Thursday, June 30, 2011

Time for a Reality Check

Teen Angst
Clearly overcome by teen lit darkness
The editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal have been crap for as long as I can remember. Since for those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like, I have a feeling that their editorials will continue to be crap until the publication goes under. Let’s just hope that happens sooner rather than later if they continue to have someone like Meghan Cox Gurdon editing their children’s books column.

Ms. Gurdon made ridiculous claims in her first article and her follow-up is just an obnoxious rant in the same vein along with superfluous jabs at those crazy librarians who want to burn her in effigy. As a side note, Ms. Gurdon, with all the budget cuts our public libraries are facing, I doubt you were at the top of anyone’s mind at ALA; get over your sorry self.

I’d like to address the sloppy case Ms. Gurdon threw together against the selection of YA books available as well as her ridiculous claims about the dangers of raising awareness about mental health issues through literature. Since the current selection of teen literature available was what she started with and continues to rant about, let’s go there first.

For anyone out there who actually reads YA books, am I crazy or is she just delusional? I’ve read plenty of books that aren’t about rape and trauma. I have no idea what Ms. Gurdon approves of in teen books, but I don’t think there’s anything approaching rape and trauma in the Georgia Nicholson series by Louise Rennison. Also, even though there’s some bullying involved in the story, Sara Bennett Wealer’s recent novel, Rival is more about friendship gone wrong than pure trauma. For the truly fainthearted, there’s always The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants by Ann Brashares. I’m sure any bookseller worth her weight in Danielle Steel novels could have told the clueless shopper about those.

Most of the teen books that I see coming-out as hot new releases are full of supernatural creatures and magic. If anything, teen literature has become more escapist than ever. If you want my honest opinion about what’s on the shelves of any bookstore in any genre: most of it’s crap! It will take about a decade to sift the good stuff from the bad and mediocre. That’s just how things go.

As someone who works in a mental health related field and works with young adults on a daily basis, I find it disturbing that Ms. Gurdon (expert that she is) would claim that problem novels will somehow give young adults the idea to engage in risky or unhealthy behavior. That is not true. Covering up problems and silencing those who suffer from them lead to more unhealthy behavior. The issue here is that Ms. Gurdon and her ilk find topics like incest, drug abuse and rape unseemly and don’t want to hear people talk about them, but that’s her issue.

As for being a victim of a violent crime such as domestic violence, rape, or incest, the idea that victims are in the minority is also bogus. According to the statistics page on RAINN’s website (and yes, they cite other sources for these), 15% of all sexual assault victims are under age 12. It is estimated that one in three women will be a victim of sexual assault in her lifetime. That means a lot of girls are being assaulted. It is not unusual. I don’t think it’s acceptable that we live in a supposedly egalitarian society and tolerate such brutal and disgusting behavior, but it happens, and the victims are often left on their own to pick up the pieces. Forty percent of sexual assault victims are under age 18. So, over half of all sexual assault victims are . . . drum roll please: teens. Also, apparently 93% of juvenile victims knew their attacker. Isn’t that nice?

Worried about romanticizing drinking? Guess what, in a recent survey, over 1/3 of all high school students reported having over 5 alcoholic drinks in one sitting within the last 30 day period. (According to the survey, 5 or more drinks in one sitting counted as “binge drinking”.) Where are they getting the idea to drink like that? The Great Gatsby?