Ms. Myracle, 43, a newly divorced mother of three, ruffles feathers because she unflinchingly addresses the pitfalls of adolescence. Many people would prefer that she not write about teenagers dancing topless at a boozy frat party, or smoking marijuana to impress a friend with benefits. While she understands their impulse to protect children, she feels it is more dangerous to keep knowledge from them....Give your kid some credit for being smart — just because they read about something doesn’t mean they will do it,” she said.But if they never read about it, does it mean they will? Such is the patently absurd implication of this argument. Once again, let me quote Alan Jacobs's excellent response to this persistent and ridiculous claim that YA lit can only have a salutary effect on its readers and never a damaging one:
According to these writers, YA fiction has achieved something no other human invention has ever achieved: it is capable of doing extraordinary, glorious good, and cannot do any harm at all...Admit — please — that some books are bad for some people. Admit that writers can make aesthetic misjudgments, so that certain scenes, or even whole books, can have effects on many readers that they don't intend. And admit that some writers — yes, even YA writers — are nasty people who write nasty books.The best part of this article is that exactly the same article was written by the NYT 35 years ago about Judy Blume, complete with the introduction about the outrage of banning books that simply speak The Truth about children's lives (and, in case you hadn't noticed, The Truth is only ever The Grim Truth), the beautiful and selfless intentions of their author, said author's own "non-judgmental" parenting style and its success, the misguided outrage of reactionary parents who oppose her books, and finally, her special claim to credibility as an author of books that "authentically" portray an experience that she herself admits is closed to and set against that of adults (that's why they need her books, of course, to do the parenting work that they can't manage b/c they're so out of touch). And what is that special claim to credibility, exactly? Bizarrely enough, it is that the author is herself a kind of child. Consider:
1978: “[Blume] is emotional, impulsive, endearing, innocent….She could fit right in as a guest at a seventh-grade slumber party.”
2012: Early in her career, [Myracle] said, someone asked her at a book reading why she writes about teenagers. She replied, “Because I haven’t yet grown up.”
So that's a rather odd claim about the morality behind YA realism. We must not use our adult authority to "moralize" to children; indeed, we must drop the entire pretense of authority and become children alongside them if we ever hope to understand them and keep them out of trouble. But should we even try to keep them out of trouble? Isn't that authoritarian, an imposition of our values on others? Shouldn't they make their mistakes and learn from them? Well, there is some moralism we can get behind - for example, the moral imperative of exposing and not-judging. Children need to be told, in great detail, what bad things lurk in dark corners (all the corners, preferably) of this world, but not so they know what to look out for and avoid, just so that they know. Consider, from the 1978 article:
People complain, especially with "Blubber"--where the kids' horrible cruelty to the fat girl is never punished--that Judy Blume raises questions and issues without solving them. Her response is that she doesn't have solutions. Her aim is just to get problems out in the open.And what exactly is the value of that? Presumably if bullying is a real problem endemic to children's lives, they already know it exists, and it's Blume who's late to the party. I understand that cathartic self-identification through literature is possible, but of all the "issues" in society, bullying must be one of the most solvable. Maybe not solvable as a widespread social phenomenon, but it's not cancer or a tree falling on you - it can be addressed at least in the context of one's own school life. But unlike Blume, Myracle claims that despite their raciness, her books “overall [have] a very moral message." Well, what might that be? We're never told. She seems to be willing to advise against certain behaviors - making rape jokes, bullying, and - weirdly, but perhaps fittingly - permitting children to keep secrets from their mothers. When you withhold nothing from your children, perhaps it's reasonable to expect the same in return. That's what best friends are for, and you're nothing if not their very best friend. The only immorality we learn of in this account is that of "passing judgment" on the choices of others, and of not giving others choices in the first place:
One afternoon after Ms. Myracle picked up Jamie at school, he recounted how a seventh grader was smoking pot on school grounds and offering it around. He was upset and shocked. Ms. Myracle didn’t pass judgment or ask him if he had been involved. “You know you can choose your friends, and you can always say, ‘No,’" she said.It's not bad per se for a seventh grader to be smoking pot; that's just a lifestyle option. Your own children should be free to choose whether or not they wish to participate. The moral question is one of choice - would you be so harsh as to foreclose your children's choices by requiring them to refuse marijuana? Therein lies your error. You cannot change your children; they are forces of nature. All you can do is hope they don't for whatever reason choose to self-destruct, and if they do so choose, your job is to watch them, all the while being perfectly honest with them about the various ways other people have gone about self-destructing. This is the lesson that the notably adult-sounding mothers in the 1978 article have learned from Blume: "I'd like [my daughter] to be a lovely, charming, vital young lady. Those are just my dreams, of course. They aren't that realistic. All I can do is keep my eye on her until I'm no longer the one responsible."
As I've said before, YA lit is perhaps the only aspect of childrearing, the only genre fiction, whose marketing pitches haven't changed a bit in the last 40 years. Lauren Myracle is Judy Blume, although it's not clear just why we need her if we already have Blume, who wrote a book describing the "drama" and "mechanics" of teen sex three decades ago, and I'm pretty sure that little about those logistics has changed since. What is clear though is that we can't, at any cost, obstruct children's access to these important works. That's censorship, and censorship, even of children's material, is the greatest sin against freedom. We may not quite be able to judge the literary merit of these books, although we may become confused sometimes, as the did the National Book Award committee when, "It emerged that “Shine” was wrongly nominated because the judges had confused it with another single-word title. [Myracle] was asked to drop out, a crushing blow." But at least we know they have social merit precisely because they inspire opposition, and so long as anyone out there objects to such books and any child remains unversed in the possible traumas of youth by age 12, we know we're still living in the dark ages of 1967.
Thus sayeth a wise commenter to this article: "In sum total, Ms. Myracle is simply doing the duties, responsibilities, AND obligations that many--perhaps most--parents absent themselves from without leave." The greatest error of childrearing is not allowing your children to do terrible or self-destructive things, it's preventing them from knowing about them. All praise to Lauren Myracle: unacknowledged mother to us all.