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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Is YA literature going down the toilet?

I’m still forming my opinions on this (have I ever mentioned that I teach 8th grade reading?) and I also sent this out in e-mail to my department…will follow up with comments later.

Okay, so there is a great debate circling the net about Young Adult fiction and it being too 'wild' for the girls reading it. Mainly attacking The Clique, The A-List and Gossip Girls.

Here is Naomi Wild's original essay in NY Times...(may have to sign up, but it's free)

She begins with:

"These books look cute. They come in matched paperback sets with catchy titles, and stay for weeks on the children's books best-seller list. They carry no rating or recommended age range on the cover, but their intended audience — teenage girls — can't be in doubt. They feature sleek, conventionally beautiful girls lounging, getting in or out of limos, laughing and striking poses. Any parent — including me — might put them in the Barnes & Noble basket without a second glance.Yet if that parent opened one, he or she might be in for a surprise. The "Gossip Girl," "A-List" and "Clique" series — the most successful in a crowded field of Au Pairs, It Girls and other copycat series — represent a new kind of young adult fiction, and feature a different kind of heroine. In these novels, which have dominated the field of popular girls' fiction in recent years, Carol Gilligan's question about whether girls can have "a different voice" has been answered — in a scary way."

And goes on to finish with...

"The great reads of adolescence have classically been critiques of the corrupt or banal adult world. It's sad if the point of reading for many girls now is no longer to take the adult world apart but to squeeze into it all the more compliantly. Sex and shopping take their places on a barren stage, as though, even for teenagers, these are the only dramas left."

And it was on Oprah's segment, Smart Women on Stupid Girls (featuring Pink) on Monday...

Where Naomi Wild is again cited as saying:

"...there is a disturbing new genre of teen fiction targeted at millions of young female readers. Most parents have no idea that these catchy paperback sets known as "chick literature" contain graphic, sexually explicit content. "One of the girl characters says, 'I've got to stop taking Ecstasy and seducing married men'—that's her character development.With their two-dimensional portrayals of female characters, Naomi says the books send negative messages to young girls. "These books basically tell our daughters that their value comes from how high they are in the pecking order in their high school, whether they can afford all of the fabulous designer goods, and provide a hot sexual experience for the boys in their lives."

Dr. Robin says these books are dangerous in many ways. "[They] are defining for girls who they are, making them think they're choosing it, and then profiting off of the demise of a whole generation of girls and women," she says.

So I would love to know your opinion:

1. Do you think that the literature students read shapes their generation or does the generation shape the literature?

2. Should we just be happy that they are reading versus quality of literature?

3. Has the age of innocence already been lost (and how) or is it salvageable?

4. Should the age of the characters come into play when discussing if a book is harmful? How big is the difference between a 14 and an 18 year old. Shouldn't it be mentioned that the Clique features characters who are 13 and 14 and does not address sex whereas The Gossip Girls features 17 and 18 year old characters who are having sex.

4. Are these books that different from the Judy Blumes, Stephen Kings, Christopher Pikes and Anne Rices of our generation?

I also know several of you out there are parents to girls in this targeted age range. I would LOVE to know what you think.

Happy thinking!


1 touched me

Blogger Suisan pondered...

I'm not sure I would fall into the "Thank god they're reading, no matter what they're reading" camp, but I'm a big supporter of that idea. Because at some point the kid has to figure out WHAT they like to read.

Daughter is a voracious reader, tried Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants and hated it. Like the First Princess Bride book, hated all the rest. In general, those characters or situations don't work for her. But when she finds an author she likes, she gobbles everything right up. (Likes Eva Ibbotson, Artemis Fowl books, Bartimaeus Trilogy, Eragon, Lloyd ALexander, and Tamora Pierce right now.)

So how can I say, "No, you can't read that entire section of the bookstore?" Because really, I'm not going to pre-read her books for her. I might skim through a couple, but I've got my own TBR pile without adding the TBR-for-parental-consent-pile.

I don't think it's possible to remove all instances of sex and materialism from today's culture, nor do I think we can effectively shelter our kids from it, nor can we get the entire society to stop obsessing about weight and wealth. But I think it's possible for kids and teachers and parents to talk about what it means to be self-assured and to make intelligent decisions. But then it's OK to read about people being silly and sexy too.

(My mother was a 1970s feminist--NOW, ERA, demonstrations on the weekend. But she had antique dolls and sewed clothes for them. My Dad came into the sewing room one afternoon to find me and Mom picking out fabrics. He said, "Training her to be an Astronaut, are we?" It became a catch phrase for an acknowledgement of a guilty pleasure in our family.)

4/12/2006 01:28:00 PM  

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