Young-adult fiction too dark?

Illustration by Raul Allen


In her recent Wall Street Journal article “Darkness Too Visible,” Meghan Cox Gurdon criticizes today’s young-adult fiction, saying it’s become too dark, violent and graphic.

“How dark is contemporary fiction for teens?” Gurdon writes. “Darker than when you were a child, my dear: So dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things in novels directed, broadly speaking, at children from the ages of 12 to 18.

“Pathologies that went undescribed in print 40 years ago, that were still only sparingly outlined a generation ago, are now spelled out in stomach-clenching detail. Profanity that would get a song or movie branded with a parental warning is, in young-adult novels, so commonplace that most reviewers do not even remark upon it.”

Gurdon’s essay has caused an online ruckus as people line up for and against what some readers have described as just one person’s opinion.

When my daughter was young, I didn’t censor what she read, but I didn’t buy her any books that might be described as “disturbing,” either. As a writer, I get nervous whenever I come across something that hints at censorship, but I understand wanting to protect a child’s innocence. After all, how long does it last?

Whatever you think, Gurdon’s essay raises several important questions:

Is there a difference between censorship and parental judgment? What is the purpose of young-adult fiction? To reflect life in all its beauty and tragedy? To entertain? Shock? Uplift? Inform? To raise difficult issues? To make sure even the most unhappy teens realize they aren’t alone? Should teens be exposed to only those books they’re mature enough to handle? If so, who gets to decide what that means?