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Reacting to #yasaves

2011 June 6
by Sarah Debraski
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Over the weekend the YA lit world was abuzz with reactions to an article titled “Darkness Too Visible” in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal.  Authors such as Cecil Castelucci, Laurie Halse AndersonLibba Bray wrote impassioned responses, and librarians and others had a lot to say too.  On Twitter the hashtag #yasaves was used as people wrote tweet after tweet about the importance of YA lit.  On Sunday YALSA Past Presidents Sarah Debraski and Linda Braun chatted about the article and its response.  Here is the transcript of that chat.

Linda:   Sarah, I was just reading all the Twitter postings on the Wall Street Journal article on YA books. OMG, have you seen it?

Sarah: Yes! I’m not surprised by the reaction to the article. It felt like yet another “gloom and doom all the ya books are so negative and depressing” type article. I think it’s really cool that the reaction has been to twist it into a positive-tweets with the #yasaves hashtag

Linda: Yeah, the #yasaves hashtag is pretty amazing. This morning when I looked it was actually a trending topic on Twitter. I love that it shows the power of YA readers and also how when something is published we can respond quickly, and I hope effectively. That article was just so uninformed that maybe Twitter can help inform.

Sarah: There are so many YA authors on twitter with huge followings that I’m sure they are drawing tons of attention to this.

Linda: That’s actually how I first saw it. It was either Laurie Halse Anderson or Maureen Johnson that posted about the article.

Linda: I need to track down when the #yasaves first appeared however.

Sarah: I feel like in the past year whenever there’s been an article about YA lit the twitter feedback has been immediate and widespread-that right there should show people that YA lit is booming.

A couple of things really bugged me in the article.

Linda: Tell me.

Sarah: First–her opening example of the woman in the bookstore who simply had to leave without anything. Really? She couldn’t browse until she found something? Ask for a recommendation? Because you know what? I personally do not read books with particularly horrific descriptions or storylines-I haven’t been able to bring myself to read Shine. But I still find plenty of other books to keep me busy, so yes, there might be a trend, but there’s still many many other books published for people who don’t want to read those.

The other thing that really got to me was the author’s statement “In the book trade, this is known as “banning.” In the parenting trade, however, we call this “judgment” or “taste.” It is a dereliction of duty not to make distinctions in every other aspect of a young person’s life between more and less desirable options.”

While I agree that parents need to show judgement and they do have a responsibility towards their children, the critical thing that she doesn’t say is that the book trade calls it banning when parents try to make those judgement calls for everyone, not just their own child.

Linda: Exactly, on the bookstore I thought to myself, that person simply didn’t want to take the time to give the shelves a more than cursory view. When I go to my local chain bookstore I see tons of romance series along with other titles that are far from horrific.

Also, the point about one parent making a decision for her teen vs. the whole community is exactly what we fight against in libraries. A bookstore needs to serve the entire community not just the one horrified parent and her views.

Was sort of appalling how sensationalistic that view was.

The other part that got me was the fact that teens aren’t reading these books.

Sarah: Yes!I thought it had a very sensationalist tone as well.

which books do you think teens are not reading?

Linda: There was not one really strong voice of reason.

It was far from balanced that’s for sure.

Sarah: Yes, I felt it seemed somewhat ignorant. I’m thrilled people are responding to it, I  just hope that people who read the article who are not involved in YA lit, find out the reaction to it and do not wholeheartedly believe the piece.

Also, on a somewhat broader scale-how come every article I read about YA lit in a mainstream news source is about either vampires, or books being depressing?? Is that just a more popular angle?

Linda: That’s an interesting point. Are we talking to ourselves? I would bet that the authors that have non-librarian followings are helping to get the word out. Also, WSJ did publish a set of Tweets from Libba Bray that gave a different side to the story.

Sarah: Glad WSJ did that.

Linda: Here’s that URL

On the vampire, etc. angle – I think those are the books that people know about and get hyped by publishers and the media so they end up in the news the most.

Of course that leaves out all of the other great stuff that teens are reading – the Dessen, Zarr, Cohn, Walker, Lyga, Levithan, Greene titles for example.

Sarah: I guess they just don’t make as sensational a headline. Though I was thrilled to see on the NYTimes Motherlode blog many reader responses citing exactly those authors and many many others as great reads for teens in response to this article

Linda: And of course some of those author’s titles do get hyped in a negative way but they don’t scare people in the same way.

I thought the Lauren Myracle portion of the WSJ article was interesting.

Sarah: How come particularly?

Linda: The way that she was mentioned as being not so bad as the others.

But, that’s when it really hit me that all of this was taken out of context.

Sure, if a parent reads a passage that uses f*!*k in it and that’s all they read then they might not realize the context of that f*!*k is totally appropriate.

Or, if they read about teens talking about sex, it might be perfectly appropriate in the story.

And, probably a lot less sensationalistic than the WSJ article.

Sarah: I was very intrigued that the first book they listed in the sidebar Books We can Recommend for Young Adult Readers BOOKS FOR YOUNG MEN (and, aside, what’s up with that? just for young men?) That Shipbreaker was listed first.

This was the Printz winner this year, and I loved it, found it an amazing story, really well written, but….

Linda: Yeah, I noticed that about Ship Breaker too. The Books for Young Women that came after that (there was a list after the men one) was just as “classic.”

Sarah: not a squeaky clean story. A book that left some graphic images in my mind. So it seemed funny to me that it would be one of her choices.

Linda: I think that adults think that teens have to be protected in their reading and the only way to do that is with classics. Which in many cases aren’t so tame.

People on Twitter have been laughing about Farenheit 451 being on the list since that’s about book burning.

Not far from some of the seeming intention of the article.

Sarah: I know! That was pretty funny to me.

I think it all comes down to that bottom line that we’re always trying to promote—

what’s right for some people is not right for other people, it’s a matter of personal or family judgement.

I guess we still need to keep promoting that, though, because clearly not everyone gets it.

Linda: Obviously, and it’s clear that the idea is very far form some people’s understanding or frame of reference. I think that’s what is so striking here is that the author is so far to the “other side.”

Sarah: Well, this article sure has riled up librarians, authors, and hopefully teens too. Although I disagree with the article, I welcomed the chance to speak out about it and discuss it with you.

Linda: Thanks Sarah, me too. I’m looking forward to reading more of the #yasaves over the next few days. I bet they keep cominng for a few days.

Sarah: Yeah-when all is said and done it would make a great collection to read. Thanks for chatting, Linda!


Feel free to join the discussion in the comments below!


–Sarah Debraski, currently very slowly reading The Distant Hours (because I keep stopping to read things like the new Sarah Dessen novel)



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5 Responses
  1. Jessica Pryde permalink
    June 7, 2011

    I was a couple days behind on my twitter, so imagine my shock and awe when I started reading my feed last night…I had to scroll for about five minutes (a common occurrence, since i follow @maureenjohnson religiously), but when I finally got to the source of such a diverse and heartfelt collection of tweets and retweets…speechless.

    One of the most important thing about a number of the ones that MJ retweeted herself, is how much even the books that the WSJ author scorns–books like Speak and Shine and all of those–mean to the teenage population. These books stand not only as an important look into the teenage mind, but act as a bit of catharsis for kids going through something similar, or even something much less horrific, but just as terrifying and heartbreaking for them. So instead of going on to damage themselves either mentally or physically, they read about it. You can see the same thing in teen writing–whether original lit or fanlit.

    Both of these are important to share–yes, there are so many OTHER types of YA lit than what such a close-minded sensationalist decided to share with WSJ readers. But the ones she talks about in such a scornful way are important to someone, too.

    (On a final note–all that “trying to hide your children from foul language” stuff? Has either the author or the parent mentioned ever been in a high school? Most of these books are much tamer than what you’ll hear in the hallways between bells.)

  2. Sarah Debraski permalink
    June 7, 2011

    Jessica, you are right on so many points! Frankly, it seemed like the author just didn’t get how any books are useful to a person. I feel like even as an adult there are books that I read that still have an impact on developing my empathy towards others, or helping me imagine what certain situations are like for people. So maybe a teen isn’t a cutter herself, but reading about it could help her understand a friend who is (or maybe it’s just flat out an interesting story-sometimes people just like a good story!). Books help us see the world beyond ourselves and help us make sense of ourselves and the world, and I felt like the author of this piece just didn’t see that.

    • Jessica Pryde permalink
      June 7, 2011

      I’m definitely one of those who has always just liked a good story! I didn’t care if I found it on a RIF table or at the library or in one of my mother’s romance novels. A good story’s a good story.

  3. June 7, 2011

    Here’s my plea: Parents, know what your kids are reading. It is not my job as a librarian, a parent, or a citizen to make these decisions for your family. That’s your job; it’s called parenting.

  4. June 9, 2011

    If you write about the sometimes “unspeakable” issues that almost seem to define the darkest sides of adolescence your book has a big chance to end up on ‘Most banned’ lists, or to feature in an article like the one in the Wall Street Journal. If you do this (ban any kind of book) you completely miss the mark, of course. Often you have to wonder whether:

    a. these people realize what’s actually going on in the minds of teenagers these days; and
    b. whether they have actually read the book they’re accusing of being pornographic, sexually immoral, sexually too explicit (shocking: homosexuality exists!) or whatever (sex is usually the baddie, of course).

    One of the often heard reasons is that ‘we have to protect our teens’. My question is… against what? Do these people really attribute all that ‘innocence’ to teenagers? I mean, it would be an endearing concept (though still quite unforgivable) if their motives for banning a book would at least be kosher, but usually a book is banned because it just doesn’t fit in someone’s one-sided world view.

    And it’s much easier to ignore something, of course, when it’s not actually there to be ignored.

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