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So there was an appallingly short sighted and dare I say stupid article that went up at the WSJ the other day about YA fiction and I was sorely tempted to say what I thought about it here and rant and rave in all sorts of ways but honestly, I just don't have it in me. I'm so tired, so bloody tired, of this sort of foolishness and the fact that space is given to this foolishness and that anyone would think this is a reasonable thing to say when it comes to books and reading:

In a letter excerpted by the industry magazine, the Horn Book, several years ago, an editor bemoaned the need, in order to get the book into schools, to strip expletives from Chris Lynch's 2005 novel, "Inexcusable," which revolves around a thuggish jock and the rape he commits. "I don't, as a rule, like to do this on young adult books," the editor grumbled, "I don't want to compromise on how kids really talk. I don't want to acknowledge those f—ing gatekeepers."

By f—ing gatekeepers (the letter-writing editor spelled it out), she meant those who think it's appropriate to guide what young people read. In the book trade, this is known as "banning." In the parenting trade, however, we call this "judgment" or "taste." It is a dereliction of duty not to make distinctions in every other aspect of a young person's life between more and less desirable options. Yet let a gatekeeper object to a book and the industry pulls up its petticoats and shrieks "censorship!"

The mother of all ironies is that one of the books that is recommended in a sidebar to the article is Fahrenheit 451.

In my high school senior class there were several girls who tottered across the stage in high heels and varying stages of advanced pregnancy. There were several girls who carried stories of date rape and questionable "I was drunk and so I did it but I'm not sure who I did it with or why". There were boys who had spent more than one stint up at the county jail, sleeping outside in tents because it was so overcrowded there was no more room inside the cell block. They were arrested for drugs or fighting or just, as one guy told, for "standing there when a cop drove by".

I could give you a long list of friend with parents who drank themselves into anger then oblivion every night, with parents who cheated on each other and broke up or stayed together and should have broken up and with parents who yelled and screamed and shouted the walls down with ridiculous frequency. There was the father who left the mother and the son who then had to drop out of school for six weeks while she went through heart surgery - there was no one else to sit by her side at the hospital. There was the girl whose boyfriend took pictures of her naked and passed out and shared them with his friends and then, after they broke up, robbed her house because she dared to dump him. There was the boy who was caught by his father making out with his sister's boyfriend and then beaten up in the middle of street for it.

I could go on and on and on.

You think cussing is bad? What about pulling your parents apart so they don't kill each other? Or standing up to your father and pushing him against the wall when he comes after you one more time with a piece of wood to "tan your hide and teach you a lesson"? What about counting the quarters and the dimes and the nickels to get enough money to go to the 7-11 for milk and bread?

I don't know how we all survived and that was then - that was 25 years ago when the WSJ points out things were so much simpler with just Judy Blume to show us the way and none of this gritty darkness that is so prevalent in teen literature today. Thank heavens we didn't have our minds poisoned by harsh language. Thank heavens we could remain innocent.

"No family is obliged to acquiesce when publishers use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children's lives," concludes Megan Cox Gurdon. Well, great, just great. Blame it on the books, WSJ. None of that misery in those hallways could possibly be due to just living, could it? Of course if that was true, it would take more than a silly column to fix and we don't want to dwell on that kind of reality, do we? Better to blame a bunch of books that are so much easier to censor and point the finger at distant publishers and authors then dear old mom and dad who really would rather get back to their drinking and fighting and ignoring then actually save their kids.

Blame the books for poisoning us; don't take five minutes to see they are the only thing keeping us all alive.

comments

Awesome post, Colleen. Thanks for this.

Rebecca

Bravo! Well said.

Another really frustrating thing about this article, which I read with raised eyebrows, is the suggestion that it is BAD parenting to give your child free literary reign. This implies that a) censorship of a teenager's reading equals parental love and b) parents are actually CAPABLE of controlling this. They aren't. When my parents banned books on Paganism and romance novels during my teenaged years, I immediately sought out every tome I could could find in either category. I just read them at school, or at friends' houses, or in my bedroom at night with a flashlight. Banning a teen from something is the fastest way to get them interested in it. It's much more valuable to allow the child to read what interests them, and then have a substantive discussion of the book afterwards. Censorship is a very dangerous thing to play with, and to call it "responsible parenting" is incredibly damaging to society as a whole.

Jenn Hubbard

Yes, plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. I am driven crazy by the repeated assumption that talking about, thinking about, writing about, reading about painful issues is the problem.

Here, here and well said.

Thank you. A very well-done post.

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