Monday, June 06, 2011

The Light at the End

There's been a lot of talk this morning about a Wall Street Journal article/review called "A Darkness Too Visible," in which the author talks about what she sees as a disturbing trend in young adult fiction -- Darkness! In particular, she singles out (and I paraphrase) the normalization of self-destructive behaviors and pathology. Jackie Kessler has an right-on, awesome response, in which she points out that, in many cases, things like cutting or bulimia *are* the reality of teenage life and not talking about it in fiction is the literary equivalent of plugging your ears and shouting "la, la, la."

I think that the WSJ missed the mark in another way, and, that is, they forget what fiction is FOR. I wasn't able to be on a panel at WisCON that I was really looking forward to which was called "How Science Fiction Saved My Life." Science fiction, I had planned to say, saved my life because, in a time before YouTube, it offered me a version of the "It Gets Better" movement. When I read "World Well Lost" by Theodore Sturgeon, I realized that gay people existed. Then, when I found Elizabeth A. Lynn, I discovered that gay people wrote books with happy endings for gay people.

In effect, that saved my life. Because one of the things that I believe fiction (particularly SF/F and speculative YA) does is that it offers up possibilities -- possible futures and possible SOLUTIONS.

I can see why the Wall Street Journal (which, as someone reminded me on Facebook, is the newspaper arm of Fox News) would be scared of the latest crop of young adult novels. I've read a bunch of the newer YA books and enjoyed them tremendously, but they're actually kind of radical. In at least two (three, if you count Harry Potter's fight against Voldemort's fascist regime) end in revolution. Scott Westerfeld's UGLIES series and the HUNGER GAMES trilogy show a dark, repressive future and our heroines find a way to go beyond, step outside, and rise up and take arms against the powers that be.

I haven't read all the books blasted in the WSJ article, but I know that satisfying fiction usually has an ending that offers a solution, or at least a way for things to be "okay" for the hero/ine. Young people are living in a much darker place than we were twenty, thirty or forty years ago. Their fiction is reflectively that much darker. But I suspect their endings are twice as bright. There is always hope.

Things get better.

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