Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Characters Gone Wild

The debate of what is “apropriate" in YA literature will never end. Personally, I don’t have a problem with edgy topics – when they are handled properly. People make mistakes, it’s a big part of being human and a huge part of growing up. Smart people learn not only from their own mistakes but also from the mistakes of others. If a kid sees their older sibling suffer the consiquences of poor choices, hopefully they will be less likely to make the same choices when they come of age.

Similarly, a well written book can shed light on the reality of teenage behavior. That doesn’t mean YA books should be preachy, it just means that when a character makes poor choices they should experience the uncomfortable consiquences in a natural way. Some of the best YA books I’ve ever read have covered topics as “edgy” as eating disorders, drug/alcohol addiction, teen sex, death of a loved one, rape, and suicide. The books that I do have a problem, are the books that present a world view saying these things are okay. Bad behavior shouldn’t be rewarded.

I recently read an article Bad Romance (or, YA & Rape Culture) that explains in great detail how the book Hush, Hush teaches teen readers that rape is okay. When I read the book, I never found myself thinking about rape, but I did find myself hating Nora. She was the classic “to stupid to live” character. Her life was literally in dange, someone tired to killer her multiple times thoughout the story, and she didn’t do anything about it.

Nora lived in an issolated farm house on the outskirts of town. Her single mom had to travel for work, so Nora was often left home alone for weeks at a time. When her killer/staulker starts appearing in her bedroom, she didn’t tell her mom. Why? Because then her mom would want to quit her job and they might even have to move into town. Wouldn’t those be good things? The article I linked to gives lots of great examples about how Nora’s improper dealings with scary lab partner/suspected killer reinforce rape culture.

The crazy thing is that Hush, Hush is a very popular book. It hasn’t quite reached Twilight status, but it’s getting there. And it’s the first book in a series. In a few years dark angles may replace vampires as the paranormal heart throbs in vogue. I have to admit that I read Hush, Hush in one sitting. It is very gripping, and managed to keep me up until 2:00 am. All that danger and distruction did encourage me to keep reading. It wasn’t until I finished the book that I stopped to think, “Wow, I really hated that heroine. In fact, I kind of wish she had died. It would have served her right.”

My feeling that a stupid heroine deserves to die, might not be to far from the idea that a stupid girl deserves to be raped. And I don’t think that. If this was real life, I wouldn’t think Nora deserved to die either. I just think this book did a very bad job of realistically showing the consiquences of poor choices. If Nora had been raped or maimed, or somehow forced to suffer from her lack of self preservation instincts, at least that would send a message to readers – hey don’t act like this. Instead, she escapes the pearls surrounding her to make room for a sequil. And the only lesson learned is that scary deadly dark angles are hot.

Joke of the Day
A schoolgirl was thrilled when she found a book in the library called How to Hug?
It turned out to be volume eight of an encyclopedia.

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