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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On Reading Darkness and Light

In response to: Darkness Too Visible: Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?” by Meghan Cox Gurdon in The Wall Street Journal, Sherman Alexie wrote “Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood.”  Alexie is the author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and winner of the 2007 National Book Award in Young People’s Literature, so he is an excellent choice for the response.
And here’s the quote from the essay that made me put this young adult book on my TBR list:
“As a child, I read because books–violent and not, blasphemous and not, terrifying and not–were the most loving and trustworthy things in my life. I read widely, and loved plenty of the classics so, yes, I recognized the domestic terrors faced by Louisa May Alcott’s March sisters. But I became the kid chased by werewolves, vampires, and evil clowns in Stephen King’s books. I read books about monsters and monstrous things, often written with monstrous language, because they taught me how to battle the real monsters in my life.
And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons–in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.”
Now, since it’s summer, I’m harkening back to all those summer vacations I spent reading my way through the Mt. Carmel Public Library. Sounder made me sob. I wondered if I could be as brave as the girl in The Island of the Blue Dolphins. I had to put Black Beauty aside for a day, after reading the scene where the horse was beaten.
In fact, I’m thinking that while the “young adult” readers these days may have more graphic choices, we should be doing some serious celebrating that there are still kids reading out there. Next to Alexie’s article, was a picture of the cast of the latest “Twilight” movie at the MTV Movie Awards. I’m happy there is such a vigorous market for 450+ page books about weighty issues, like the Stephanie Meyers’ books and the “Harry Potter” series. There was also a poll at the end of the article, asking, “Are dark themes in youth fiction helpful or harmful to teenagers?”  As of June 11, 2011, 88.8% felt they were helpful.

God bless my parents, who while they were alcoholics and pretty much let me raise myself after my brother died when I was nine, always encouraged me to read anything and everything. While I am not a parent (and I don’t even play one on TV), I believe that as long as there are forums for discussion and responsible caring adults to help tweens and teens along the way, it’s extremely important for us to get any and all books in the hands of readers.
What were some of the books you read that influenced you as a teen?

Link to Gurdon’s original article:  MEGHAN COX GURDON
Link to Sherman Alexie’s website: here.


  1. I remember my Mom taking me to the Mt. Carmel Library so I could check out book after book. I can't remember what she did while I was there, but I can remember sitting on the floor in the aisles, opening a book to read just a little bit to see if I was interested in it, only to get started reading and not wanting to stop! I loved reading the Bobbsey Twins, To Kill a Mockingbird, and anything Judy Blume. I believe I read all of the Nancy Drew books. How wonderful to find that my daughter shares my love of books!

  2. Great post, Julee! I adore Sherman Alexie's article (as I adore just about everything he's ever written), and I couldn't agree with you more here.

  3. Thanks, guys--Corrie, I'll bet your mama was looking at the magazines or talking to my mom! I still have a lot of my Nancy Drew books and a few of the others. I'm glad you raised a reader.
    And thanks for stopping by Rachel and for giving me another reason to get the Alexie book! I just bought two non-fiction books at a consignment store, so it never ends. Happy summer reading!

  4. Since we lived out "in the country," I didn't spend much time at the Mt. Carmel Public Library, but I checked lots of books out of the MCHS library and borrowed books from my friends (like you!) I read the classics, Lloyd Alexander, J. R. R. Tolkein, Hermann Hesse, Ayn Rand - anything and everything. Although I spent hours reading to them when they were young, my kids are a mixed bag now; my oldest loves history and my youngest reads only when he has to, but my middle son is most like me. I am looking forward to a little more freedom this summer and more time to read.

  5. As soon as I could read a few words, my parents encouraged me to go to the village library, for which I will be forever grateful.

    I outgrew the kid's section around age 10, and shortly after I got my hands on John Irving's Hotel New Hampshire, which was a bit of a shock, but one I obviously survived.

    Kids and teens can handle much more than we give them credit for. Either way, most of what they can find in books isn't half as bad as what they're confronted with on TV, on the internet and - hey, in everyday life around them, where it's tangible and real.

    I loved that quote: 'I write to give them weapons - in the form of words and ideas - that will help them fight their monsters.'

    Thanks for this post and I'm glad to have found your blog! :-)

  6. K.C., thanks for stopping by--you are so absolutely right that kids are resiliant. One of my friends from the literacy coalition was a young adult/literacy librarian and I loved that we were able to bring in some YA authors, like Richard Peck and Gary Paulson. Hotel New Hampshire is a little heavy for ten, but there you go. I remember reading some pretty adult fare too, because my mom worked at the library and I got to check stuff out from the adult side. Please keep in touch and I'll try to stop by to visit you soon!