World, I am at a loss for what to say or do. This article appeared on the Wall Street Journal website today, yet another in a neverending line of articles appearing in esteemed publications that condemn young adult literature. It says nothing new, really, just the usual bunch of accusations against the genre, namely that YA literature encourages the spread of dangerous activities such as sexual exploration, self-injury, anorexia, etc. The author, a Meghan Cox Gurdon, suggests that the proliferation of "dark YA" on the shelves these days creates adolescent with darker minds, impulses, and desires.
Articles like this one, of course, can't exist long in the world before the online YA community rises up to the occasion. Seriously, we're probably one of the most well organized informational armies out there. Twitter is like our right hand, and online communication reigns in the YA world because YA is still a not-very-widely accepted part of our culture that requires our "going underground," or "taking to the ethernets," to find "our people." YA authors, bloggers, librarians, publishing professionals, and more have been tweeting Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) nonstop. Libba Bray wrote an encore-deserving series of tweets that have been republished by WSJ as a "letter to the editor." And on and on and on.
Again, there's not much being said that hasn't been said before, so I want to focus on what I believe is the real "enemy" here: the attack on change and progress, and the lack of openmindedness.
Furors regarding YA-condemning articles and the online backlash from the YA community remind me of dramatic court or political scenes where representatives from both sides just kind of stand face-to-face and talk quickly and at the top of their lungs while stuffing their ears and singing "lalalalalalalalala" in their heads. Scenes like this drive me crazy not because of WHAT is being debated, but HOW it is being done. They talk and talk, and we talk and talk, and it seems like nothing has changed because the same arguments are being made every time on top of the fact that neither side is willing to actually listen to the other. No, each side is preoccupied with their belief of the "rightness" of their position, and even as they claim to be listening to the other side, they are in fact busily constructing counter-arguments for what they are "listening" to at that very moment. This is the nature of debate: you pick a side, and by all hell's fiery rivers, you stick to it, gosh darnit.
What we need is discourse, which is the meeting of the parties on an equal plane in which both parties are willing hear the other's points with an open and innovative mind, to compromise if needed, and to create something new out of what's already there. Debate doesn't create anything new because it's too busy standing its ground: there is one winner and one loser. But in discourse, the answer arises from something that has never been there before, and that, over debate, is how progress gets made.
Technically I am well past the age range in which reading YA is considered acceptable. But I have never felt like I have grown out of YA, just like some people have never felt like they needed or wanted to read YA. YA is still my preferred literary genre not because of the content of the books, or the books' messages, but because of how these subjects are approached. It's because YA is the state of mind in which I have experienced the most openmindedness, the most support for innovation and creativity and progress. I love the YA mindset because it's dramatic, because it's crazy and fun and wild and unpredictable and a little scary at times... because it is always, always, always open to and searching for new possibilities.
I have come to realize in the past year that there is really only one thing that I hate, in its myriad of manifestations: I hate willful ignorance, and closemindedness, and the determined denial to see things as black and white and dismiss even the possibility that things might be gray. What the hell is really black and white in this world, besides for a chess board and a zebra? Reducing things--anything, everything--to dichotomies is a small-minded, judgmental, and uninformed way of thinking, no matter how many education degrees you've earned or awards you've received. Years don't make maturity; the length of your CV doesn't denote your amount of wisdom. Maturity and wisdom is gained through the experiencing of life through clear and permeable lenses, of keeping your mind open to new ideas and of constantly adapting yourself to an everchanging world.
Sometimes I miss the old days, too. Every time I read L. M. Montgomery's Anne series, I can't help but think that life would be so wonderful if I could be Anne. But my wishing for that is the same as these YA lit condemners bemoaning the "loss of innocence" in adolescence these days: there's no use in trying to make something go back to the way it used to be. There is only going forward.
Articles like the WSJ one don't just attack YA literature: they also attack the intelligence of young adults and YA readers, the act of reading, and the very institution of education and learning itself. The article is an attack on progress above all. When I read an article such as this one, I'm offended on behalf of the YA community, but I'm also offended on behalf of the human race. The natural state of things is entropy: to try to force things to stay as they always were is unnatural and, ultimately, harmful. Everything is always taken to a whole other level when it deals with young people because growing up is the ultimate metaphor for change and progress. We want things to turn out one way, try to shape things so that they do, but things are always out of our control, always moving forward. No one helps a person with a broken leg heal by keeping him/her off his/her feet forever and ever; no, physical therapy is involved, the gentle guidance to let the muscles become aware of its own abilities to heal.
I am hopeful of things turning out alright for YA lit. Civil, women's, LGBT rights--it's been an uphill climb for all of these movements, but no matter how loudly the naysayers cry, the world knows that the natural order of things is change.