Check out this article in the Wall Street Journal, in which the author says, in her own words, that pretty much all books written for young adults suck. If you’ve got time, go on and read her essay, because along with making your head spin, you might get a good chuckle out of it.
As I’m one of the YA authors criticized in the article, School Library Journal dude of the year, Rocco Staino (don’t you wish you were named Rocco Staino?) emailed and asked my response, which I gave. SLJ then responded to the Wall Street Journal opinion piece, and they included a quote from my email to Rocco. Yay! You can read School Library Journal’s awesome article here.
But for you die-hards who want more, you got it! Here’s my response to the Wall Street Journal silliness in its entirety:
Anyone who is reading this is most likely a YA fan already, so I’m not going to reiterate the true and valid responses we all had regarding Mrs. Gurdon Cox’s…well…idiocy, to be blunt. Anyway, the magnificent Laurie Halse Anderson has already done so in her recent blog post, and she’s done it far more beautifully than I could.
So here’s what I have to add to the conversation. Unlike Laurie, I don’t feel compassion toward Mrs. Gurdon Cox. I do–usually–feel compassion toward the multitude of parents of tweens and teens struggling with how best to raise their children, although I’ll admit that the emails I receive accusing me of being Satan’s handmaiden just make me roll my eyes. But Mrs. Gurdon Cox has written an essay so blatantly one-sided that she is, in effect, formulating an argument not just against “dark” YA books, but against the very act of reading itself. Mrs. Gurdon Cox is pandering to the culture of fear which already has a stronghold on America: By claiming that all contemporary YA novels are pathological, gruesome, depraved, and smutty, she is saying to parents, “Give up, because there is nothing in the YA section for your kids. So, for your young men, pass along True Grit, and for your young women, give them A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” (I love both of these books, for the record. I also love Speak, Thirteen Reasons Why, The Hunger Games…etc., etc.)
Mrs. Gurdon Cox’s sensationalization of “gloom and doom” YA literature is irresponsible, unprofessional, and reprehensible. She knows better. I feel it in my gut. She knows what a one-sided argument she presented, and she presented it anyway, with the goal of inciting fear and inflaming the indignation of parents who want to do right by their kids, just as I want to do right by my kids, just as every single author I know wants to do right by their kids, if they have kids, and certainly by their tween and teen readers.
Another reason I feel no compassion for Mrs. Gurdon Cox (other than the pitying compassion I feel toward her for having locked herself into a worldview that is so limited) is because she accuses people I love–my editors, and the many editors I know–of offering teen readers “hideously distorted portrayals of what life is like” in a desperate bid to sell books, make a profit, and perpetuate their own “aesthetic coarseness” by slinging it willy-nilly at young adult readers. She couldn’t be more wrong.
The editors I work most closely with, Susan Van Metre of Abrams Books for Young Readers and Julie Strauss-Gabel of Dutton Children’s Books, are two of the most principled, dedicated, warm-hearted people I know. Integrity oozes from their pores (and because of that, sweat and blood ooze from my pores when I receive their we-demand-nothing-less-than-the-best editorial letters). Susan and Julie love books, and Susan and Julie care deeply about the readers of books. They are unequivocally committed to ensuring that the books they edit and publish are meaningful, relevant, and vital.
No doubt Mrs. Gurdon Cox is a multifaceted person with both good sides and bad. When it comes to her Wall Street Journal article, however, she is–and I will say the word–full of shit.