of her FRIEND going to a bookstore & being frustrated that YA is filled with death & despair – which, let’s own it guys, IT IS. Teen lit right now is full of vampires, zombies, & other undead/not dead/can’t die supernatural beasties. I think Tamora Pierce said it best when she asked if the next big teen thing could please have living people in it. But the thing is, it’s so full of death because the teen years are the first time you’re confronted with your own mortality. Teens are obsessed with it because it’s first time they’ve really thought about it! Sometimes it’s just that they’re mature enough, but often, it’s because someone in their school dies. A car accident, a suicide, an illness… it’s one thing if grandpa dies when you’re young, it’s another if the girl next door who’s a year younger dies.

But here’s where the author loses her cred, at least with me – that popular stuff? Is usually NOT the hardcore stuff the author goes on to complain about. I rarely, if ever, see the hardcore stuff in any bookstore. A Great & Terrible Beauty? Sure. Going Bovine? No. Elizabeth Scott’s fluffy fun romance? It’s on display next to Sarah Dessen. Living Dead Girl? Maybe one if you’re lucky.

You know why? BECAUSE TEENS WANT THE FUN FLUFFY STUFF. I would say that probably only 10-15% of that hardcore stuff is what’s actually being published. Yeah, it’s awesome, & yeah, it’s on my shelves & I proudly put it on display, but it’s the House of Night & Hunger Games & Mortal Instruments & all the not-great knock-offs that they want. My hardcore readers, especially my TAB members, will pick up anything, especially if its on the Best Books list or if I’ve read it. But the casual reader who just wants an escape? They aren’t going to grab Cut. They’re going to grab Boys, Bears, & A Serious Pair of Hiking Boots, if for no other reason than it has a great cover.

When I go to our local bookstore, I see lots of the fluffy stuff. Vampires, teen romance, re-pubs of stuff from the 90s in shiny new covers. I don’t see the hardcore stuff. I rarely see more than one copy of John Green’s works, which one could hardly call hardcore; just more Clique, Gossip Girl, & Pretty Little Liars. Which is fine, but I’d be surprised if the author’s local bookstore even stocks what she’s concerned about.

The author also mentions the extreme violence of Hunger Games, & there’s no denying that it is so. But in the recommended blurb next to the article, Ship Breaker is the first rec. Although I LOVED LOVED LOVED it, I personally found it MUCH more in your face violent than Hunger Games, if for no other reason than it’s adults going after children. When I saw this, I didn’t even finish the article. How out of touch is she?

In my library, I have a display & corresponding book list of Books that won’t make you blush! There’s also a sign posted, welcoming parents to the teen area & gently explaining that hey, teen fiction covers the full range of the teenage years. I invite them to talk to me, because I’ll be honest, there are plenty of books in my beloved & carefully crafted collection that no, I don’t think are appropriate for a thirteen-year-old to read.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t think Will Grayson Will Grayson shouldn’t be required reading for every student in America (how much would you love a teacher who read that in his classroom?), but I do think that it’s be better once you’re older. Some books just ought to be saved for the age at which you are ready! As a high school junior who was a big reader (I did become a librarian, after all), I was extremely uncomfortable reading The Color Purple. I wasn’t ready for it, & I didn’t finish it. Why is adult fiction always considered okay for teens, but teen fiction not?

You’re a very different person as a thirteen-year-old than when you’re a sixteen-year-old. At thirteen, you still love Hannah Montana. At sixteen, you love Lady Gaga. At thirteen, you ought to be reading Princess Diaries. At sixteen, How I Live Now. Someday, maybe, people will get that. But until then, we’re going to be explaining this over & over & over. Everyone take a deep breathe, talk to the parents of your teens, & stop panicking every time someone who doesn’t get it writes an article. We’ve got more important things to worry about – summer reading is in full swing, & my manga shelves are nearly empty!

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