Is Young Adult Fiction Too Dark......or Just What Readers Want?

Loyal reader Meg sent me this link to an interesting article in The Wall Street Journal.  Meghan Cox Gurdon points out that most of the popular young adult literature in 2011 is very dark.  Topics ranging from vampires, self mutilation, suicide, drug abuse, sexual assault and violence fill the books in the young adult sections of libraries and book stores.  Throw in frequent use of vulgar language and it does not take long to realize we are not dealing "Nancy Drew" or "The Hardy Boys" series in 2011 young adult literature.

I Just Don't Think This Book Would be Flying Off The Shelf in My Library

To be totally honest with you, the article was not surprising to me at all.  Part of my job is keeping up with what young adults like to read.  Most of the books that fly off my shelves deal with the darker issues.  However, "dark" is also "real" to many of my readers.  In the past there were dark issues, it was just better to ignore them and not write or talk about them.  In 2011, hiding these issues is not the norm.  Also, when it comes down to it, fiction is still an escape.  A world where dark things can happen, yet the reader is not harmed in any way.  For me, book selection at the high school is much easier than it is for my colleagues at the middle school/junior high level.  Some of these topics are tough to handle for children as young as 10 or 11.

After reading the article, I think I am actually going to pick up one of the titles to read this summer.  It may turn out to be the read of the month in July or August.  I will never comment on parenting skills of others, but I know in my house, if my daughter or son are reading books as a teenager, I will be one proud father.  I may be curious as to what the book is about, but I have no plans to censor what they want to read......any reading is good reading in my house.

Also, I performed an update to The Geekly Reader that makes it easier to read in mobile form.  Be sure to check it out on your mobile devices!


  1. When I think of all of the strange and gruesome books I read as a teen, from Fear Street and Christopher Pike to Stephen King and my mom's murder mysteries, this article mostly made me say, so what. Kids always seek out dark books. When I was 11-15 or so, all the kids in my class read horror almost exclusively. We only wanted to read things that were scary, and I turned out just fine. My taste didn't stay that way forever, and though I was often scared, it was a fun kind of scare. I wasn't scarred for life.

    And as for titles with more realistically dark themes, well. If a book talks about a kid who cuts but works through it and is able to stop, isn't that a positive and hopeful message for readers who, themselves, are cutters? That they're not alone, and there are ways to get through? And isn't it even good for readers who aren't cutters? It could give them empathy toward their peers who are troubled that way, to help them put themselves in their friends' shoes and understand, even just a little, what they're going through. The same goes for books about people who are abused, or on drugs, or any other problem that actually exists. Why would anyone ever think teaching readers empathy is a bad thing? Isn't that the entire point of books? To help people get out of their own heads and imagine what it's like to be someone else? Have I ended enough sentences with question marks?

    And furthermore, if you want to talk about inappropriate themes, in school I had to read stories with murder, ghosts, war, rape, torture, incest, animal maulings, and spousal abuse, and those were just the ones by Shakespare. I mean, come on.

    My parents never censored anything I read either. I think, in general, kids self-select. If something is too mature for them, they'll get bored or they won't understand it and they'll put it down. They were very strict about the movies I watched, but never what I read. And I read a lot.

  2. Great comment as usual. I'm very thankful that a title has never been challenged in my library. When I think of all the real "drama" that takes place daily, most of the subject matter in my library is quite mild.


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