Generally speaking, contemporary fiction for teens is much more readable than the literary dreck that is pushed on adults. But the young adult (YA) genre is also, as a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed notes, rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity.
Although this should be obvious to anyone who reads YA novels, some defenders of the genre are getting a bit carried away in defending the value of the works. For example, YA novelist Laurie Halse Anderson recently wrote :
Books dont turn kids into murderers, or rapists, or alcoholics. (Not even the Bible, which features all of these acts.) Books open hearts and minds, and help teenagers make sense of a dark and confusing world. YA literature saves lives. Every. Single. Day. [emphasis in original]
Alan Jacobs provides some much needed perspective on the issue:
Lets get serious, people. Everything that has power has power for good and ill. Can we just begin by stating what should be obvious to everyone, that some books whether for children, young adults, adults, whatever are good and some are bad? And theyre good and bad in different ways and for different reasons. Some are poorly written but morally sound; some are beautifully written but morally corrupt. Some are bad all round; some are perfectly wonderful.
Of course, theres no universal accounting for reader response. As G. C, Lichtenberg said, A book is like a mirror: if an ass looks in, there’s no use expecting an apostle to look out. Mark David Chapman even found in The Catcher in the Rye a reason to kill John Lennon. People are variable creatures, in their responses to books as in all other things. But there are general tendencies that we can try to understand.
What Id like to see from these YA writers is less panicky defensiveness and more actual thinking. Admit please that some books are bad for some people. Admit that writers can make aesthetic misjudgments, so that certain scenes, or even whole books, can have effects on many readers that they don’t intend. And admit that some writers yes, even YA writers are nasty people who write nasty books. And then try to think about what distinguishes a book that is likely to help most of its readers from a book that isnt.
What books would you put into the “beautifully written but morally corrupt” category?