YA in the WSJ

In the Wall Street Journal on Saturday, Katie Roiphie looks at current YA bestsellers (“It Was, Like, All Dark and Stormy“). She points out that the subject matter is grim; the novels “include one suicide, one deadly car wreck, one life-threatening case of anorexia and one dystopian universe in which children fight to the death” and concludes that, “Somewhere along the line our teenagers have become connoisseurs of disaster.”

Although I was thrilled to see a full-page article on young adult books in the WSJ, I am sorry that Katie Roiphe has missed the point.  The waters of adolescence are indeed dark and stormy. Issues of eating disorders, cutting, depression and yes, even suicide can be beneath the surface of what appears to be the most normal, typical teen. The gift of literature is the ability of an author to let us into the thoughts and point-of-view of the characters. Roiphe has lost an opportunity to do a deeper reading.

If I Stay, is not just another dead girl book, it is about exploring who we are, how we define our family and how are we are connected to our community.

Roiphe writes that Halse Anderson’s narrator in Speak is a “deeply miserable girl.”  Yes, after she was raped, but the book is about more than that. It contains laugh-out-loud, dark humor expressed through the snarky, witty observations of the narrator. The fact that the main character’s parents, teachers and former friends haven’t even noticed that she has stopped speaking heightens the effect of her mental monologue.

Anderson’s new book, Wintergirls is not a how-to manual on eating disorders but an examination of the downward spiral of addictive behavior as family and friends watch helplessly from the sidelines.

Hunger Games is not just a dystopic fantasy of teens battling each other to the death but an insight into materialism, celebrity culture and the world-wide gap in access to resources like food, health, and education.

Roiphe suggests that some librarians  “want to keep [these books] off the shelves.” In fact, librarians are on the forefront of buying these books, writing about them, booktalking and handing them to the teens in their libraries.  The shelves of the young adult section of the library are packed with a variety of materials; the supernatural romance of Twilight, and its comic response  in The Reformed Vampire Support Group, the thoughtful contemporary fiction of Sarah Dessen, and the award-winning coming-of-age novels of Sherman Alexie.

Contemporary YA literature deals with a wide range of issues; it deserves better than this shallow examination of the genre.

8 Responses to “YA in the WSJ”

  1. Faith Says:

    I heard about this over the weekend but just got around to reading it. I wonder if Roiphe interviewed any actual teens about their reading preferences, or YA librarians to see what their teens are checking out. Just looking at sales figures is misleading. Adults read and buy YA too. The “article” also reads like more opinion than fact.

  2. Nancy Says:

    Thank you for your great response, Lisa. Roiphe didn’t do her research and she misrepresents librarians. I wrote a letter to the editor of the WSJ, but your article sets the record straight.

  3. Dora Says:

    I haven’t read the article yet (I definitely intend to now), but teens and young adults have inhabited a deep, dark world of their own for sometime now. It’s naive to think otherwise and some of the most creative, inspiring and complex literature is coming from these writers who are delving headfirst into this world.

  4. Jillian Says:

    Roiphe usually misses the point. Thanks for the eloquent rebuttal.

  5. Rasco from RIF Says:

    Thank you for this excellent commentary. I think back to 1972 when I was counseling middle school students and the great value of the “dark and stormy” books at that time in facilitating our discussions…and none of those discussions were pale compared to the discussions being held in similar offices today. Same with my own teen years…..again, thank you.

  6. harimad Says:

    On only one point do I disagree; I think the one thing that Roiphe got right was characterizing Wintergirls as a how-to manual on eating disorders. I really don’t like that book. I’d give Roiphe credit, but I expect she is just parroting discussions on NYT’s Well Blog. Certainly the rest of the article shows no sign of insight.

  7. saminvierno Says:

    WooHoo a defender of YA lit.!
    Thank you for your response. I am not eloquent or capable enough to create a coherent response to Rolphie’s myopic view on YA lit.
    I am so sharing this with my fellow YA librarians.

  8. Emily Says:

    Plus, Roiphe gives away the endings to all those books…