Saturday, November 08, 2008

Young Adult Literature: writing to heal troubled minds

Publish today by

Young Adult Literature: writing to heal troubled minds
By Jim Fedako

There is an interesting offering in today's Teacher College Record (11/07/08), published by the Teachers College of Columbia University. In her article, "Young Adult Fiction and the Stewardship of Pain," Sara Zarr opens with this incredible statement:
"Good realistic fiction for young adults marries the universal and the specific into stories that give teens both a mirror for their own pain and a glimpse of possible ways of navigating it."
Her justification emerges soon after:
"I don’t think these people remember what it’s like to be a teenager. I don’t think they remember the specificity of pain when it's your own, even if it comes in the context of an experience that millions of other teens have had, and generations of them will continue to have so long as the human race exists."
We later learn that Zarr experienced many struggles while growing up:
"In writing Deanna’s story, I drew on things like my difficult relationship with my father, my experiences growing up in a family with little in the way of material wealth, with difficult friendships and the longing to set right what’s been made wrong by my actions or the actions of others; my desire that home be a safe place, physically and emotionally; the very universal yet specific pain of thinking that no one---if they really knew me---would like me."
So it appears that writing is a form of therapy for Zarr -- it helps exorcise the demons that still haunt her psyche. In this effort, I offer her my best wishes. But she does not stop there. No, Zarr desires to transfer her demons to her young audience. According to Zarr:"
My books do not have traditionally happy endings, but I argue that I leave my characters with enough experience and forward momentum that the reader can be confident that the characters go on to survive. With scars, maybe, but that’s the point. We all bear the scars of adolescence."
It is not true that we all bear such scars. Obviously Zarr has wounds that have still not healed. But why create scars in others where none currently exist? And why acerbate those that do? If childhood is supposed to be a safe place, why would anyone desire to have young children enter a world of hurt and pain?

Children are not to be used as therapy cushions for those in need of help. And, despite what Zarr contends, authors do not have to steal a child's adolescence in order to be "good stewards of (the author's) own specific pain and the specific pain of their characters..."

I sincerely wish Zarr two things: that she finds the help she needs and the peace she seeks; and that she finds a different audience for the writings that help salve the wounds that trouble her so.

I had always wondered what drives writers to commit perverse nonsense to books aimed at children. Thanks to Zarr, I have a better understanding. An understanding that makes me want to redouble my efforts to inform parents about the agenda taking root in their children's young minds while devouring, in the quiet of a late night read, a troubled author's tortured vision of pain.

Jim Fedako, a homeschooling father of six who lives in Lewis Center, OH, maintains a blog:


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the proof in writing but I've realized for years that many people write (for children) to be change-agents and to revamp children's values, beliefs and attitudes and also that they are working on their own mental craziness through their scribblings.

Anonymous said...

Actually, it's shrewd marketing. Many writers are told by their agents to reformulate their works with adolescent perspectives, therefore they can be categorized as "YA" and marketed as such. I listened to a an interview with a writer on NPR and she said how she struggled for years to get her work published until she hired an agent who told her to change the narrative of her current piece to that of a 15 year old and--voila!--her book was picked up by a publishing house and released as YA. She had a library of her own work that was written with adult content and perspective, so she re-wrote them--still with adult content--but now with an adolescent narrative--and they all got published.