Friday, 10 June 2011

TGIF blog hop

So I'm taking part in a new blog hop this week, you know what they say about variety and life. Thank God it's Friday is hosted over at GReads and the question for this week is:

YA Saves: How do you feel about the "dark" books filling the YA shelves today?

Ah dear, how long do you have? Now this question is in response to the article in the WSJ that caused uproar earlier this week, if you haven't yet read it and enjoy a dose of outrage with your morning coffee you can do so here

Well. Firstly, the 'concerned mother' mentioned in the article didn't appear to do any more than glance at the covers of the books before leaving in disgust at their 'darkness' (meaning, presumably, that they were all black). This can probably be blamed on the popularity of Twilight, the black and red gothy scheme has been emulated by many in the hopes of appealing to the Twilighters. Classic example being the Vampire Diaries books which, despite being published nearly 2 decades before Twilight was given a makeover to make them resemble the saga.

Now of course I know the article goes into more detail about the darker themes of YA not just the packaging, but I wanted to focus on this point first because I think it's crucial. What has the mother in this story done? Well, she's judged a book by it's cover of course. She's looked at these books and said "They're obviously too dark for my precious darling" had a paddy and walked out. If we're lucky she glanced over one of the blurbs, saw the word Vampire and vowed never to set foot in a YA section again.

I find this funny because in my opinion (and experience) the books with the darkest themes have the most unassuming colours. Take Twilight, Vampire Diaries etc. The covers are all dark, dramatic, vaguely gothic in terms of fonts etc. But really, these are the books with the least dark content. Sure, there's vampires, and werewolves, and the occasional bloody death but when we look past all that what are the messages of these books? Basically, it's about acceptance a lot of the time. Acceptance of races that aren't yours, they're about friendship, the triumph of good over evil, bravery etc. All the monsters in these books can be fought with swords, teamwork and a bit of confidence. The bad guys don't win in these books. The messages aren't really dark, the packaging is-and that's a publicity tool.

Then take some of the books with 'happier' (by which I mean less threatening seeming) covers.

If you were this girls mother, in this book shop with this attitude, chances are you'd choose one of these books instead. 'Cause look, there's no black on the cover! Not a vampire or gothic-style font in sight! This clearly is a book suitable for my 13 year old. One of them even has 13 in the title!! But what are these books about? They're about depression, isolation, suicide. These are the real demons of humanity, and they're demons that can't be fought with pointy sticks.

Now I'm not claiming that these books should be shunned in favour of vampire lit. Quite the contrary, I think (and you've read by blog recently you'll know this) that more books should deal with these darker sides of human life, because they eliminate ignorance, they promote understanding, empathy and openmindedness.

But really, think about it. If you were an overprotective parent like the one mentioned in the article, would you rather your teen read a book about mythical creatures that can be fought off with the help of a dashing and sarcastic hero or a book about real human suffering, the kind that can sometimes never be beaten?


  1. Good post, Cait! As a child and as an adult I read like reading books that deal with the darker side of humanity. My parents didn't have a problem with me reading about runaways, abuse victims, or suicidal teens (we discussed every book purchase I made since they gave me the money for them). I turned out alright and actually I think it has helped me deal with some of my own issues. Plus I believe I can better empathize with people that have gone or are going through these issues.

  2. Personally, I would like the child to read both (just 'cause I love the dashing hero with a sword and equally sharp wit) but you bring up excellent points regarding YA literature. She DID judge the books by the covers (I'm guessing she also refuses to let her darling shop in Hot Topic). It's one of the first things we're taught NOT to do, but then, who wants to read a book with a boring cover? I certainly don't.

    That aside, I also agree that the tough-choices books should be more numerous. If a kid wants to learn about drugs and abuse, wouldn't it be better to read about it than to experience it first-hand?

  3. *ponders*

    I don't know... I SEE why someone wouldn't want their child to read 'darker' books... because as a mother you want to shield your kids for as long as possible from the 'real world'.

  4. Amen! Everyone has been talking about that article lately but I like what you've had to say about it.

  5. Fantastic response! You hit on so many good points. And, you're so articulate! I think you should write for the WSJ. ;)

    Is "paddy" a British term? I've never heard it in the sense of a fit or tantrum. It's just so knew to me.

  6. Im the mum ( and slave) to five children and we all are addicted to reading. Everything. Because Im the one who buys the books, i usually get to 'gently guide' my childrens reading tastes - so in between the fantasy and 'dark' teen books, I usually manage to slip in books that I read as a kid and learned heaps of stuff about the world from ...which is why my Fab5 are huge fans of everything from Harry Potter to 'To Kill a Mockingbird' to 'The Outsiders' to sprinklings of Shakespeare. I read all the books that my kids do - because I enjoy them too. I think parents need to be involved with their children and their reading/viewing/music etc - in a positive, interested way. Which means being ready to talk to them abt the hard stuff they read abt in the books - be it drug use, suicide, sexual abuse etc.

  7. I really love the spin you did on this question! Judging a book by its cover is something that I still do (a lot of us do but many don't admit to it) but I NEVER dismiss a book because of it. I either say "Oh, cute cover I'll read it" or "Wow that looks dark, mysterious & fascinating." For me the cover of a book only piques my interest, it is the content of the book that really makes me love it! Dark topics are so vital to the world today. I couldn’t imagine ever dismissing the tough issues that they deal with completely like that mom and the author of the WSJ article did.

  8. Excellent post, you've expressed everything so well, and I agree wholeheartedly. You've summed it up very well.
    You're very right about the covers too, now that I think about it. Looks can be deceiving!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. Have a great weekend. :D

  9. Awesome post, Cait! And I am in total agreement with everything you mentioned. The mom obviously judged the books by their covers, and that was that. She really doesn't know what she's missing out on. :)

  10. Wonderful post, Cait. I completely agree with you, 100 percent. The mother most likely judged the books by their covers, and didn't even bother to look father into it. Sure those novels might have "dark" covers but the story inside teaches readers about love and courage, like Harry Potter for example, it doesn't have that "dark" cover look to it but it does speak of witches and wizards and most people frown upon that. Goodness, I'm always speaking about Harry Potter.

    Anyways, I'm a reader of these so-called "dark" and " negative" books and I'm going to state right here that those books have taught me a lot of good things, like never stopping when the going gets tough because there's always light if you look for it. You might have to look hard but it's there.


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