Léna is also a Regional Manager for Writopia Lab whose mission is to foster joy, literacy, and critical thinking in kids and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.

"Well, the question is, what do you want to believe? Do you want to live in a world where things are possible, or in one where they aren't?" Cin, Edges.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Are YA Novels Dangerous . . . ????

Cover of "Twilight (Twilight, Book 1)"Cover of Twilight (Twilight, Book 1)

I am in the thick of my manuscript, and loving every minute of it. It is this part of the process that I enjoy the most - revising, restructuring, re-writing. And I write from a teen POV. So of course my eyes bulged when I  came upon this provocative title in the book section of Huff Post: This is Your Brain on Twilight: Are YA Novels Dangerous to the Teenage Mind?  I had to click my cursor over the article and read it. Certainly not all YA books are like Twilight. And the Vampire genre can be rich, detailed, and yes, provocative. I will not critique Twilight myself, as I have to say I'm in favor of any book that gets kids to read other books.

The article describes a conference in early September, where neuroscientists, authors and educators discussed the role of literature in shaping the fluid adolescent mind. They dance around the edges of suggesting that author's have a moral obligation to write things for teens that are ultimately hopeful.

I write things that are "ultimately hopeful", because that is the way I see the world. The article posits that books like Twilight are more on the depressing side.

"If you look very, very clearly at what kind of values the 'Twilight' books propagate, these are very conservative values that do not in any way endorse independent thinking or personal development or a woman's position as an independent creature," Nikolajeva (Maria Nikolajeva, a Cambridge University professor of literature) said. "That's quite depressing."

Another popular teen book series, the "Hunger Games" trilogy by Suzanne Collins, straddles the line between dark and hopeful, Nikolajeva said. Its themes – a dystopian future where teens must battle to the death on reality TV – appeal to teenagers' dark side, yet its ultimately hopeful message is probably having a good influence on young people, she said.

I just finished Mockingjay, and agree. Even though the trilogy's themes are traumatic, it is ultimately about the resiliency of the human spirit.

On the other hand . . . tweens, teens and others are having FUN reading Twilight! Parents have a much stronger influence over their teens than they think. If you are worried about it, read it together and have a discussion. Make up your own mind about whether Bella is a good role model or not. Use it as an opportunity to learn more about each other, how you think and feel.

There is a lot about life that can "suck" - especially for a teenager. As an author, I promise to strive not to present a nice tidy package with a saccharine ending, but instead find the beauty and universal truths in each character, even as they are riddled with flaws. (As we all are!)
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  1. Here here! Now, I don't enjoy Twilight, but I agree that tons of folks started reading (and accepting) fantasy novels into their lives which I do enjoy. And while they don't posit independent female living, they do put forth what the author feels is morally and right--the kind of thing that she thinks teens should be embracing. Does that mean you have to like it? No. BUT some great things come out of being shown other ways to live. You can look at it and go--yes! I want to be just like Bella! Or, you can examine and decide the opposite. To my mind feminism is choosing the way you want to live, which kind of means you get to actually chose, even if it doesn't line up with what the other feminists want you to pick.

    I used to have parents come into the kids section when I worked at B&N and ask me what I thought about certain books and what kind of things (morally) came up in them. I always had to find nice ways of saying, "Look, I don't know what bothers you. I was allowed to read whatever I wanted as a kid and if something upset or bothered me, I'd talk to my parents about it. So, I don't know what pushes your buttons, but if you think that reading one paragraph about making out with a boy is going to turn your teen into a slavering, sex-crazed beast, then you've got bigger things to worry about then whether or not Sweet Valley High is morally acceptable." Reading should make you think. Period. It should spawn discussion. Not all thoughts are happy. But shouldn't that be something kids need to learn how to handle? Something adults should be helping them with?

    That's why I stopped reading Steven King. I realized in my teens that he was depressing the hell out of me. He kept killing off my favorite characters in order of how much I liked them. In comparison to that, Edward's apparent stalking of Bella (look, when a guy is watching you sleep for a month without you knowing it, that's called stalking not love. People get arrested for it. It's not cute or sweet. It's creepy.) isn't that much of a downer.

    Bottom line? I'm just happy teens are reading, and reading "downer" books if far better than reading nothing at all.

  2. Lishism - you rock. Thank you for expanding on this. I'm no champion of Twilight (big yawn) but believe it has led to more people reading more books. Period. That's a good thing! And who defines morality anyway?

  3. Funny that a commenter mentioned Stephen King, because he has a now famous quote about Harry Potter and Twilight. Something like Harry Potter teaches you to discover your principles, be loyal to your friends, challenge yourself to grow and imagine a better world...and Twilight teaches you that it's important to have a boyfriend! (And I think he's be the first to admit that his own writing can be toxic; I'm reading his memoir On Writing and he has had his own dark days I think he'd rather not everyone enjoy.)

    But I also generally agree with your message. For YA reading just about anything is better than not reading for the reasons you mention!

    (And I'm in the middle of the Hunger Games trilogy, no spoilers please...)

  4. I love Stephen King's book "On Writing" - I only read it a couple of years ago.

    I guess what I've brought up is this whole notion of censorship. I certainly wouldn't want Meyer to define my morality, but people see the world all different ways. She's made the list of authors people have requested be banned from libraries. But so has "A Wrinkle in Time" - it has been on the top ten most "banned" list forever. Ellen Hopkins, another writer I admire, also makes the list, as do many of my favorite authors. Will EDGES? It's largely about recovery, but I suppose someone else's morality might be threatened by the notion of addiction anyway.

  5. My two favorite quotes from On Writing:

    "Writing is refined thinking."

    Write about whatever you want..."as long as you tell the truth."

  6. Thank you Webstrider! (Are you the Aragorn of the internet?)

  7. I love the banned list. Where else would I find new books to read? Last time I checked, Judy Blume had more banned books than King. Which tells me this: if it's for adults, you can write about everything, even young boys taking turns having sex with one young girl in order to keep a killer clown from returning (It). However, if it's for teens, no period talk or discussion of sex.

  8. Lishism - you are so channeling my grandmother right now. She had LOTS of things to say about censorship and would love to be part of this dialogue! Maybe we can ask Judy Blume to weigh in? Ha!

    I never read IT. (Now I don't want to!) I've only read The Stand, and that was after reading On Writing.

  9. I always love when adult experts chime in on what teens should enjoy. Obviously young adults can't just be left to their own devices as if they are fully grown adults, but as you pointed out, that's what their parents are for! Personally, as much as I was a rabid devourer of "Sweet Valley High" books as a teen, some of my favorite books (and the books that most helped me to form my sense of compassion) were the books that took a darker turn. "The Pigman," "Killing Mr. Griffin," "The Outsiders." Hell, "To Kill a Mockingbird" is hardly a light-hearted romp and that was part of the curriculum (not sure if it still gets used in the classroom).

    Also I think books like the "Twilight" series capture that deep, dark teen angst that only another teen (or an excellent teen author!) can relate to. It's important to have that sense of understanding at that age, and if you find it on the pages of a book, then that's as valid as anything else. And of course, the promotion of reading in general is the oh-so-necessary bonus.

    Censorship is just stupid. Unfortunately, we do stupid very well in this country sometimes.

  10. I love reading the historical books and this bring me here. From the customedwriting there are some ideal things which are really inspiring to me in getting entertained.


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