I was trying not to enter the discussion about dark YA lit, but, alas, I’ve read the article and many responses now, and, go figure, I have an opinion.
First, where I disagree with Gurdon is in her last line:
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.
Well, of course no family is obliged to read any book ever, or to sit silently by while publishers put out dark books, even. But accusing publishers of trying to bulldoze coarseness or misery into children’s lives is as wrong as accusing Christians of trying to shove their religion down people’s throats.
To speak about what you believe or to publish books that reflect what you believe does not constitute shoving or bulldozing. Let’s get over ourselves and quit taking offense when other people speak about their beliefs. To be passionate for a cause does not mean you hate your opponents and you would force your will on them if you could.
Authors of dark books are not trying to bulldoze garbage into children. They are writing about things they think are important. The authors I know want to give their readers stories that entertain, that stretch, that enlighten, and that encourage love and justice and bravery and all kinds of good things. Librarians are not pushing misery onto children because they love to see children turned into coarse, miserable human beings, rather they are giving books they think will be a good fit. Gurdon may disagree with how important, helpful, or fitting the books are, but she shouldn’t suggest that publishers (and by implication authors and librarians) are trying to bulldoze people.
Publishers are trying to make money. They’ll publish what sells. It’s true that publishers are people and they have preferences. It’s true that people in the industry have agendas. But even the people with agendas aren’t trying to bulldoze their beliefs into children’s lives. More likely, because they believe in environmental conservation or gay rights or a woman’s right to choose to abort her baby, they will present those things as reasonable and fair in the novels they choose to publish. Christians do this as well as anyone. (Not saying Gurdon is a Christian. I have no idea what her religious beliefs are. But I’m talking to other Christians here who may share Gurdon’s feelings.) I’m a Christian and if I ever put Christian characters in my books, most of them will be reasonable and fair people. Why? Because I have an agenda. I want to present Christianity in a positive light. Sure, I know some Christians are bozos. But I’m not required to call attention to them. I’m allowed to highlight Christians that are loving and kind and fair.
That’s not bulldozing. No one has to read what anyone else writes.
I agree completely with Gurdon when she says:
Yet let a gatekeeper object to a book and the industry pulls up its petticoats and shrieks “censorship!”
It is of course understood to be an act of literary heroism to stand against any constraints, no matter the age of one’s readers; Ms. Myracle’s editor told Publishers Weekly that the author “has been on the front lines in the fight for freedom of expression.”
I’m just wondering how a claim of “Bulldozing misery and coarseness!” is better than a claim of “Censorship!”
No matter the publishers’ personal beliefs or agendas, they have to make money. If what they’re peddling isn’t selling, they’ll have to find something else to peddle. I suspect they are less enthralled with misery and coarseness than they are with keeping their jobs. I would guess they are selling the sex and violence because these things sell. If we all started demanding Amish YA books, those would be published, I bet. (No! Please! I’m not advocating this.) So to paint publishers as some kind of sadomasochists who love misery and want to make sure all children wallow in it, is, I think, unfair and probably even slanderous.
That’s my beef with Gurdon. Next time I’ll give you my beef with the YA community. (“Why stop with offending one side, when it is in our power to offend both sides?” I always say.) In the meantime you might want to listen to this radio interview with Gurdon. She does a good job of defending her article and presents herself well, I think. In the end, I agree with her far more than I disagree. I simply think her editorial was unnecessarily inflammatory.
tags: book banning, censor, dark ya, gurdon, wall street journal