This WSJ article. When the link first started showing up in my twitter feed, I was like, “Oh dear, another misinformed person saying dumb things about YA? This seems to be happening a lot lately.” Or, to paint a clearer picture, I was all like:
But then I kept thinking about it and it was just SO RIDICULOUS and I was like:
As someone who went through (unfortunately typical) rough periods of teasing and bullying throughout school, art saved me up until and after I left it. Acting allowed me to escape until I was ready to confront. Music made me listen. Photography gave me a better understanding of how my past informed my perspective. And books. Books. BOOKS CHANGED EVERYTHING. I was just just JUST edging out of my teens, still walking wounded, when I discovered this book:
This book! This book is bleak as hell. Someone’s always whining about that (in fact The WSJ article is totally one of those someones! SURPRISE!). But anyways, this book, you guys. I remember flipping through the pages and having the most fervent wish that I could invent a time machine and hand it to my younger self. It was one of the most intense, incredible reading experiences I’d ever had. This corrupt school full of angry boys, victims of the system and each other, where it doesn’t matter if you’re a good and honest person because sometimes life is JUST THIS HARD–blew my mind. What these boys were going through was more extreme than anything I had ever gone through, but the core truth of the story was something I understood deeply and something that made me feel deeply understood after an entire adolescence of feeling like no one did. I instantly felt less alone.
Seeing yourself reflected, on some level, in the pages of a book is an incredibly powerful thing. I realized after reading The Chocolate War that I wasn’t looking for answers, I wanted to know people had the same questions. This completely informed the way I chose to approach my work.
The WSJ article is so ugh. I could pick it apart until my fingernails were all torn off and bloody from all the picking and whatnot. I am just going through the article again right now to write this and ugh I can’t. I can’t you guys. Don’t even get me started on the book lists being separated by gender.
Like I said, writing, for me, is about questions. I bring them to the page as truthfully as I can and by the time I’m done writing a book, I don’t always have the answers, but I feel so much better for having asked the questions out loud. I will never regret doing this and I am never going to stop doing this. As a result, I have been incredibly fortunate to receive emails from readers who have told me they felt I understood them and even letters from readers who have told me my books inspired them to get out of self-destructive situations and seek help.
Anyways. So many people are tweeting and blogging about this issue and they are saying it all much better than I could. I feel so grateful for books that open my eyes and make me look at/examine things–no matter how big or how small, light or dark, and whether I agree with them or not–in ways I didn’t before. As a writer, I can’t bring myself to sacrifice the kind of honesty that is required to do that for anyone else’s peace of mind and as a reader, I would feel so cheated by any writer who did. I am so thankful for writers who confront the darkness rather than hide from it. I am equally thankful for writers who show us the brighter side of life as well. AND OH MY GOD do you think there are books out there that do BOTH? I bet there are. Wow.
Also Meghan Cox Gurden, it’s okay to give teenagers credit. Although I see how recognizing their intelligence and awesomeness and ability to self-censor and think for themselves might’ve put a damper on your article. Also Wall Street Journal, this is how I feel about you right now:
amusing gifs from gifparty!