Friday, June 17, 2011

Gurdon's "Darkness Too Visible:" A Call for Variety

Free-form Friday

On Saturday, June 4, Meghan Cox Gurdon published an essay in the Wall Street Journal that unleashed a twitter-storm of righteous wrath because she dared to question the overwhelming focus on darkness in contemporary fiction for teens.

Her piece, Darkness Too Visible, asks:
"Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?"
Given the history of well-intentioned over-protection in children's literature, I understand the passionate and heartfelt reactions to anything tainted with even a whiff of censorship, particularly if it comes wrapped in high-minded terms.

But in the visceral reactions to Ms. Gurdon's essay, at least in the pieces I've read, most of her opponents have glossed over a critical, if only anecdotal fact: the woman Gurdon mentions at the beginning of  her essay who popped into a Barnes & Noble to find a book for her teenage daughter, "left the store empty-handed."

Some of the people who take exception to Ms. Gurdon's questions do so in the context of extolling the value of having books that speak in an authentic voice to young readers, particularly those whose lives have been touched by darkness. There's a larger, on-going discussion about the need for greater diversity in YA so that young readers can identify with the characters they read about.

I find it ironic that few of the early responders were bothered that the mother mentioned in the essay didn't find anything on the bookshelves for her young reader. I wonder how different the reaction would have been if it had been a person of color who couldn't find any books to buy.

I, personally, wasn't offended by Gurdon's piece because I read it as a call for greater variety.

Isn't the fundamental point of those who object to Ms. Gurdon that we should have something for everyone? If so, why are we so troubled when someone points out that the commercial side of bookselling currently seems focused on only one part of the spectrum?


Image: Photography by BJWOK / FreeDigitalPhotos.net