Forgive me for being lax on my postings, but things have been ridiculously busy. Still, no excuses.
I am currently exploring the world of Young Adult Literature, otherwise known as YA. I'll be doing several postings on the topic, but for now, I want some of your thoughts.
I have just completed a book by John Green called Looking For Alaska. The book recently won the ALA's Michael Printz Award for young adult literature. The story follows a group of teens in a private school in Alabama. Along with the usual angst one would expect, the story flows. Green is a fine author, he has a way with dialogue, his plotting is spot on, and his use of the language is at times utilitarian and at times poetic, and he knows when to turn on the poetry.
Ah...I see...you're waiting for the but. Okay...
But I have a problem with some aspects of the content as it regards YA literature. I do believe this book is marketed for those fifteen and up. The characters in the text smoke cigarettes, secret away alcohol, regularly exchange obscenities, and at one point the main character has oral sex performed upon him.
Now, I have thought long and hard about this and although I love the book, I am not sure it is appropriate to be taught in a school district, or that it is appropriate as a Young Adult novel. On the other hand, I think that its themes of friendship and accepting responsibility are wonderfully done. And certainly there are many fifteen-year-olds who would be fine reading this.
Some people are going to say: "Stewart, it's not like fifteen-year-olds don't smoke, drink, swear, and have sex."
I agree. And I am obviously struggling with this, or else I wouldn't be posting on it. However, let me relate this anecdote:
I once had a discussion with a young man about rap. He was listening to some rather offensive material. We went back and forth about the virtue of rap from an artistic point of view. He finally defended rap by stating: "Rap is real. It's about what's really happening."
"Defecation's real, too," I responded. "But I really don't want to hear a song about it."
Or do I? Donovan once sang a ditty called "The Intergalactic Laxative".
The point I was trying to make to him was that while we can write about life, or take a picture of something, what makes it worthwhile, in my opinion, is when we show the essence of reality, when we reduce it to an abstract, or when it makes some sort of comment.
So, where do we stand on Young Adult literature? If a book deals with content that is questionable, should it be rewarded with an award from the ALA? Or should we say: "Life is hard and kids need to know about and read about. They already live it." Or should we re-examine our approach? Are we reinforcing negative behaviors by giving it an indeliberate seal of approval ?
Lastly, I recommend Looking For Alaska. It is a finely crafted effort and John Green should be commended.