Yesterday WSJ slammed realistic, gritty YA books for being “rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity”, suggesting that books on such painful topics will make teens ugly, or even, in the case of self-harm, encourage such behaviors. Scars was one of the books that the WSJ slammed.
My initial response was pain, falling into triggers, and being afraid to say anything in response–though I did manage to think that at least WSJ had put me and Scars in good company. My abusers frequently threatened to kill me if I spoke out, criticized me (that’s putting it lightly) constantly, and hated me for fighting the abuse and trying to protect other victims during the abuse. It’s so easy for me to hear someone criticizing me–or my book SCARS which has so much of my soul and experiences of incest, self-harm, & being queer–and to have that block out all positive. That’s a reaction that I was deliberately taught by my abusers, and sometimes it’s hard to shake myself out of.
But then a few people started mentioning Scars and the WSJ article on Twitter, supporting Scars, and I found myself peeking out of my triggers, and remembering how many times I’ve been told Scars has helped readers. I get 2-3 reader letters every week telling me that Scars helped readers–teens telling me that Scars helped them to stop cutting, get into therapy, know they’re not alone, talk about incest or self-harm or being queer when they never had been able to before. That is what I want to hold on to. That is what I want to remember.
And then the amazing YA author Maureen Johnson asked us all on Twitter: “Did YA help you? Let the world know how! Tell your story with a #YAsaves tag. And copy the @wsj for good measure.” And the Twittersphere exploded with YA writers, librarians, readers, bloggers all been raising their voices to show why YA books that deal with gritty issues are important. So many people joined in that yesterday #YAsaves became the #3 trending topic in the US. And within that discussion, I found myself moving from hurt to empowerment and strength. (You can still join in on Twitter, or the archive of YAsaves tweets here: http://dft.ba/-ut9)
The WSJ article actually suggested that if teens read books on self-harm like Scars it would make them want to cut, even if they had never been drawn to that behavior before. I wonder if Meghan Cox Gurdon, the author of that article, even read SCARS? I can’t believe that anyone who read the deep and raw emotional pain in SCARS would ever want to cut–and teens have told me it makes them want to stop or never start. Talking about painful issues and experiences is not advocating them–it is breaking silence and encouraging healing.
I could not have survived my child- and teenhood without books. YA fantasy books helped me escape the abuse and torture I was living, and YA realistic books helped me feel less alone. Books helped me hope and dream for safety, love, and kindness, and helped me realize that not everyone was as deliberately cruel as my abusers.
But growing up being sexually abused and raped by both my parents (who were part of a cult), being ritually abused, using self-harm to cope, wanting to die and sometimes being serious about suicide, being queer…I couldn’t find enough of myself in the books I read, not back then. I found fragments that helped me feel less alone–Judy Blume’s Blubber helped me know I wasn’t alone in being bullied at school, when I was no longer a teen Annie On My Mind helped me know I was not alone in being queer. But I needed more. And I knew other teens did, too. So I wrote SCARS.
There’s so much societal judgment about using self-harm, being queer, and often about being an incest survivor. People tell us not to talk about it, or blame us for what we’ve been through or what we feel. And that makes the pain so much stronger. I wrote SCARS to let other teens with those experiences know that they’re not alone, and that they can find healing, and to encourage people who didn’t have those experiences to have more compassion for those who did.
I am proud of Scars, proud that Scars has reached people who needs it, and keeps reaching them. Proud that I’m making a positive difference in the world. And this wonderful, vibrant, outspoken YA lit community that we have has reminded me of all that, has helped me slough off the WSJ article. Unlike when I was a child and a teen, I’m not alone any more when hard things happen–and it makes all the difference. Thank you, wonderful YA book-loving people, for raising your voices!
I’ve been thinking about the WSJ title–Darkness Too Visible. It was through suppressing the darkness and making sure victims didn’t talk that my abusers and the cults they were involved in managed to keep raping, murdering, and torturing children. I think what helps us bring good into the world, and stop the things that hurt people so much, is to talk about the darkness, bring it out into the open, and encourage healing, compassion, and love. Not by hiding it. WSJ, I disagree with you.
I also have another post where I speak out about the WSJ article and the incredible support of the YA lit community, on IRA’s Engage: From Pain To Empowerment
There have been a ton of great responses to the WSJ on blogs. Check them out:
There’s Dark Things In Them There Books by Liz B at A Chair, A FirePlace, & A Tea Cozy on SLJ
Book Community Gets Behind YAsaves by Melissa Montovani on Examiner.com
Better To Light A Candle Than To Curse the Darkness on LA Review of Books
Ignorance Hurts: The Wall Street Journal’s Attack on Books on Bitch Magazine
YA Saves: United We Stand on Easily Mused
Teen Fiction Accused Guardian on the WSJ article and authors’ responses
Books Are Dangerous on the Indigo blog
My Take on the Wall Street Journal from a mental health professional.
Yes, Teen Fiction Can Be Dark, But It Shows Teenagers They’re Not AloneYA author Maureen Johnson on The Guardian
Wall Street Depravity by YA author Gayle Foreman
The Eyes In the Peacock’s Tail by YA author Diane Duane
Why the Best Kids’ Books Are Written In Blood by YA author Sherman Alexie
YA Saves on Ink Blots and Quills
The Outsiders (Cassie St Onge) on LA Review of Books
There Are Whole Lives In These Bookshelves via Emma, a teen book lover
YA Saves Another fab teen reader speaks out.
Where You See Darkness, I See Hope by YA author Jennifer Brown
TMI – YA Saves on Bookalicious
When Darkness Falls on Gay YA
YA Saves on Andrew Jack Writing.
Responding To the Wall Street Journal Article by Zoe Trope
Deeper Understanding: The Dark Is Risingchildren’s editor Jenny Brown on Shelf Awareness
Is Teen Fiction Too Dark? on Bookstove
Field Trip Friday Special Edition: The WSJ and #YAsaves on YA Highway
Publishing To Save Or Poison? by Abrams Books
In Defense of Dark Fiction For Teens from Annick Press
Field Trip Friday: Special Twitter Edition a compilation of some #YAsaves and #YAkills tweets
My View: Dark Themes Help Teens Learn How To Cope In the Real World op-ed in Salem News
On Darkness In YA Literature by Rachelle Gardner, literary agent
Controversy In YA by Tabitha Olson
YA Saveson FBomb
Author News: US Teen Fiction Storm by Alan Gibbons
Slippery Slope of Authors Who Support Book Banning on YABookshelf