There was a huge kerfuffle this summer in the YA community, prompted by this article about why YA is too dark (to paraphrase). People got way upset, and lots of really smart people replied, including my literary crush Sherman Alexie (please have babies with me, Sherman!). I stayed quiet because I had nothing extra to add.
BUT–this weekend I thought of something to say. I’m sure it’s already been said, but it came home to me again.
My time has been free enough this summer (oh, blessed free time) to read. And I’ve been LEARNING! Whoa, from a *book*? A fictional, made-up-ical book? YES. Not even nonfiction–from a story! Whoa. Deep. That’s what I think folks like accuser-of-darkness Meghan Cox Gurdon forget–stories (books as a whole) are a safe way to learn things. In fact, friends and neighbors, books were a primary way to learn things before we had radio, TVs, film, and the World Wide Wonderfulness! Revolutionary!
Let’s emphasize “safe” for a moment. This weekend I was inside Amy Reed‘s fantastic new book CLEAN, and I learned a ton about rehab. I knew a little bit, from traveling that journey with a loved one, but now I know even more. If another loved one needs rehab, I’m better prepared. And I didn’t have to go to rehab to experience it (Amy Winehouse, poor soul, could have learned from CLEAN).
Another example, one Gurdon used: self-injury. Teens might self-injure if they read about it! My take: if I read about it, I can safely learn about self-injury without having to self-injure. If I self-injure *because* of a book, I was at risk for it anyway. The book didn’t push me over the edge. Yes, I believe this.
What else have I learned lately? In LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN, bestest grown-up book ever, I am learning how to be a black prostitute in 1970s New York. From CHASING ALLIECAT, I learned how to bike up hills more easily–probably one of the most practical things I’ve learned lately, since I’m learning to bike for distance. And I learned what it’s like to race DOWNhill. Scary business!
In the 19th century, families sat around oil lamps and learned about how to harpoon big white whales, or Uncle Walt’s astoundingly chatty catalog of life’s details. Why is it any different with teenagers in the 21st century? Books are safe. You can put them down when they’re too intense. I’d rather have my kid learn about kidnapping from a book than have him learn it from real life. Yes, you can learn to build a bomb from a book. But you were intending to do it anyway, or you wouldn’t have looked for a book about it.
Rant over. But that was a fun one.