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. Good for you!

    Three authors you reference were at the SCBWI conference this year: Judy Blume, Libba Bray, and Laurie Halse Anderson. One of the themes that came up was about the importance of writing about the tough issues and how much a book can change a person’s life.

  2. I’m glad to hear it, Danika! Thank you for letting me know. They are true inspirations!

  3. Georgia Marsh says:

    Great responce! Absolutely fantastic response. And thank you for your kind words.

  4. Thank you, Georgia. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Pingback: #YAsaves โ€“ Gentle Wit

  6. I haven’t read your book, yet, but I want to, now that I have an idea of what it’s about. I am an aspiring YA writer and I hold the same belief as you. Writing about dark and painful things can be cathartic for both the author and the reader. Life is not sunshine and roses. For me, it was nice to acknowledge that other people (authors, for one) understood that. And it was nice to see characters make it through hard things; that meant I could too.

    • I’m glad to hear you want to read SCARS; thank you! I hope you’ll check out HUNTED, too. ๐Ÿ™‚ (I drew on my abuse experience to write both.) I so know what you mean–it really helped me, too, when I read books, to find that characters could struggle and then come through okay. And you’re right, writing about painful things can help both the writer and the reader. Good luck with your writing!

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  11. Some genuinely interesting points you have written.Helped me a lot, just what I was searching for : D.

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  14. Johng954 says:

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