Young Adult Lit: Book Thieves Listening for Voices in the Dark

When the Wall Street Journal published "Darkness too Visible," by Meghan Cox Gurden, writers and readers of young adult literature fired back with blog posts and a twitter hashtag #YAsaves.

Her article argues that young readers are being exposed to too much ugliness and darkness, but I don't see it that way. As a young adult, books like Go Ask Alice and Judy Blume's Forever  gave my girlfriends and I literature we actually wanted to discuss. While our teachers guided us through Diary of a Young Girl, we dog-eared pages in Tiger Eyes so we could read and re-read passages, discuss the decisions of young protagonists and help us navigate similar territories. YA lit provided my classmates and I our first book club experiences and opportunities for real literary analysis.

Last school year, for the first time as a middle school teacher, I wasn't sure if I wanted to put a book on my shelf. I wasn't sure Push by Sapphire, the book the movie Precious is based on, belonged in my classroom library. Should my students read about such brutal incest and abuse? I suppose I was thinking a little like Gurden is in her article, but I put it on my shelf, and talked about the book with students as they checked it out and lined up to read it. And then it disappeared. It went into circulation. It was passed from student to student and I never saw it again. It became a book club book.

I realized that Push is like so many YA books, like many of the titles Gurden is critical of. Markus Zusak's Liesel in The Book Thief (another dark young adult work) steals books and books eventually save her. My students aren't willing to let go of books that mean so much to them. Every year I buy additional copies of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak and Judy Blume's Are You There God, It's Me Margaret. I pick up several of Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games and Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Series, because if you love a book, if a book saves you, you want to hold on to it. You want it to be yours. For so many middle schoolers, reading just isn't cool, so if my students steal these books and read them in the dark with the door closed tight, they do it because it's true: YA saves.