YA Saves – Cheryl Rainfield speaks out

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:

ALA, OIF, and YALSA Joint Response To the Meghan Cox Article

There’s Dark Things In Them There Books by Liz B at A Chair, A FirePlace, & A Tea Cozy on SLJ

Laurie Halse Anderson’s strong, clear, passionate post “Stuck Between Rage And Compassion”

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

YA Book News: Defending YA

A Light Not Bright Enough

Ignorance Hurts: The Wall Street Journal’s Attack on Books on Bitch Magazine

Janet Reid, Literary Agent: Stuff It

YA Saves: United We Stand on Easily Mused

Teen Fiction Accused Guardian on the WSJ article and authors’ responses

Hey Wall Street Journal, YA Fiction Is Just Fine on NY Mag

YA author Jackie Morse Kessler on Making the Darkness Visible

Books Are Dangerous on the Indigo blog

Reading YA Books Is Bad For Teens

My Take on the Wall Street Journal from a mental health professional.

The Cruelty of Denying Teens Dark Literature. #YAsaves

Yes, Teen Fiction Can Be Dark, But It Shows Teenagers They’re Not AloneYA author Maureen Johnson on The Guardian

Ellen Hopkins on “A Dark, Depraved Blog Post

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

Read This Rage YAsaves

The Outsiders (Cassie St Onge) on LA Review of Books

Adventures of a Guybrarian: Young Adult Novels–Giving Voice To the Voiceless. YAsaves

There Are Whole Lives In These Bookshelves via Emma, a teen book lover

YA Saves Another fab teen reader speaks out.

Libba Bray’s response

YA Lit, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Embrace the Darkness

Darkness Exists, Whether You Admit It Or Not

Where You See Darkness, I See Hope by YA author Jennifer Brown

TMI – YA Saves on Bookalicious

Kidlit World Responds to WSJ Attack on YA Fiction on SLJ

The Darkness of Young Adult Fiction and Why YAsaves

When Darkness Falls on Gay YA

Bridge To Books: An Open Letter To Wall Street Journal

If Only We Remember To Turn On The Light

Has Young Adult Literature Become Too Dark? on Salon

YAsaves: Social Media Gets the Rebound and Scores

YA Saves on Andrew Jack Writing.

Responding To the Wall Street Journal Article by Zoe Trope

Oh the Depravity, Pearl Clutching at the WSJ Over Young Adult Fiction at TigerBeatDown

In Case of Emergency, Break Glass, Grab Book

Why YAsaves: A Writer’s Response to the WSJ Article

YA Saves: My Response to the WSJ Article

Darkness Too Dumb: Kelly Talks About How YA Saves and How Stupid Hurts

You’ve got to take the dark with the light

Deeper Understanding: The Dark Is Risingchildren’s editor Jenny Brown on Shelf Awareness

The YA Darkness Maelstrom

Confessions of a psychologist and former teen cutter: In strong support of YA authors like Cheryl Rainfield

I wasn’t going to do this but

The Dark Side of YA Fiction

Is Teen Fiction Too Dark? on Bookstove

Field Trip Friday Special Edition: The WSJ and #YAsaves on YA Highway

T.G.I.F. Darkness In YA

An open letter to a frightened mother and her bookless teen

Young Adult Lit: Book Thieves Listening For Voices

Publishing To Save Or Poison? by Abrams Books

EW Features Jay Asher & Thirteen Reasons Why (photo)

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

To Know We’re Not Alone

YA Saveson FBomb

Author News: US Teen Fiction Storm by Alan Gibbons

Why YAsaves: A Writer’s Response to the WSJ Article

Thoughts on WSJ Article, YA Saves, and YA

Slippery Slope of Authors Who Support Book Banning on YABookshelf

About Cheryl Rainfield

I write the books I needed and couldn't find as a teen. I write teen fiction--paranormal fantasy and gritty realistic fiction. I'm the author of SCARS (WestSide Books, 2010) #1 ALA QuickPicks, and Governor General Literary Award Finalist, HUNTED (WestSide Books, Oct 2011), STAINED (Harcourt, 2013), The Last Dragon (HIP Books, Sept 2009), and Walking Both Sides (HIP Books, 2011). I also enjoy drawing, surfing the web, connecting with people I like, doing crafts, and being with my dog.
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68 Responses to YA Saves – Cheryl Rainfield speaks out

  1. Pingback: There’s Dark Things In Them There Books! « A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

  2. Tina Moss says:

    Al I can say is Wow! I am so glad you spoke out about this. People who would put down gritty YA books and their authors clearly have either a) Not read the books or B) Grossly misunderstood their intention. I have never read SCARS, but I’ll be adding it to my list. You are a brave person to have written this book, and I’d be proud to be one of your readers.

  3. Thank you so very much, Tina, for your kind and strong words; I really appreciate them! (hugging you) I agree that it’s very likely the author of the WSJ article never read Scars or any of the other books she put down. And thank you so much for adding Scars to your to-read list!

  4. As someone who has read Scars, I can proudly stand with Cheryl in the face of this attack on her book and on YA lit.

    If you can possibly think that a teen who has never felt the need before to cut, will suddenly want to cut after reading Scars, or any other YA book that deals with such a difficult issue, shows how grossly misunderstood such issues are. And why we need books like Scars.

    Hang in there, Cheryl!

  5. Katie- Mundie Moms says:

    I’ve not read Scars yet, but THANK YOU for your sharing your story. It’s sad WSJ failed to mention how your book and countless others have saved the lives and so many teens and helped them over come the hellish things they’ve had to endure.

  6. Katie- Mundie Moms says:

    Holy crap, lots of typos. Sorry, let me try that again…

    I’ve not read Scars yet, but THANK YOU for sharing your story. It’s sad WSJ failed to mention how your book and countless others have saved the lives of so many teens and helped them over come the hellish things they’ve had to endure.

  7. Pamela Speak says:

    I haven’t read Scars, I was drawn to this because I noticed #YAsaves and I wanted to read other people’s stories.
    I was bullied for 15 years during primary school, high school and college where I studied A levels (England). I escaped into books, not just Young Adult, adult fantasy, crime, romance as well as YA novels. Anything I could get my hands on to take me away from the bullies. Some of the books included cutting, I didn’t cut myself. I don’t judge those who did, we all have our own ways of coping.
    The books helped me see that I wasn’t alone, they were my best friends when my own human friends turned their backs on me.
    I survived those 15 years and eventually went back to college, then university. I am due to graduate in July and at 25 I will be able to say I have finally beaten the bullies. Without novels I couldn’t have done that, without their strength and their support I don’t even want to think about where I would be.

  8. Vicki, thank you so very much! I love what you said and how you said it. (hugging you)

  9. Katie, thank you! I really appreciate your saying that. Books make such a positive difference. I think people who try to suppress such books are afraid of their own feelings and backgrounds….

  10. Pamela, I’m so very glad you had books to help you out! Books saved me, too. And I’m sorry you went through the pain of being bullied.

  11. We Heart YA says:

    We hope the WSJ piece raises even more awareness of SCARS and helps you sell lots of copies. Then at least some good would come out of the ridiculous accusations thrown out by that “article.”

    No, we take that back. PLENTY of good has been done, just as you said. The YA community has rallied, and it’s a beauty to behold.

  12. Pingback: #YASaves | Project Fraeya

  13. Scars has been on my wishlist for months, but because of the nonsense, condescending and narrow minded attitude of WSJ article I bought it today. (Sorry I’m still fuming.)

    I have more scars that I care to count covering my arms… most of them are years old, faded white lines that you hardly notice until you look closer. I am proud of these, they are a reminder of my journey – what I had to get through to be the person I am today.

    #YASaves to me, is an absolute truth and without books like Scars people like me would be so alone in their suffering. Thank you for writing what I know will be a very special book.

  14. Melissa says:

    Fantastic. Absolutely fantastic response. I also never had the right novels for me when I was a teen dealing with bullying in school. Nor, really, when I was in college making myself purge when I hated my body. These issues have ALWAYS been there, I honestly think we’re mostly better at bringing it out now rather than pushing it back into the corner so it can be ignored. There are simply some people who don’t want those difficult conversations with their children, or with their friends and other family. If they can’t see it, then it’s not really there, right? Sorry folks. It is there.

    Ignorance is NOT bliss. YA*definitely*saves!

  15. We Heart YA–that is a lovely hope; thank you! I hope Scars keeps reaching people who need it. And I am so grateful that we have such an amazing, vibrant, outspoken YAlit community!

    Luna, thank you so very much for your support, and for letting me know! I’m glad you bought Scars, and I hope it speaks to you, hope you find it validating. I’m so sorry for your pain–I know how much pain there has to have been to cut–but so very, very glad that the scars are old! It’s healing, healthy, and brave to take good care of you.

    Melissa, thank you so much! I’m glad you liked my response (I get a bit nervous sometimes, putting myself out there so openly). I’m so sorry you were bullied, so sorry you struggled with eating disorders and hating your body so much. But so glad you’ve looked at them! And I agree–these issues have always been there, but now we’re talking about them–and it encourages healing.

  16. You go, girl! Give ’em hell!

  17. Jessica says:

    Great responce! I am glad you blogged about this! Scars helped me overcome some difficulties, as did some of the books mentioned in the article.

  18. Jessica, I’m so very glad to hear that! Thank you!

  19. Coming from an abusive background as well, I found not only the article’s words but title to be aimed at keeping the dark parts of life as “our little secret.” I had enough of that growing up, and I refuse to let anyone convince me to be an ostrich.

    Rape, incest, bullying and the ramifications of dealing with those things don’t just go away if we don’t talk about them. It’s in talking about them and shining light on the problem that healing is achieved. I didn’t cut, but I did burn along with a few other self-mutilation coping mechanisms. I wish I’d had SCARS to read while growing up.

    I sincerely hope that WSJ and Mrs. Gurdon read your response and have the maturity to challenge their own thinking.

  20. Erika says:

    Congratulations on writing a book that scares people, makes them feel uncomfortable and forces them to look at the difficult realities in the world around them. I have not read Scars but now plan to.

  21. Cheryl, kudos to you for writing this post, and I’m sorry to hear that SCARS is being singled out again. (I hope this article backfires and more teens end up finding your book and benefiting from it as a result!)

  22. Pingback: Adventures of a Guybrarian » Blog Archive » Young Adult Novels: giving voice to the voiceless #yasaves

  23. Barbie says:

    I think it’s SO brave that you’ve coming out and sharing your story with the world and writing your books to help other girls. I haven’t read SCARS. I don’t read many YA, but maybe I should. When I was a kid, I’d read mysteries, like Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie and Mary Higgins Clark skipped right over to romantic suspense and thrillers. But I think YA is so important for teens. Not only for kids to identify with, but for kids to realize there’s so much darkness out there, and it’s not in such a distant world from theirs. It may be happening to their friends, their neighbor, the most popular girl at school.

    I went through a really, really hard time as a kid and teenager, that differently from you, I don’t openly talk about because my family doesn’t know, but, I too, have self-harmed. And, the funny thing is, NO ONE would ever have known if I hadn’t been caught. I wasn’t an outcast with troubled behavior. I didn’t dress in black. I didn’t have scars in places that showed. On the contrary, I was a part of what was called “the girls in pink”. I had “a perfect life” in the eyes of everyone else. I was well known and well liked. I was bubbly, fun, funny. Yet, I went through hell, I cut myself, I buried myself in reading and writing, and I bet you, not one of my friends would have imagined this could have happened to ME, of all people. (And they don’t even know my past)

    I want to be an author. I want to write romantic suspense. But, over the past year, I’ve thought a lot about writing YA, for girls like me. Upper middle class. More popular than not. Who never went through bullying issues (may at some point, even have been the bullies themselves). I guess I want to raise awareness that these things happen EVERYWHERE, to all kinds of people, all social classes, races, popularity ranks and favorite colors.

    Sorry this is long, got carried away!

    Humbly, I wrote about how books save lives last night on my own blog. It’s nothing like yours, a professional writer, but here’s a link πŸ™‚


  24. Bobbie Pyron says:

    I don’t give a flying fart what some ignorant adult writer for WSJ (could this now stand for What Stupid Jerks?) says about teen fiction. As an author and librarian only care what TEENS say about teen fiction! And they vote with their library cards and their wallets and their voices. Which will not be silenced.

  25. Rachel says:

    I wish there had been books like your when I was a young adult–having been a girl who struggled badly with cutting for more years than I care to recall. Keep the faith and don’t let the negative words draw you down! The bible say that things hidden in the dark must be brought into the light for healing to happen. So, God bless you in your message of light!

  26. Wendy Orr says:

    I think this comment list shows you just how much good this book is doing, Cheryl. And you know how much honest books helped you – but I can assure you that Peeling the Onion copped the same sort of criticism (and yes, it made me feel sick to my stomach) and I’m very sure that all the ones on your list will have had the same thing. Keep on being strong, and giving strength to the teens who read you – the world thanks you for it. (At least, the world who cares about honesty, resilience and courage rather than fairy stories.)

  27. Pingback: Living Dead Girl | The Feminist Texican [Reads]

  28. HC Palmquist, I’m sorry you went through abuse, too. And yes, I also found the WSJ article’s title an echo of people telling me to keep quiet. Ug. I so very much agree that painful things don’t go away if we don’t talk about them. Often they get worse *because* we’re not talking about them.

    I’m sorry you used self-harm; I know how much emotional pain you had to be in to do that. It sounds like it’s in the past for you, which is good and healthy! And thank you for saying you wish you’d had Scars when you were growing up. I wish you’d had support, too.

    Erika, thank you. πŸ™‚ What you said resonates with me; my abusers always increased their violence toward me when I spoke out–I think because they were afraid. I’m so very glad you’re going to read Scars;thank you!

    Sarah, thank you; I really appreciate what you said. I found it hard to have Scars slammed again, but the #YAsaves movement & all the incredible support in the YAlit community empowered & inspired me. I love our community!

    Barbie, thank you. I think YAlit is so important, too–both the light books, and the dark ones. There are books for every teen (and adult) who needs them. Books that will speak to each of us.

    I’m very sorry you went through such a painful time, and that you cut, too. I understand having hidden it; I did, too, though (through long sleeves and long pants even in summer, etc).

    I’m glad you want to write. Keep writing, and when you’re ready, you might consider joining a critique group, getting feedback, and then sending your work out there! If you care about it, then don’t give up.

    Bobbie, YES! Teens need books of all kinds, and they can choose for themselves.

    Wendy, thank you. All the reader letters, and then all the support in the YA community, is heartening. And wow, I didn’t know that Peeling the Onion received the same sort of criticism! I LOVE Peeling the Onion–it has such emotional truth, and I identified with it so much. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has a hard time when people slam my books, though I’m sorry you did, too. And thank you so very much for your encouragement (hugging you). I really appreciate it.

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  30. Pingback: #YASaves (Social Media Gets the Rebound and Scores!)

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  32. Catherine says:


    I too am an author and an incest survivor, and one of the things that is important to me is breaking silence and being open. In my response to the WSJ article, I ask where the incest books were when I was a kid, and how I needed those book to help me question what I was living.

    And now, we have a book, thanks to you. Which is incredibly important.



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  37. Jaime says:

    I’ve read your response to the WSJ several times and it actually made me smile to know that there are people out there with your strength and honesty. There are so many who would want to hide their children or people in general from the realities of the world. I currently work in a bookstore and I see the good and the bad of those looking for books to read. I have heard people disregarding books on hearsay or because they actually don’t know what there is on offer. As I mentioned in my post – as long as people are reading and growing their minds I am happy so any attack on books is, in my eyes, an attack on literacy and so on. Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked, sorry.

    I currently have your book on order since I live in NZ and we get books somewhat later than others and I have a strong feeling it is one I’m going to add to my ever growing list of books that I would recommend to anyone.

    I just wants to thank you for sharing this with us.

  38. Catherine, I’m sorry you went through incest, but so very glad you also speak out and break silence! So glad you wrote an open letter to the WSJ! I wish you’d had books to support you, let you know you weren’t around, when you were a teen.

    And thank you for your kind words. Scars and many other YA books on incest, sexual abuse, self-harm–they will reach teens who need them.

    Jaime, thank you so very much; I really appreciate what you said! It’s important to me to be honest, but sometimes it’s scary. πŸ™‚ And yes, many want to hide–themselves and their children–from dark realities. I can’t imagine going into a bookstore and not finding anything! There are light and dark books, a whole array. It must be hard to see; I would hate to hear people disparage a book they haven’t even read. And thank you for our blog post on this!

    I’m delighted you have Scars on order! I hope you’ll find it’s a book you’ll want to recommend. πŸ™‚

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  43. Rachel, your comment just showed up. Thank you! I wish there had been books to support you, too, when you were a teen and cutting. It helps so much to have support. And I agree–it helps a lot to have things come out into the light and the open.

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