A recent article in the Wall Street Journal has many librarians raising their eyebrows. This article, Darkness too Visible by Meghan Cox Gurdon, the author posits that YA lit has become far too violent and profane. She compares Judy Bloom to Lauren Myracle, S.E. Hinton to Jackie Morse Kessler. Beyond the fact that this comparisons are specious at best, the author’s lack of knowledge of YA lit is startling. Andrew Smith and Suzanne Collins are one thing, but what about John Green? Sarah Dessen? Meg Cabot? Maureen Johnson? While they might have some objectionable content, they have much less objectionable content than Annie On My Mind (1982), Go Ask Alice (1971), or Catcher in the Rye (1951).
Still, I’m not here to debate this particular point. I’m here to tell you about a book club that I ran last month. This book club, comprised almost exclusively of women over 70 years old, was tasked with reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Book clubs are all about reading outside of your comfort zone, and The Hunger Games certainly did that. The thing that shocked me most was not how much the women hated the book, but how quickly they were willing to equate it with “the downfall of teenagers” as we know it. As we all know, teenagers are the scourge of the earth and no good could come from them. When we were teenagers that clearly wasn’t the case, <fist shaking> but these kids today </fist shaking>.
The women of the book club spent at least half of the time discussing how this was clearly indicative of teens today. They’re numb to violence and profanity and sex and we should just do off with the lot of them (ok, I adlibbed that part). Everytime I tried to expose them to deeper themes, they just kept going back to this. These women, who have hypothetically spent their whole lives (or at least since they joined the book club) critically reading books could not see past the violence to the inner pain of the main character or her search for self-identity. I seems to be more a flaw in the way that we, as adults, approach the world, than the fault of teens, who can read critically enough to see past the violence to Katniss’s inner struggle.