I’ve been reading young adult novels since I was ten years old.
And I’ve been through my fair share of reading the “tough topics”: sex, addiction, depression, suicide, abuse, the list goes on and on. I learned about sex and what happens before it gets to that kind of encounter (in both a consensual and non-consensual way) before my parents gave me the “talk”. They never really did, actually, just glazed over it by saying two people get naked and press into each other.
But sex topic aside. Some people may claim that these topics should not touch or revolve around the young adult shelves, and this is what I have to respond with:
The shelves would be nearly empty without these topics.
The tough topics are what adolescents have to face on a daily basis once they enter high school. Some are even more unfortunate and have to deal with these issues since they were little. Novels are a form of escape, while at the same time connecting the reader to topics that are usually brushed under the table at dinner.
For my own experience, to this day, I am not allowed to talk about mental health problems at the dinner table, even though I grew up with depression and anxiety in the home (I wasn’t officially diagnosed until college). Yet, parents say teens are not yet ready for these topics.
Take violence as an argument. With kids these days growing up with COD and seeing the news being about terrorism and gun control every week, it’s hard to take the concept of violence away from young readers. It’s ingrained in our culture, so it reflects in the novels.
Novels can also bring to the table the topics no other subculture wants to really touch, for its taboo. If you want more scholarly arguments about this on-going debate, Sherman Alexie offers a great supporting article: http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2011/06/09/why-the-best-kids-books-are-written-in-blood/
Adolescents talk about the tough questions, whether parents like it or not. They don’t like being kept in the dark. At the time of adolescence is a crucial turning point of attaining knowledge and the perspective on the world. For me, it was growing up thinking that I was crazy and attention-hogging for feeling down and being listless to freaking out of what time I’d arrive to practice. Now I know it’s about depression and panic attacks, a chemical imbalance. Yet, my parents refused to talk to me about the harder topics, claiming I “wasn’t ready”. If parents continue to do so over their children, they will be misinformed.
The grace of my parents in this instance is that they didn’t censor my reading habits, much. Some books, such as over sex (take The Secret Year, for example) I had to read only at school, but it helped me learn about world. The greatest strength of young adult novels having these tough topics is that they are in the perspective of young adults themselves, rather than parents or mentors. These perspectives help relate tough topics even further to its intended audience, staying on the appropriate level.