An article in The Wall Street Journal is concerning readers and writers. It has provoked hundreds of stories about how YA saves. The article didn’t just describe fiction for young adults as “so dark that kidnapping and … incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things.” This article also alludes to the idea that young adult readers “seek out depravity.” It also suggests that readers will find themselves “surrounded by images … of damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds.”
Immediately after this article published, fury erupted: authors like Kiera Cass and Ellen Hopkins have written in support of the YA genre. Maureen Johnson has started the hashtag #YASaves on Twitter, asking people to share their stories about how YA saves (sanity, self-confidence, lives).
Three years later, the struggle continues: YA literature is constantly underestimated and under-appreciated. In a follow-up article, Cox Gurdon states, “I also don’t believe that the vast majority of American teenagers live in anything like hell.”
Below, I examine how North American teenagers may very well live a reality that can only be described as hell. It is important to say that the following is only one example. Sadly, this is not the only hell teenagers are currently living.
- Approximately 10-20% of Canadian youth are afflicted with ill mental health.
- Depression is “a serious medical condition in which a person feels very sad, hopeless, and unimportant and often is unable to live in a normal way.”
- 3.2 million Canadians between the ages of 12 and 19 are at risk of developing depression.
- 49% of those who feel they suffer from ill mental health have never sought medical attention.
Mental health. Nobody wants to talk about it, but we need to talk about it. Depression is the absence not only of happiness, but of anger, love, and joy, too. Life is empty.
If that isn’t hell, I don’t know what is.
I have always been an avid reader. In high school, I came across the YA verse novels of Ellen Hopkins. Through beautifully crafted YA poetic verse, Hopkins’ work discusses shockingly emotional experiences. Hopkins’ writing makes readers feel, even when they haven’t been able to. I also read the anonymous Go Ask Alice, and Courtney Summers’ Cracked Up to Be. After speaking with many teenagers who similarly find comfort in literary worlds, I finally know that we aren’t alone.
And in knowing that, everything seems brighter.
These “edgy” or “dark” YA novels remind me why I love writing. For those who understand the power of the written word, Cox Gurdon’s are frustrating. However, as I think about her words, I feel more empowered. YA saves lives, ambition, progress, and a future full of bright, happy people. YA saves whether you’re the reader or writer.
I have been saved by YA. As I continue to read and write for the young adult genre, it continues to save me. Cox Gurdon states, “It should hardly be an outrage to discuss the subject [of the negative impact of some dark, YA literature].” This is true. It’s senseless to blindly argue about the subject, simply because the way the subject was brought about is offensive.
Your words matter, Ms. Cox Gurdon, as do ours. So, let’s have sensible, thought-provoking, positive discussion about the subject.
* All statistics were drawn from the Canadian Mental Health Association.