A recent article by Meghan Cox Gurdon in the Wall Street Journal argues that the grim, gory, and dark shadow cast over the genre of young adult literature is inappropriate for its target readers.  This controversial review exposes the fear of many parents who worry about children’s exposure to realities believed to be too mature. Cox Gurdon suggests that free expression goes too far in allowing these books to “bulldoze coarseness or misery” into young people’s lives.

In the late-60s and early-70s young adult (YA) literature began to address adolescent struggles with drug-use, abuse, rape, and suicide in novels by S.E. Hinton, Judy Blume, and Anonymous (Go Ask Alice).  Since then, contemporary novelists dwell on these subjects to engage readers who are exposed to these topics and profanity in TV programs, video games, and on the Internet. In fact, many of the books assigned in school, such as Shakespearian tragedies or Of Mice and Men, address similar dark themes

This new focus of YA fiction increasingly mirrors the realities facing teens. Recently-popular dystopian YA literature significantly differs from its adult genre counterpart in that it serves to exemplify the present world of teens rather than a future state. For example, Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, The Hunger Games, addresses issues of increased surveillance, social hierarchy, and the arbitrary nature of high school life.  Even the Twilight saga connects supernatural transformation with the seemingly-uncontrollable hormone surges teens face everyday.

Jay Asher’s novel Thirteen Reasons Why tackles a teen suicide and its causes, resonating with many adolescents facing depression with suicidal thoughts.  In an interview, Asher recounts the immense and emotional feedback received after the book’s publication.  The message, “you are not alone” is invaluable. However, perhaps the book’s most important lesson is in empathy and the effect of small actions.

In response to Cox Gurdon, thousands of Twitter users united by young adult novels that have addressed their emotional struggles are using the hashtag #YAsaves. Cox Gurdon’s article continues to meet immense criticism from the target audience of the YA genre as well as YA authors in this cultural battle.