Why YA or How Clean is too clean?

  I was going to do a scheduled blog on Sunday but this morning all my filters broke and I caught this topic slamming around the confines of my skull and trying to burn it’s way through. I opened my mouth and it tumbled out hissing, steaming as it hit my tongue. 

So reader beware, I’m shooting from the hip this morning and my target is the YA genre. 

First off, I am pleased that there is literature aimed at young adults that deals with topics they can relate to readily. When I was a child I did enjoy stories that featured children. As a teen I liked teen leads in novels and now topics like childbirth and mothering grab more of my attention. 

So what’s my beef with YA? First let me give a quick disclaimer. I am not criticizing YA readers or writers. Read what thrills you, write what you are moved to write! I respect that completely. So my perspective on the YA phenomenon is just food for thought. Maybe you’ll find something of value here to apply to your writing or your book choice and maybe not. 

Here goes…as it stands YA reads as a movement to do three things: cater topics to readers, sanitize reading material for youths, and lower the vocabulary and complexity of writing style to cater to reading experience. It’s these last two that so deeply concern me.

Sanitizing our young adults reading material is just bullshit. Yep, bullshit. Not only do you lose colorful language and sex scenes when you clean up a book for young readers but you lose depth of experience. You lose serious topics, You lose reality. I started reading Stephan king, frank Yerby, Steinbeck, and Taylor Caldwell when I was about nine. Not only did it open up my mind to whole new words and show me in no uncertain terms that reading was much more exciting than cartoon overload, but it opened up my heart to the humanity and experiences of people. Real people. 

Research indicates(google it my friends) that reading develops empathy in children. Agreed, it did it for me and I recall chucking The Dahomian by Frank Yerby across the room when I was thirteen and weeping. Too much for thirteen? I beg to differ. I will never forget the brutal truth of slavery and the importance of seeing the humanity of a person regardless of the differences between us. I feel a connection to racial struggles on a level that is deep, raw, and authentic. And this is just from one book. I have lived through hundreds. 

So the question is, how “clean” do we want our children’s eduction in empathy to be? What do we want them ready for, gentle fantasies with snuggly puppies that never bite and unicorns with blunted horns? Should we be sanitizing away the opportunity for personal growth through the lived experience of reading real life?

My second concern is the catering of YA vocabulary and complexity of writing style to serve readers that are inexperienced. Hmmmmm…..Grammar and punctuation in school was pretty dull for me and it still is for many children. It is well recognized at this point that education is best assimilated when offered through application. So for math we talk about collecting, losing, or categorizing seashells, for example. 

For the written word we….read!! We read!! Our children’s ability to craft words, understand and use a large vocabulary and follow and understand complex sentence construction will improve if we trust them to learn by reading for pleasure. But here is the key: this can’t happen if we edit, sanitize and write-down to a lower level of skill!

So what do you think? Are we doing our youth a disservice with YA that is too sanitizatized or is the caution we are showing necessary and not an act of overprotection?


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