First, I plan on spending very little time on that unfortunate WSJ article about the state of YA. Mostly because it seems to have really caused things to, errr, hit the fan and every other blog post I’m seeing these days is talking about it (this one was what tipped me off to the original article– love her book “Speak”). As a result of this I thought I would offer up what is merely my two cents about a far more interesting issue. Subtlety. There’s no doubt a lot of previously taboo topics that are no longer taboo being discussed across the board in literature (although, if you want to talk about taboo subjects being dealt with DECADES AGO I would highly recommend Heinlein) these days, but the overwhelming issue seems to be subtlety. This is true of just about all genres. There are some works/authors who strive to tell and not show, points illustrated through story and metaphor instead of wielding the sledgehammer of prose to get a point across. Subtlety and art in literature are very rare things indeed and sensationalism is what is encouraged and marketed the heck out of.
I think it is unfair to mix up issues of unnecessarily graphic exposition with dark topics. Genres have emerged as this new bastion of marketing and so we can not use something so new as a measure of what used to be. Watership Down, The Hobbit, Lord of the Flies are all books that are typically looked upon as age appropriate to the YA market – but now they’re considered “classics”. All of these dealt with important themes and, hell, certainly dealt with their fair share of controversial material (well, at least Flies did). Were they graphic? Not in the same way much of literature is now. Judy Blume’s Tiger Eyes even dealt with some serious subject matter with detail that haunted and yet it was not sensationalistic in the least. Graceling, on the other hand, was one that had an out of place and over the top deflowering scene (sorry, I had to – that phrase always makes me snicker). Unnecessary. While I acknowledge my pretentious notions of literature not being things everyone cares for, the truth is I like what Orwell had to say on the subject matter:
A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
What are your thoughts on the issue of subtlety? Are the fantastically dark issues addressed in YA too dark? Is it the sensationalistic and graphic detail that makes them appear this way? Any older works that fit into the category that blow these notions out of the water?