Young adult literature has become more “lurid, grotesque, profane, sexual, and ugly” in recent years, Meghan Cox Gurdon, a children’s book reviewer for the Wall Street Journal, said in a college lecture recently.
“Let me give you three examples—but with a warning that some of what you’re about to hear is not appropriate for younger listeners,” she told the crowd. Indeed, an earlier generation of young adults would have been sent out of the room to keep from listening to the exemplary young adult literature Gurdon highlighted:
- “A teen-aged boy is kidnapped, drugged, and nearly raped by a male captor. After escaping, he comes across a pair of weird glasses that transport him to a world of almost impossible cruelty. Moments later, he finds himself facing a wall of horrors, ‘covered with impaled heads and other dripping, black-rot body parts: hands, hearts, feet, ears, penises. Where the f— was this?’ That’s from Andrew Smith’s 2010 Young Adult novel, The Marbury Lens.
- “A girl struggles with self-hatred and self-injury. She cuts herself with razors secretly, but her secret gets out when she’s the victim of a sadistic sexual prank. Kids at school jeer at her, calling her ‘cutterslut.’ In response, ‘she had sliced her arms to ribbons, but the badness remained, staining her insides like cancer. She had gouged her belly until it was a mess of meat and blood, but she still couldn’t breathe.’ That’s from Jackie Morse Kessler’s 2011 Young Adult novel, Rage.”
- “I won’t read you the most offensive excerpts from my third example, which consist of explicit and obscene descriptions by a 17-year-old female narrator of sexual petting, of oral sex, and of rushing to a bathroom to defecate following a breakup. Yet School Library Journal praised Daria Snadowsky’s 2008 Young Adult novel, Anatomy of a Boyfriend, for dealing ‘in modern terms with the real issues of discovering sex for the first time.’ And Random House, its publisher, gushed about the narrator’s ‘heartbreakingly honest voice’ as she recounts the ‘exquisite ups and dramatic downs of teenage love and heartbreak.’”
Instead of helping teenagers overcome their self-centered and short-term perspective normally, authors and narrators focus on prolonging the “now, now, now” and self-centered teen perspective for material gain, Gurdon said in a talk that she gave earlier this year at the conservative Hillsdale College.
Some critics accused her of creating “a culture of fear” in young adult literature when she was making a point about publisher’s discouraging and demeaning taste in literature. Gurdon acknowledged that publishers say “kids have a right to read whatever they want,” which leads to the sketchy rhetoric of how adults should now not be gatekeepers or filters of what children read. This progressive rhetoric further elaborates on this ideology to say “Young people should encounter material that jolts them out of their comfort zone; that the world is a tough place; that there’s no point shielding children from reality.”
But, the damning evidence is how the Left “agree[s] that books influence children and prefer some books to others” and “children’s literature was an excellent means of putting left-wing ideas into young minds.” Gurdon made an important point about literature when she said the following:
“Books don’t just cater to tastes. They form tastes. They create norms.”
Spencer Irvine is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.
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