Friday, June 10, 2011

Depravity, the WSJ, and Young Adult Fiction

I wrote a blog post some months ago about Bucker Dudley, my as yet unsuccessful effort at writing a war story. The war was the War of 1812, not a wildly popular conflict in this country, given that the enemy burned our capital and made us look like dunces. One of my ideas was that by tweaking it I could convert Bucker Dudley into a young adult novel, if I could figure out what that was. It's been a while since I was a young anything.

Last weekend the Wall Street Journal famously ran a piece by Meghan Cox Gurdon denouncing what passes for young adult fiction in the modern day as depraved, and calling on parents to keep it away from their adolescents. A huge outcry erupted on Twitter, under the hashtag #yasaves, spearheaded by YA writer Maureen Johnson. Some people wrote to say that the books Ms. Gordon had denounced as depraved had saved them from suicide, if only by reassuring them that they weren't alone in their particular agonies. So this is what YA novels are all about, I said to myself. Books to save the young from the tortures of adolescence in the modern day.

In an ideal world, June Cleaver could select whatever reading material she thought would be good for Beaver and Wally's little minds, and they would read it gladly and become improved. We do not live in such a world. Certainly the idea of a society where violence is the order of the day, where the strong prey on the weak, where fathers force themselves on their daughters and priests on their altar boys, where young people have to drug themselves insensible to make it from sunup to sundown, is repellent to any civilized person. But that's pretty much where we are right now. Conscientious parents raising gourmet children in sanitized enclaves everywhere are free to keep this information away from them, as Ms. Gurdon recommends.

I tell you what. If YA is all about saving the young from drugs and suicide, I'm not good enough to write it. This is a higher calling than I'm up to. God knows I've taken my share of hard knocks in my time, but nothing like the stories of some of these survivors. What could I say to them that would do any good? The best I could manage would be an adventure story to take their minds off their problems.

Maybe I could try that. Bucker Dudley might work.

Kate Gallison


  1. Kate, you are up to this. You can do something magical. You can tell them a diverting adventure story and make them laugh into the bargain. Their parents live in the same world and have to pay the bills into the bargain. Yet you don't shrink from salving their troubles with a bit of delightful distraction. Your sorcery will work for the kids, too. Laughter is one of the best things on the planet and you create it!

  2. Thank you. Offering something to a troubled teen is more likely to be successful if you aren't the teen's mother or grandmother, no doubt of that. It's like offering medical advice to your husband. "The doctor says it's poison ivy and I should put calamine lotion on it." "I told you that last week." "You did?"