I don’t think the internet would exist without controversy. If that well dried up, people would probably get bored and do something useful with their lives instead, like watch TV.
Usually, I avoid getting swept up in the internet mud-flinging. If I find something annoying, I’ll discuss it with friends and family, rather than subject myself to the torrent of online insults (I couldn’t even mention jean Friday without insults. I’m tgvail in the comments section below). I’ve even managed recently to keep politics mostly to myself on Facebook, which, judging by the posts showing up on my feed, is no easy task.
Despite my desire to remain apart from it all, I’ve felt a need to comment on a new controversy I’ve seen flow by (I’m a few days late, like is typical in my life).
A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal posted an article about the current crop of YA lit. “Darkness Too Visible,” Meghan Cox Gurdon, the author of the WSJ article, laments. It proceeds to lambast the latest trend in young adult literature for going to far, describing too much, and just being depressingly dark. These books will normalize bad behavior like self-harm, the author argues.
One of the books mentioned is Cheryl Rainfield’s Scars. Somehow, I’m guessing through the site bookcountry.com, Rainfield’s response to the WSJ showed up on my Twitter feed. Her response, and the response from so many others, is the new tag #YAsaves. These people claim reading these dark books can be helpful for those going through the problems themselves (Obviously I am severely summarizing both articles. Please read them yourselves).
Now, being the non-controversial person I am, my initial thought was “I agree with both.” I really do. I haven’t read Scars, but I don’t usually like dark books, and, based on the obviously biased description on WSJ, it doesn’t sound like the kind of book I’d want my children reading when they get to that age. I didn’t even care for the cutting part of the Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series, and that was a fairly minor potion. An entire book about self harm would probably be too much for me.
Having said that, I can see why she wrote it, and I know why people read it. One of my favorite books of all time is from Orson Scott Card. It’s not Ender’s Game, though that was enjoyable enough. For me, it’s Lost Boys. I stumbled across it by accident in the library one day while I was waiting for my wife. I hadn’t read any of Card’s books at that time, so I figured it was time to start.
The story feels so intimately personal that, as I poured through its pages, I could almost imagine sitting across from Card as he bore his soul to me. I know he has put several disclaimers that it’s a work of fiction. But at the same time, it’s not. The Mormon family who moved from Utah to North Carolina. The child with cerebral palsy. The work the main character does. From what little I’ve found out about Orson Scott Card, this was his life. He just added enough in to spice it up.
About halfway through the book, my wife asked me to read it to her out loud, like we’ve done with so many other books. I wish she hadn’t. By the time I got to the end, I was choking out the last few words as I tried to hold back the tears. I failed miserably, and had to take so many breaks that the end chapter took almost as long to get through as the previous ten.
At the time, I just liked the book. It wasn’t until years later that I really fell in love.
As probably anyone who reads this knows, my wife’s first pregnancy didn’t go so well. We lost one of our boys. I will regret to my dying day not holding my son as he took his few short breaths of life. I just couldn’t then. I was too shocked, too scared to do anything but watch as a compassionate nurse did my job for me. I will never have an opportunity to do it again—at least not in this life.
Everything for a time was just a big blur. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t process anything more than what had become habit long ago. I went back to work out of necessity, but I’m sure my output was mediocre at best.
It was “Lost Boys” that brought me back. The main character lost a son of his own. That part was probably the fiction of the book, but I saw it as Card writing back a child he lost. If he could do it, why couldn’t I?
So that’s exactly what I did. I wrote day after day. I needed the words. I needed an answer when my other son asked who his twin brother was. It was hard, imaging that life that should have been.
It was my first attempt at a novel. I struggled to get the lines down on paper, but it had to be done. I had to show I cared. Fifty thousand words later, I was done. It was a scant offering. I was an accountant masquerading as a writer. The end result was a rough work full of typos and grammatical errors that I’ll probably never have the courage to fix. But it was enough to pull me through.
So I understand why Cheryl Rainfield would write a dark book, and I can understand why others would find worth in her pages, even if Gurdon or many others don’t. Lost Boys doesn’t qualify as YA Lit, but in the end it’s the same. We all need dark books sometimes, if for nothing else than to see we’re not alone.
(NOTES: You get awesome points for knowing where the post title comes from. Also, if you do end up reading this blog, Cheryl Rainfield, I will not judge your work from the WSJ article, and plan on checking it out later)