How much reality is too much? And if it is FICTION, how real could it be?
There is some pretty graphic reality fiction on the YA shelves today – detailed descriptions and literary depictions that are shocking and frightening. I think in any discussion about intellectual freedom in the library and the protections we all must be cognizant of in our services to youth, particularly teens and young adult patrons. We must be able to recognize quality materials even when the contents may be personally repugnant to us. As professionals, we must always remember that the library is a repository of our community and culture – a collective of our world really. And that means the happy endings as well as the tragedies must be found there. The scary things in the world, whether imagined or real, must be represented. We must find the safest and most thoughtful way to curate those things that may have the most profound impacts, but we must fairly and equitably develop our collections with great intent and careful purpose.
The debate rages today, as it has since The Outsiders appeared on shelves in 1967, as to whether it is beneficial or even necessary for teens to read fiction that is “too real.” Topics that are uncomfortable are precisely the things teens want to know about – and read about. But these same topics (drug and alcohol abuse, incest, violence, sexual assault, neglect, homophobia, LGBTQ issues, etc.) are part of real life and always have been. The only thing tat has changed is the force with which these topics are pushing through into the YA collections on our shelves today. More than ever, very extreme behaviors that are disturbing such as eating disorders, self-mutilation, suicide are frequent topics for teen books and may be seen either as validation of the teen experience or a possible threat to some of our most vulnerable adolescent charges who may be influenced or impacted negatively by these topics and images.
As librarians working with youth, we must always be mindful of our duties to provide the best possible materials with the greatest variety available. It is critical that we forge relationships with our patrons and that we continually examine our library contents with a critical eye and familiarize ourselves with the items on our shelves. We have the added duty to be always mindful of the strengths and vulnerabilities of the youth we serve and remain sensitive to our communities at large.
Reality in teen books I think is a moving target. Judy Blume was too explicit and graphic in 1970; today, Lauren Myracle is showing a teen reality that none of us wants to believe truly exists today. The reality is that teens are only teens in the moment and their reality is the only one that matters to them. I think it is critical for us as librarians to meet them where they are in their own lives – in their realities, one patron at a time.
Wall Street Journal – “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, June 4, 2011