Won’t somebody please think of the children…

So there’s another ‘won’t somebody please think of the children’ blog up, this time at The Millions. It’s, at minimum, the tenth I’ve seen this year, all based on the same premise: YA fiction is too dark, it’s morally bankrupt, it’s vacuous, it’s harmful to it’s readers, especially the teenaged girls who consume it in their millions. Oh for the halcyon days when romantic fiction portrayed a more positive message about teens, like… Romeo and Juliet.

Oh wait.

The sacred bovinity of old Bill Shakespeare’s double-suicide blockbuster notwithstanding, what these pieces have in common, is their apparent lack of interest in what the readers who love Twilight and The Hunger Games see in those books. In her piece, Ms Mallonee acknowledges that Katniss Everdeen and Bella Swan are influential, and loved by millions, but at no point in more than 3,000 words does she stop to ask why? Which is kinda weird, since her piece seems to be all about how dangerous these books are, you’d have thought that question would be pretty key to her endeavour.

Instead she asks David Levithan, and a some film critics and a bunch of reviewers, all of whom I’d guess are over twenty-five, and none of whom have anything nice to say about Bella Swan. Personally, I can’t say I blame them, I’m not wild about Twilight either. But Twilight isn’t for me. I daresay it’s not for Ms Mallonee either, but if she wanted to know what the people who it is for love about it, there are about a hundred and fifty million of them she could have put the question to.

It’s hard not to believe that the reason she, and everyone else I’ve seen make this argument over the last few months, don’t ask is simply that they don’t care. They’ve made up their minds. They don’t think there are any valid reasons to love these books. Stripped of the sermonizing concern, their argument boils down to: I don’t like Bella Swan, so any reasons you might have to like her must be wrong.

This looks like a statement about the books, but really it’s a statement about their readers. They don’t believe teens (and teen girls in particular) are capable of having an informed and engaged opinion about the books they love, purely because that opinion is one with which they disagree. And that’s nonsense.

Over and over, the article frames the value of teen books in terms of what they can teach us:

“Fantasies can be valuable testaments to the power of literature, allowing readers to work out real-world problems in a metaphorical context and encouraging creativity, courage, and self-sacrifice.”

I’m not convinced that this is the only value to be found in stories – Frances Hardinge says “Books are there, when no one else is”, which I think is a beautiful way of putting it – but its certainly true books can teach us things, things that are worth learning, and things that aren’t.

Who gets to decide which lessons go into which box, though, is a tricky question.

People need to learn, whether they’re sixteen or sixty. It’s axiomatic: living things grow, and conscious living things grow mentally and mental growth is learning, and stories help us do that. Not just for teenagers, all of us. And maybe you think there are some troubling lessons in some of the books we love. Maybe you’re even right, I mean have you read The Lord of the Rings recently?

But have at least enough empathy and respect to ask the opinion of the people you’re trying to save from themselves. You might find that the teenaged girls you’re talking too know all about those problems already, and love Twilight in spite of them. You might find that these girls are smart, articulate, engaged people. You might even find their reasons persuade you. Who knows until you ask?

2 thoughts on “Won’t somebody please think of the children…

  1. I’ve been reading for a very long time and my taste in books has change hugely over the years. I often read to learn something new and to find solutions to problems I had. One other major thing I’ve learned is, you never know in which (unlikely) book you finally find the hint, the new idea, the solution. All books are important.

  2. I strongly agree with Pollock and Lele. Readers can get so very much from books, the more varied the better, I say. I can’t stomach romance but you will never find me trying to restrict or disparage them to others. One book can provide a message, prompt a series of thoughts, help clarify something, provide an amazing mental awakening. But nobody can tell which book will do that for whom and when.

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