i’m gonna write this…

Ah, August… almost half over already… wtf??!! I need to accomplish SO MUCH more before Uni starts again on the 29th. Trying to cram in another few chapters of the “last maths class you will ever have to take,” but hmm… you know I’ve heard THAT before. Technology for the Educator text is 600 pages without binding… sigh. Comparative Lit and History all good, so there’s that. No new computer as of yet, but plenty of post it notes and highlighters. Not so bad after all, I suppose. Just wish there was more time…

So, I am going to write THAT post. You know the one, in which loyal readers disappear as fast as ice cream at a Weight Watchers meet and greet, else they eviscerate you and leave you for dead, gleefully shouting around your larger than desired crumpled form.

As an eventual Professor who needs to feed herself in the interim, I am also a Secondary Education major, doubling in English/Comp Lit and Sociology. This means I will likely spend a few years teaching at the high school level until I can get enough of the PhD completed to warrant a faculty position at an institution of higher learning. This means young adults. With me. In a classroom. Gods help me… how anyone can NOT grasp literature and comprehensively read anything thrown their way at that age escapes me, but THAT conversation is one for another day. I will be in the weeds enough here shortly without opening that can of worms…

So, young adult literature. In my day, when the earth was new and I had to fight dinosaurs to walk to school, uphill, both ways mind you, there was no such genre. We read Dickens, Dumas, Melville, Dickinson, the Bronte sisters, and all manner of others, from Vonnegut to Cather, Hughes to Kerouac and pretty much anything classical or intriguing in between. Sure, we sometimes had to battle the librarian and the principal in order to check out those books if not being read in class, but they only had our best and innocent interests at heart, you remember…?

Now we are inundated with not 1 or 2 or even 4, but 6 shelves of these brightly colored (or vampire and wraith adorned) books in the local library. Out of necessity, I checked out a slew of them, in preparation for the YA Lit class I will be taking this coming January. Anticipating a glimpse into the inner workings of the adolescents I know, you can imagine my surprise at content, story line, and vocabulary level staring back up at me in defiance…

I KNOW, many of you love this genre. I KNOW, many of you would rather your kid read these books rather than comics. I KNOW, some of you are secretly applauding your suspicions that I was an elitist all along, but just listen for a sec, please. I chose them completely randomly, simply by shelf and alphabet, bottom to top. I came away with 14, and have gotten through 8 of them. I may be making correlations where none exist, but I was left a little stunned. Has anyone else noticed that a large percentage of the subject matter seems to romanticize problems such as cutting, anorexia, or pregnancy? One could offer that these books provide a safe space for a child to feel not alone, and to gain hope for themselves. BUT… I saw some alarming trends toward the reinforcement of the “Broken is Best” ideal that this generation seems to be clinging desperately to. One book in particular read like an instruction manual for eating disorders, including calorie counts and purging cycles that best help one attain one’s goals. WTF??!!!

I am also deeply disturbed by the racial implications, surely picked up by this impressionable age group. In three, yes, THREE of these random books, middle class white girls binge and purge, slice happily away at their taut skin, proving to the world, and therefore themselves, their inner strength is immense. The books I read by African American, Latina, and Native American authors had no such subplots. Including the 16 books I read last semester for SOC class on this exact topic, not one eating disorder to the bunch… maybe that is because for the most part, in the books I have read, they are already hungry. Sherman Alexi famously says, and I paraphrase here, that “Indians already have eating disorders… that’s what happens when you can’t afford food.”

So White Privilege rears its ugly head once again… and yes, I am aware that people who scream “ALL Lives Matter, not just BLACK” will take me to task over this. I am just wondering why, when from a cognition standpoint, morality is a social construct and we literally and collectively create the world around us and what we deem acceptable, WHY these themes persist to SUCH a degree in the literature designed for an age group who already is struggling to develop their own identity? WHY does it seem** that we are encouraging our kids to embrace the nasty bits of life, where I was encouraged to break the chains that bound me and FIGHT for every shred of self respect, decency, and moxy I could muster so I could just fucking get on with my life already??!!

**seem to me, and several educators I know, who are of varied racial identities**

I feel the need here to iterate that this post is NOT meant to marginalize anyone struggling with anything I mentioned above, or any other issues. I have my own child who is struggling greatly with identity, and I found out recently that a specific behavior that he and 3 close friends were exhibiting last year came directly out of a book they had to read for health class. Upon reporting that to the principal, I was told that this is “what kids do at this age, they copy behavior that is interesting to them.” Sigh.

I have spent 2 weeks debating the posting of this one, and discussed with 5 professors in 2 countries the trends of what we purposefully expose out youngsters to. Additionally, that is NOT to say there are not great series and single books out there for this demographic. The “Wrinkle in Time” series, for example, or even Harry Potter, that flawed and still great Boy Who Lived. Betsy’s Wedding, To Kill a Mockingbird, Flowers for Algernon, The Book Thief, and Thirteen Reasons Why specifically come to mind. Don’t forget anything by Tolkien, John Green, Douglas Adams, S. E. Hinton, L. M. Montgomery, and Scott Westerfeld, off the top of my head. So why on earth am I even writing this, if there is so much else out there? Because you know as well as I that flash is what gets the attention of adolescents today. And If one small group of girls whisper that this or that certain book “srsly changed my life, kwim?!” and sends the title to a couple thousand of their twitter BFF’s, then by next week Facebook and Instagram will have exploded under their praises…

But I digress. All I wanted to say is that this genre has a collective power rivaled only by the GOP’s. And if we want our young adults to know there is more out there, we have to find a way to entice them with it. And I don’t think Charlie and the wonder-mouse will stand a chance against ways to exert power over adults, get away with bullying, or even how to lie more creatively. Thoughts, peeps? Thanks as always for keeping it real, and if you have a series or book that is exemplary within the YA genre, please chime in… I am already creating my Grade 10 Eng/Comp book list. =)

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