LGBT-themed YA books have certainly seen their share of disputes, and topics like alcohol abuse, sex, and really anything Judy Blume ever wrote about have endured an equal amount of argument among teachers, librarians, and parents. For some, these topics in general are just "too dark" for young adults.
The Wall Street Journal recently posted an article relaying the apparent horrors in today's YA lit. "If books show us the world," reporter Meghan Cox Gurdon says, "teen fiction can be like a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is." Drugs. Incest. Dysfunctional families. The article insists authors try to reverse this trend, and go back to books where topics weren't as violent. Without change, she believes today's YA audience will be in trouble. "If you think it matters what is inside a young person's mind, surely it is of consequence what he reads," Gurdon continues.
Yes, and by hiding life topics from teens, youth won't possibly encounter controversial issues in film, television, the Internet, and in real life. Let's make sure to get rid of a safe learning environment, and prevent the opportunity for teens to ask questions.
(The article goes on to list two recommended reading lists: 1) Books For Young Men and 2) Books For Young Women. Because apparently recommending books to both genders is too much.)
Of the many dark topics that some adults hope to keep quiet from teens, a prominent controversial theme is suicide. As such, author Michael Thomas Ford's Suicide Notes met doubtful readers in 2008. The book follows a teenager named Jeff through a psych ward after his failed attempt at taking his own life. Jeff, struggling with his identity and sexuality, meets a group of young adults who have all survived intended suicides. Ford successfully navigates both the topics of homosexuality and suicide in a way I hope other authors attempt; he treats each issue as a complex idea, rather than diseases that the protagonist tries to hide. As Teen Ink says, "Suicide Notes is able to make something beautiful from something normally regarded with hesitation or disdain." Instead of avoiding the two complex issues altogether, as Gurdon suggests, Ford shows his readers that life involves challenges, and there are healthy, available solutions.
Gurdon's article exploded throughout the media when it was published in June 2011. Authors, bloggers, teens, and adults alike viciously opposed Gurdon's ideas. Author Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why, also a suicide-themed novel) explains that it's not about censorship or pride. "For writers," Asher says, "it's not that. [A lot of adults] don't understand the power of books dealing with these subjects." Both Ford and Asher try to show hesitant readers that knowing how the world works provides the opportunity to learn and understand. "It doesn't mean that your teen is going to be facing these things just because they're reading about them," Asher says.
If YA is a crucial resource for teens, to suggest censorship or sugarcoating topics is only a disservice. Authors and activists have been working to keep Gurdon's recommendations out of literature for good.
Recent controversial YA books to check out
(just to stick it to the man)...
But I Love Him by Amanda Garcia
Lie by Caroline Bock
Shine by Lauren Myracle