Sex, Drugs and Teen Literature

What do these three things have in common? They are all things that a parent fears their teenager is going to be exposed to. Teen literature has supplanted rock-in-roll and this is understandable, as Lady Ga Ga does not have the same sinister menace as did Black Sabbath or Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. In the June 4th edition of the Wall Street Journal, Mega Gurdon reports in the article “Darkness Too Visible” on a Mother who was searching for a book at her local Barnes and Noble for her 13 year old. She describes the lurid and dramatic covers covering topics such as vampires, suicide and self-mutilation. Unable to find a suitable book, she leaves the store empty handed and questions the state of teen fiction. The author then asks the question “How dark is contemporary fiction for teens?” In a flash of journalist brilliance she answers her own question by stating “Darker than when you were a child, my dear”. Why ask questions when you already have the answers and why investigate when you can entertain with witty prose.

A quick look at the Barnes and Noble teen webpage shows “What happened to Goodbye” as story about a teen girl experiencing her parents bitter divorce and traveling with her dad as they leave their past behind and discover their new life. Clearly a story of such depravity could not possibly have any place on a bookshelf, and how could a teen possibly relate? “The Warlock” the fifth installment of the Nicholas Flamel series is also shown on the homepage. This is a fantasy story about how Nicholas Flamel has discovered the elixir of eternal life and has had it stolen by the evil Dr. John Dee. Yes, there is “Everlasting”, a clone of the Twilight series and maybe I am missing something but this hardly falls in the category of Ozzie Osborne biting the head off a dove.

Gurdon does state that there are many good teen books available, but doesn’t make any comment about the Mom who is unwilling to ask for help in finding her teen a book, neither does she make any comment about how ignorant the parent is on the topic of teen literature. The Mom appears to be quite content to judge a book by its cover and to leave the store with moral outrage, but without a book.

The author states “If books show us the world, teen fiction can be a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is.” I agree with this statement but from another viewpoint, that this is not bad. Dark is just dark and doesn’t mean that it will cause harm. I would argue that teens and adults like to be scared. It’s the reason we have roller coasters, scary movies and why a monster lives under your bed. If we continue to try and wrap our children in a protective minivan cocoon they will still crave excitement and adventure and it is not a shocking to hear adults protest. Just think of the downward spiral this country has been on since we watched Elvis wiggle his hips.

Yes the language in many teen books is profane, but have you listened to the average teen or American idol judge? This is the language of today’s culture and bringing out the censor’s whip or attempting to return us to the good old days is impossible. What good old days are these exactly? The good old days when women didn’t have the vote, when there was segregation or the McCarthy/Hoover years? Or should we dial the clock back to idealized and formulaic Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I feel that publishers should have the freedom in an open society to publish whatever they choose. The parenting role remains unchanged and limited in its scope in the sense that you only get to parent your own child and not society.


GURDON, MEGHAN COX. “Book Review: Young Adult Fiction –” Business News & Financial News – The Wall Street Journal – N.p., n.d. Web. 9 June 2011. .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.