Earlier today I read an article published by the Wall Street Journal which got me pretty fired up: Darkness Too Visible by Megan Cox Gurdon. The tagline: “Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?”

Maybe Amy Freeman lives under a rock and doesn’t visit Barnes and Noble all that often, but based on her inept description of the YA area, “it was all vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff,” it certainly sounds like she lives under one. Why? As a frequent customer of BN as well as the public library, the YA genre is not all about vampires, suicide, and cutting; however, popular reads right now tend to be a bit more weighty and focus on issues beyond finding the perfect dress for prom. BN typically stocks bestselling fiction and well as those works which have received favorable reviews from trending sources such as Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Another student aptly labeled their post on the discussion board “supply and demand” — the heavier and deeper types of books are selling and they’re selling for a reason.

The library context…
In 1931, Ranganathan created the 5 laws of library science — two of the laws are pertinent to this situation:

(2) Every reader his (or her) book — “This law suggests that every member of the community should be able to obtain materials needed. Ranganathan felt that all individuals from all social environments were entitled to library service, and that the basis of library use was education, to which all were entitled. These entitlements were not without some important obligations for both libraries/librarians and library patrons. Librarians should have excellent first-hand knowledge of the people to be served. Collections should meet the special interests of the community, and libraries should promote and advertise their services extensively to attract a wide range of readers” (Wikipedia).

(3) Every book its reader — “This principle is closely related to the second law but it focuses on the item itself, suggesting that each item in a library has an individual or individuals who would find that item useful” (Wikipedia).

In my personal statement which I included with my application for admission into this program, I cited an overwhelmingly heavy caseload of incest cases which involved teenage girls as victims — their perpetrators: fathers and brothers. It was absolutely heart-wrenching to see these cases come in — many of them had withheld their stories for years. As of result of what they were going through, several of these young women had turned to abnormal coping strategies such as substance abuse, cutting, eating disorders, pulling out hair, and promiscuity. In counseling sessions with adult victims of domestic violence, a great many of them cited being sexually abused as children or young adults. And these are just the cases in which the victims have come forward and chosen to speak out — how many are out there walking around holding onto their nightmare-reality? Chances are that there is an overwhelming number of victims and survivors out there — their friends and non-offending family members are commonly referred to as secondary victims and they too are affected by the trauma.

We live in a pretty ugly world today. In reality, I think it’s been ugly for ages but now people are choosing to break their silence which has likely prompted the changes in today’s contemporary realistic fiction which now not only includes stories about sexual abuse, but also the realities of ‘coming out’, bullying, teen sex / pregnancy, eating disorders, substance abuse, cutting, and suicide.

If Freeman isn’t comfortable with her child reading certain materials, than she simply doesn’t have to purchase them; however, to complain about the mere availability of such materials smacks of ignorance and only facilitates in thwarting those experiencing certain situations from having access to information which could possibly offer comfort and encouragement. If she’s looking for a good, safe, “clean” read for her teen than I would strongly suggest sticking to the Inspirational / Christian Fiction genre. However, chances are pretty high that Freeman’s teen knows someone or has personally experienced a situation spelled out in a piece of today’s contemporary realistic fiction.

Here are some statistics that pertain only to the dating violence aspect:

  • About one in three high school students have been or will be involved in an abusive relationship.
  • Forty percent of teenage girls ages 14 to 17 say they know someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend.
  • A survey of 500 young women, ages 15 to 24, found that 60 percent were currently involved in an ongoing abusive relationship and all participants had experienced violence in a dating relationship.
  • One study found that 38 percent of date rape victims were young women from 14 to 17 years of age.
(Source: Alabama Coalition Against Dating Violence)