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10 June 2011 @ 07:51 am
how to save a life  
Ever since I read THE WALL STREET JOURNAL's post on the darkness in YA literature, the song from the Fray has been running through my head: how to save a life. The power of YA books to connect to readers (and not just teen readers for that) is incredible. As a classroom teacher, I saw lives changed by books. A student who read a book about a teen whose father died confided in me that he still grieved the loss of his own father, something that helped to explain some of the behavior I saw that concerned me. Those stories are wonderful and remind us how YA can save lives. But I want to talk about the other ways books can save. I am going to refrain in this posting from referring to the article in the WSJ as it is wrong in so many ways that I would spend too much time and effort giving attention to someone who must not read much in the field given the opinions expressed. Plus, I know Liz Burns and Laurie Halse Anderson and Libba Bray are all busily writing.

Instead, let me lay out here what else YA does that saves lives.

IT ALLOWS READERS A SAFE HAVEN IN WHICH TO TEST THEMSELVES. Whether it is Harry Potter or Melinda or The Mockinjay herself, readers can ask themselves what they would do when faced with evil, with pain, with circumstances out of control? What can they DO to speak out? What might they do to confront those who are lying? I have watched my own resident of the back bedroom read Harry Potter and other books over and over again. She read Tangerine by Bloor and was angered about the elevation of the athlete to some sort of saint-like status.

IT GIVES KIDS A CHANCE TO SEE THEY ARE NOT ALONE. Books can show readers that they a not the only ones being bullied, they are not the only ones being abused, they are not the only ones living I poverty. Unlike the books available for me as a teen, contemporary YA does not present a sterile world in which everyone is happily living with two parents, in a nice home, attending a great school with caring teachers. Rather it presents some of the harsh realities which our kids face. No Pollyanna here. Instead,it tells the truth. Sometimes you win, sometimes the bully prevails. Life is not fair. this is not only comforting and consoling, it can help develop empathy. I will take empathetic teens any day.

IT DEVELOPS READERS. If I can connect kids to books as tweens and teens, I have a good shot at developing lifelong readers. Given the percentage of adults who do not read (and the author of the WSJ piece cannot be widely read and be so unaware of its wealth unless, of course, she has an agenda), I hope for more from my students, even my graduate students.

IT DEMONSTRATES THAT, JUST BECAUSE THE BOOK IS WRITTEN FOR TEENS, THAT IT CAN INDEED BE A LITERARY EXPERIENCE. The are those who would dismiss YA as not as literary as adult work (and look at the ruckus raised earlier thus week by Naipul suggesting women could not write as well as men!). you want literary? Try reading the poetry of Naomi Shihab Nye. Try the gothic horror of The Monstumologist. Tackle Cormier's The Bumblebee Flies Anyway. Read Patrick Ness' trilogy, Chaos Walking. Then come back and try to denigrate YA.

For now, I thinkI will pick up my #booaday and fall into another YA BOOK. If only those who write about YA would do the same...


ETA: Thanks to the anonymous commenter who pointed out I had not spell checked this piece. Whoever you are, I appreciate the eagle eye. Sometimes I get carried away with a post and forget about the checking. Since this is a blog and not the WSJ, I hope I can be forgiven an error or two...
 
 
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( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
crissachappell: bat for lashescrissachappell on June 5th, 2011 04:24 pm (UTC)
awesome post. I use YA stories in my college classes and it makes a huge difference. So many have already decided that "reading is boring"....Wow. I wonder why.
Beth Fehlbaumbethfehlbaum on June 5th, 2011 09:39 pm (UTC)
Amen!
Thank you for writing this. I could not agree with you more!
Beth Fehlbaum,
author of Hope in Patience
survivor of childhood sexual abuse
writerjennwriterjenn on June 5th, 2011 11:49 pm (UTC)
So many things bothered me about that essay, one of them being the sweeping generalization that because a certain group of books bothered the essay's author (who is not even part of the intended audience for the books), they are bad. She didn't ask that intended audience what they think, or how they receive the books. And she stated her opinion as an obvious conclusion; she used her personal tastes to represent a governing criterion.

When I was a teen, I needed those darker stories. I needed reassurance that I was not alone in facing some unfair circumstances--and that those miserable times could be survived.
Tamora Piercetammypierce on June 13th, 2011 06:14 pm (UTC)
I just came from reading that (and posting a lengthy reply), and I am still chewing tenpenny nails. This woman not only sounded off without back-up facts, but she was ignorant. Like most ignoramuses, she was happy to expound on something she knew nothing about.

Why are these people allowed to type?! Why, o why?!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )