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wall street depravity

June 6th, 2011

I’m not even going to talk about that ridonculous piece in the Wall Street Journal about depraved YA and the woeful lack of choice for today’s upstanding parents. You can read it if you want. You can read all about it over the Internets. You can read the awesome response on Twitter under the hashtag #YASaves.

What I am going to talk about, because I have experience in this matter, is crappy journalism, and the dangers of bullying loudmouths setting the agenda.

The reason the silly piece in the Journal deserves no debunking is because it’s a fake piece. A made-up trend piece. Trust me, I’ve written enough of them to know how they happen. Here is how it goes: Editors decide that they need a fresh take on something that they’ve covered before (and let’s give the Journal props for at least covering YA often, albeit schizophrenically; I’m always amazed at the Journal‘s coverage but then I remember that WSJ is a business newspaper and YA is a thriving business so it makes sense). Anywho, editors want a fresh take. Someone calls out an idea, like “Have you seen how dark YA is getting these days?” By the way, it’s not. It’s always been that way. But that’s besides the point. And because the Journal already did a piece a few years back that looked at the trend of dark YA (and did so positively, IF I STAY was in this roundup) and just did a piece about dystopian YA (ditto on the positive) some genius probably thought it was time to do something PROBING. “How about we do something about how bad this is for kids?” the genius asked, thinking it was the new, new story, when of course it was the old, old story.

So maybe it was the editor’s idea. Or maybe it was the columnist’s own opinion that she put forth as societal trend, in which case, weird to do it as a reported piece instead of an opinion piece but it’s the Journal, and that’s journalism. So, she goes out, canvasses bookstores, finds one unhappy mom, and poof, a Big Story is born. (The offshoot of this is when something happened to the editor-in-chief or her best friend and she thinks it means it’s a trend so the story is assigned to a reporter who must hunt down people who fit into this trend, even if there are only five of them in the entire country. You can see why I left journalism?)

Except the trend story is no more true than trend stories about teenagers all having oral sex in study hall, which occasionally pops up on newsmagazine shows and is similarly scandalous and totally bogus in terms of actually having any reportable veracity beyond one or two cases. One or two cases does not a trend make. Whatevs. We Americans seem to have an endless appetite for worrying about teens going to hell in handbaskets. Which is ironic, given that we have all been teens in our lives. Except for Ron Paul. I don’t think he was ever a teenager.

The parental worrying about books is just crap though. And that crap is proven by the numbers. Sales of hardcover YA books jumped more than 30 percent in 2009, according to the Association of American Publishers. Now, I’m sure some of that is teens buying their own books, but the majority is, I’d guess, parents buying books for their kids, parents delighted about the beautiful buffet of serious and silly YA out there, parents delighted that their children are reading (and parents reading these books themselves, ahem).

But here’s the problem. Let’s say ninety-five percent of parents out there are groovin’ and happy with the awesome selection of books that gets their kids reading. And five percent have issues. Somehow, that five percent gets to set the agenda. Gets to ban books. Because they are loud and they are bullies, if you ask me.

But this is the trend. Obama’s Healthcare plan has death panels? No it doesn’t and most Americans wanted healthcare reform, but it nearly got derailed (still might) because bullies shouted lies and set the agenda. Teachers are to blame for everything wrong in society. Most people disagree with that, but they stay silent and the loudmouth bullies set the agenda and so teachers are on the firing lines, figuratively and literally. YA is corrupting our kids and should be cleaned up. Ridonculous to anyone who has actually picked up one of these “questionable” books, or even seen their child totally engaged in one of them. But that reality won’t matter if we let the bullies set the agenda.

It was just a crappy non-news story. It shouldn’t matter. It only matters if we let the loudmouth bullies decide the agenda. The YASaves was a great response, but this is a larger problem. It’s time for the rational silent majority of this country to speak up. Loudly, firmly, smartly, and nicely. Because as any reader of YA knows, the only way to defang a bully is to stand up to them, but never, ever lose your cool.

Not that we would. We are YA. We ooze cool. It’s a byproduct of all that depravity.

If you do not understand the reference in the above picture, or why I’m calling a book a machine, or why I’m DEFACING a book, you need to know this awesome Woody Guthrie photo:

  1. You are totally right. We should stand up to bullies. I was amazed and touched at all the responses through #YASaves. I think that’s one of the best ways to show how amazing YA Literautre is.

  2. Yes! Thank you for writing this. I think too often the silent rational majority dismisses these bullies as crazy, ignorant, and not worth our time. We might feel like their opinions are SO out there, they’re not even worth addressing, like we’re so above that.

    But then those bullies’ opinions are the only ones being heard.

  3. Truly fantastic piece!

  4. Fabulous post. I think we’re still way too ready to believe print media is the “truth” when, really, it never has been

  5. AMEN! I read the WSJ article and could hardly believe any research had been done for the piece.

  6. “Because as any reader of YA knows, the only way to defang a bully is to stand up to them, but never, ever lose your cool.”

    HEE!

    Yes yes and a million times yes to this post. We love your perspective as a former journalist, and your call to action. We are doing our best to respond!

    And if anyone wants to read some more great blog posts about #YAsaves, we’ve been keeping a running list on our FB page. We’ve read EVERY SINGLE ONE there, and they are moving us to tears.

  7. It’s time for the rational silent majority of this country to speak up.

    Yes! Just because the fearmongers speak the loudest doesn’t mean they’re right or that they’re the majority.

    I love that book cover madly.

  8. Oops, forgot to close the italics hashtag up there. ^^^ My comment started with “Yes!”

    *slips away to have much-needed second cup of coffee*

  9. You totally rock Gayle! This post is spot on.

  10. excellent, excellent post.

    as a former journalist myself, it’s nice to see someone else understands that the WSJ piece was a thinly disguised column.

    love the book & Guthrie pics, too.

  11. So, so true. Beautifully written! Thank you for that.

  12. Wait. That story wasn’t an editorial? Because it totally read like it was an editorial. Sigh.

    I do have to thank the article, though, for pointing me to some new books to read. And I don’t mean the ones in the sidebar that are appropriate for young men and women. My library reserve list is just about maxed out, now, and it’s almost all YA fiction. Even though I’m 35. So there’s that.

  13. I want to high five you for this entire piece, but I especially love what you wrote on the book. I’m now trying to figure out how I can make a book with, “This machine kills fear and ignorance and boredom,” work as a tattoo.

    All of us could see right through that WSJ article, but you’re right, we do need to stand up. I wrote my own post on why YA is a good thing, and am collecting links on other posts, so if anyone else has written a response, please stop by and leave me your link!

  14. This is FANTASTIC. I could not agree more.
    And I feel I should specify that I am an 18-year-old who recently (aka, last Thursday) graduated from high school. So this attack on MY BOOKS is not taken lightly by me.
    Keep up the loud voices.
    We will change the media.

  15. LOVE the book image! Did you do that yourself? This is my new favorite thing.

  16. Oh boy, spot on. This was exactly why I left journalism as well; the part-bored, part-hungry imagining up of “trends” and “big news” around the table every morning. (Well that, and I wanted to create something myself instead of always only writing about people who created something.)

    I’m Norwegian, and to me, the idea that books could be banned from libraries and school is both chilling and ridiculous. But I know that for American kids and writers, it is all too real.

  17. I loved that comment on Ron Paul. ’twas hilarious.
    You are definitely right about all of this total nonsense. Life is hard, and YA lit just reflects that, but it also expounds on the positive parts of it. It doesn’t sugarcoat things, but it doesn’t make life seems like a festering cesspit of misery, either.
    In case you’re not buds with Laurie Halse Anderson, she also posted on this absurdity this morning. Both of you guys are amazing YA authors that strike fear into the hearts of WSJ columnists. Don’t stop doing what you do!

  18. If only these ass-backwards thinkers could find a way to reach out and actually make a difference to a teen, rather than ignorantly taking a stance against those who do…

    Rock on, Gayle, and if you haven’t already, check out Laurie Halse Anderson’s response to the WSJ article…

    http://madwomanintheforest.com/blog/

  19. Amazing, AMAZING words Gayle!

    The article was cruel to the YA books, and to the people who read it, as myself, but you as a amazing writer, was able to put all our fellings in words!

    See, how much we need people as you writing YA books?

    Kisses!

  20. You are very right on many counts. Some of the dark YA books have helped young people get through very difficult times and circumstances and there is room for dark stories, as there is for all kinds of literature.
    I have volunteered in the schools at all levels for more than a decade and I’m always pleased to see young people reading — and enjoying the books they read. Not all kids enjoy reading dark stories, however. Though they are therapeutic for some, they’re not for everyone. And that can be said, of course, for almost everything. Some readers just want to be entertained, amused, thrilled, excited, etc. and there’s nothing wrong with that.
    I read all kinds of literature, and, though I’m not generally drawn to dark stories, I can appreciate the interests of others — young people and their parents — in finding books they enjoy. I like a good story for fiction. Occasionally, a book that’s good therapy might be better as nonfiction/memoir. And this can be very powerful for kids with problems.

  21. Thank you, everyone, for your awesome comments.

    Yes, I made that book myself (and felt the silent screams of librarians and book collectors everywhere; I can’t help it. I’m married to both a librarian and a book collector; he’s the same person. I’m not a bigamist, tho I’d be so down with having Libba Bray be my sister wife. But I digress. Into depravity). I made the book with a Sharpie and a YA book whose title I will not tell you. It had the whitest casing on the shelf and I think the author would actually be pleased that I’d defaced his book. His. Ohh, a hint!

    Yes, I read Laurie Halse Anderson’s amazing blog post. It was fiery and generous, like the woman herself. And as someone whose books have been challenged by this kind of nonsense (because SPEAK somehow encourages sex how exactly????) I can so understand her anger, and I completely admire her empathy.

    I’ve loved all the conversations about this, from Forever YA’s pee-in-your-pants funny, to Salon’s more measured big media response. At least on this round, the rational middle has totally set the agenda.

  22. dear g., Michael sent me the link to that piece yesterday and the first thing I said was that YA books have been about tough stuff since A Separate Peace and Catcher in the Rye, for heaven’s sake. Way to go. xxx

  23. EXCELLENT POST! I love the book defacing! As someone who was a newspaper reporter and then magazine writer for a very long time, I have said many of the same things you do. We always said three people = trend. Also, if the managing editor saw his son wearing an orange hat, I was dispatched to report on the awesome orange-hat trend. (Don’t get me started on women’s magazines–can you find a prettier “real woman” to tell her rape story?)

    What scares me most about the WSJ’s latest piece is that intelligent parents whose children aren’t old enough yet for YA, read this piece, agree with the points–who is pro-depravity for children?–and think it’s true. (I’m speaking from the experience of hearing this from one of my friends who is smart and well-read [just not ya] and liberal. And that gave me chills.)

    Also, I’m sorry I was late to the party, but I finally read “If I Stay.” I got it on audio and finished it on a long drive Saturday–LOVE everything about it–and the moment I got home, ordered the e-book of Where She Went. Can’t wait to read it!

  24. Thank you for this, Gayle – that article made me really angry!!! I thought it was weird, though, that one of the first links I stumbled upon was to a Facebook page that was set up by the WSJ. It said many disagreed with the article (even though this was early on – there were only 20 comments on the piece itself, most in favor of the “article”) and encouraged people to respond there. “We will read every one,” it said.

    Now it all makes sense. And you’ve inspired me to at least write a thank you to my daughter’s middle school for putting SPEAK on our 8th grade summer reading list. I am lucky that we don’t see so many of these loud-mouthed bullies in our community. We do need to speak against them, or at least say thank you when we don’t have to fight.

  25. *standing ovation*

    BEST. POST. EVER.
    Take that, WSJ hound-dogs!

    “We ooze cool” – YES. Always.

  26. I really enjoyed reading this post and your perspective on the article. It’s true. The people who are the majority, who CAN make a difference, need to step up and defend what they believe in.

  27. I am so late in the game to your blog, but I just read If I stay and where she went like ten minutes ago. Thank you for being a voice of reason in this topic and for writing books I can hand to my daughter, babysitters and friends without hesitation.

    I just want to say, LIBRARIANS and BOOKSELLERS are there to help parents and kids pick good books they will like so they don’t have to sift through the piles of things that will not interest them. Please start utilizing your free, incredible helpful resources people!

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